Friday, December 31, 2010

Christmas Parade DUI - By Lee Y. Greene, Jr.

An installment story about my hometown in North Alabama.

Hartselle, Alabama is like most other places of 12,000 or fewer souls in the South. Most everyone is moderate to middle class, as the area prospered only when the Tennessee Valley Authority came in the 1930’s to change our area from an agrarian economy to a service economy. With the advent of the aerospace and defense industries in a nearby county, our hometown evolved into a bedroom community.

Folks live here, but work and spend their day elsewhere. Because of this suburban evolution, we have lost the days of porch sitting and story telling, now that we commute and no longer really know our next door neighbor. That doesn’t mean that funny things don’t happen here, but that fewer connections are available to tell them. This is a story from my hometown:

One of the biggest, most challenging events for the Hartselle Jaycees was the running of the annual Hartselle Christmas Parade.
For whatever reason, an annual event celebrating the love of mankind from his Creator, brotherhood, and kindness is usually shattered by September with the annual “Fight over the Horses in the Christmas Parade”. Downtown merchants don’t like the horses because of the mess they make. The Morgan County Saddlemen’s club has strong lobbyists in town to promote them, although not everyone that shows up at Parade time is a Saddlemen member, but just a horse owner that wants to get in the Parade. Horses have had a large following with families in town as we were a farming community before Dr. Werner Von Braun got captured in 1945 and brought rocketry jobs to Huntsville.
Every year the Jaycees president must decide horses or no horses in the Parade. Usually this edict is handed down in the Hartselle Enquirer, our local paper, on the last edition in September so everyone can plan or not. Horses have been in every parade since the beginning of time, so this is a huge tradition that is not decided lightly.

In the early 1990’s I was a member of the Jaycees and served as it’s President for one term, only because everyone else had been “it” before. I decided for go with horses in the Parade, but only at the end of the Parade, before the Hartselle Fire Truck with Santa Claus on it. The HFD agreed to follow behind later in the night afterward and hose down the street and wash away the resultant horse residue. This seemed like a good idea at the time and others joined in support of my compromise. The biggest decision in my tenure as President behind me, I went about the arduous task of lining up local marching bands, antique tractor clubs, little league football, baseball, soccer teams and fire departments from all over Morgan County to appear in the parade. Hartselle had the only Parade in the County at the time, so people from all over came to see it. Priceville and Falkville did not have one yet, so their fire trucks and marching bands came to us.

On the night of the big event, there were a few thousand people lined up along Railroad Street and Main Street to see the menagerie. There were probably more kids, floats and participants in the Parade than watching it. The HPD had graciously let us use some of their radios to help line the participants up in the parking lot of J.P. Cain Stadium. It didn’t hurt that a City Councilman was in the Jaycees, to get that help.
At the designated time, right on time, the Grand Marshal, usually a local TV news/weather personality, would start us off. It was a sight to behold with hundreds of kids, parents, monster trucks, wheezing antique tractors, and hayride floats with buzzing generators powering a light show that would make you think the Stones were in town, all rolling into the darkness on the route to glory that was Railroad Street, and the official beginning of this blessed event.

As agreed, the Saddlemen’s Club and their contingent of riders rolled into line behind the Falkville Pride of the Blue Devil Marching Band and the HFD ladder truck with you-know-who tossing candy off the back. With the Parade in full swing, I went to assist the other Jaycees and Police with traffic control at “The Turn” near the railroad depot, where the Parade route made a 90 degree turn to Main Street. This was usually a source of trouble, as marching bands and large floats take a bit of time to negotiate this bend. It is also a good way to throttle the Parade, when the marching bands stop and perform or a tractor breaks down, etc.

Relived that the Parade was running smoothly, I stood with another Jaycee, who is a current Councilman, at “The Turn”. About that time, the Falkville Blue Devil Band arrived in almost complete disarray. At first, I just thought they had not practiced the marching drills that they were usually very skilled. On second look, I saw the problem. A guy was passed out hunched over a horse that was terrified of the horns, drums and cacophony of the Falkville Band. The band members were trying to get out of the way, and rider was apparently in some distress. The situation began to deteriorate rapidly as parents were trying to pull their kids away from the street as the fleeing band members ran towards them. The HFD fire truck with Santa on it was right behind, so the kids were having nothing stand between them and a glimpse of Santa, and some candy.
I couldn’t just watch, although I am a huge fan of mayhem, and mayhem was exactly what was unfolding in front of me. Action was called for, since I did not want to be in an Equirer headline the next week. Like a pair of fireman racing into a burning house, the other Jaycee and I ran toward the scared horse and were finally able to get the reigns. We called for HPD backup, but they were all busy directing traffic further down the Parade route. Eventually two HPD officers on bicycles showed up and helped us get the catatonic guy off his horse. The Falkville Band was reassembled very quickly with great credit to them for their effort to let “the show go on”. Santa arrived right on time and the Parade was saved.

The errant horse rider was indeed intoxicated, and the HPD guys hauled him off to jail., leaving me holding the reins of a now calm horse in the middle of Main Street with the Parade fading toward Sparkman Street. We eventually walked the animal to the police department and put him in the prisoner’s “exercise yard”, a small fenced area. No one knew the drunk guy, or claimed the horse, so they both had to stay in the pokey.
Not knowing what to do, and no one to claim either horse or rider, I called the manager of the local Co-Op who opened his store for us and sold us a few bales of hay to get the horse through the night.

If you are from Hartselle, we have the distinction of charging a rider of a horse with a DUI in the annual Christmas Parade. Apparently the state law made no distinction at the time about what type of vehicle being operated violated DUI laws. Apparently a horse counted and the poor guy paid some sort of hefty fine.
I never followed up to find out how either of them did, but I was never the President of the Jaycees again, and I never watched the Christmas Parade in Hartselle the same way again.