Friday, December 31, 2010

Mowing the Beltline - 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:

Working during construction season, I am exposed to a lot of different people, from wealthy investors who lend money for projects, to the day laborers who build them. The key to a successful project is to find common ground between them all and get things built. Often, I get to hear stories about some of the people I work around.
One of the contractors working a smaller job that we designed is a man named Jim from Trinity, AL. Jim has a few dump trucks, a backhoe, bulldozer, and some other big yellow construction equipment that he owns and maintains for his business. Jim always needs a laborer with him, to do small jobs around the project site, but mainly to be around case something bad happens. Construction is dangerous and safety is always practiced, even on the most stressful jobs, because an on site accident is a tragic, show-stopping event that no one can afford these days.

Jim’s helper was an older man named George, who had a personal demon of alcoholism. George could not and was not able to stop drinking. During work times, at least up until around 3:30 every afternoon, you could not ask for a more dependable hand. Unfortunately, after that time, George was nowhere to be found.
Jim was the only friend George had left, as he had alienated most all of his family and friends. As expected, Jim would have to answer the phone at home and come down to the police station in the middle of the night to post bail for numerous public intoxication charges. As difficult as the situation was, the relationship was symbiotic, as each needed the other to make a living.

I saw Jim on a construction site a few weeks ago and noticed that George was not around. I asked, fearing the worst, as he was an older man. Jim said, “Nope. George is in the pokey for a while.” To which, I asked “Well, what did he do this time?” Jim explained that about a month prior to my seeing him, George had been arrested again for driving under the influence, public intoxication, and attempting to elude a police officer in Decatur. This seemed very odd, since George was, even drunk, a peaceful man. Knowing that George did not have a car, and I wasn’t sure he even knew how to drive, I dug deeper to find out how this could have happened. Jim said that it was the strangest story, and he still had trouble believing it.

Apparently, George took a Snapper zero turning radius lawn mower that he and Jim used to mow yards for extra money and best that anyone can tell, he drove it to north Beltline Road in Decatur. From Trinity. Down Gordon Terry Parkway. At 3:30 AM on a Sunday morning. Now this feat is extraordinary at face value. I mean, what kind of gas mileage does a Snapper get at highway speed? What is highway speed on a riding lawn mower? How long had he been on the road? Granted it was 3:30 AM, how did he not get driven over on a four-lane highway for at least four miles? No median grass was cut, so he was obviously riding on the asphalt, undetected by anyone for that distance and length of time, with the blades at full throttle.

As he entered Decatur, the spectacle attracted the attention of traffic leaving one of the manufacturing plants on the river changing shifts. The police were called and an intercept was made. George was having none of the demands to stop or pull over, and continued his ride down one of Decatur’s busiest roadways. As the police car chased the slowly moving Snapper, George refused to stop and kept moving. The officer got out and walked along side the mower, again ordered George to stop, then reached over, and switched the ignition off. The “Easy Rider” was done and there was a price to pay. They properly secured George in the back of the Decatur Police car and put as much of his Snapper in the trunk as would fit. Then George went to jail.

Public Intoxication – Check
Driving under the influence (albeit a riding lawn mower) – Check
Attempting to Elude – Check

George went to jail, but will be out soon, so if you are driving in Northwest Decatur, keep your hands on the steering wheel at 10:00 and 2:00, always look both ways, and watch for riding mowers.