Moving the people and materials into place to open the HydroFest boat races is a Herculean effort with a lot of moving parts. Primarily, it takes a mechanized army of golf carts and drivers to get volunteers and their assorted items to their duty stations.
I got the opportunity to see it firsthand this year as one of those golf cart drivers. It’s the very best job you could have at HydroFest in my humble opinion.
Karen Morrison Cardwell, one of the volunteer coordinators, grew up in the same general neighborhood as my wife Mary at Hebron and we are Facebook friends. When she posted that she needed another golf cart driver for the Friday of HydroFest, I said, “I can do that.”
There’s enough kid in me that I can drive a golf cart all day. And the most enjoyable part of my job is getting to talk to folks. This job combined both those things. Everyone I drove the opening morning of HydroFest had big smiles on their faces and we had great conversations.
I always wanted to be one of those guys driving a golf cart around a big event venue and looking cool. I can scratch that off my bucket list. It blew a few people’s minds too. More than once I got an incredulous look from acquaintances and they’d say, “How did you rate this?” Reporters usually schmuck around. They don’t ride in style in a golf cart. I had to explain to them I was a volunteer as well as a reporter.
In another sense, I was really just a glorified Uber drive. People would ring and I’d spring.
The first couple of guys I carried needed a ride all the way down to the end gate by the water plant. We struck up a conversation and one of them shared how he was a machinist on the Arsenal. We chatted about the space program and I told him my utter disgust that America now has to catch a ride with the Russians to the International Space Station.
“It’s like they can’t make up their mind what they want to do,” my new friend said. “These new breed of engineers are not like the Apollo engineers. They have book learning but no common sense. SpaceX will get to Mars before we do."
Then I got to haul some workers down to the VIP tent. Later, I came back to that area with a big cooler of ice and bottled water for the guys setting up the stage for Grammy-winning Christian music artist Zach Williams. The thirsty stage hands were happy to see the water.
There were lots of other trips hauling this person and that.
My pal Nickie Simpson with the Sand Mountain Reporter was one of them and I took her to the media tent. Someone else needed a ride to the Powerboat Nationals pits. That was cool because I got to see all those boats on that trip. They're pretty small compared to the H1 Unlimiteds. Several were on trailers being towed by 4-wheelers.
The TVA boys loaded up in my golf cart and I took them to their display. They pulled the cover off their big aquarium so I was the first one to get to see the fish display at HydroFest. There was a 6-pound bass in the tank and a 2-1/2 pound crappie.
A TVA crew used electrofishing gear to get the fish just below Guntersville Dam.
“When they’re running water through the dam, creating current, that is an amazing place to fish,” one of the TVA guys said.
Karen flagged me down when I got back to the Senior Center because someone needed a ride to the media tent. It was a young lady and her mother.
“I have an interview with Katy Norton,” the young lady said.
She looked real familiar and I thought for just a second she was a TV reporter. I told her I recognized her and was trying to figure out who she was.
“I’m one of the racers,” she said. Then I remembered seeing her photo and a profile of her in the official HydroFest program. It was Jayme Durand, the only female in the Powerboat Nationals race on Guntersville Lake.
Her mother shared that Jayme would be racing against her father over the weekend. They carry their boats to the races on a double decker hauler.
“I hate to ask,” I said. “But can I have a selfie made with you ladies? You are my brush with celebrity this morning."
They were super nice and I would have loved to talk more with them.
Jayme went on to win her race, the first female to do so in her class. That made giving her a lift doubly rewarding.
Dink Myers, the City Councilman and HydroFest chairman, was busy riding all over the venue too. But he had a golf cart on steroids, a 4x4 Wolverine with custom rims and the whole works. I didn’t begrudge him too much. After all, he’s the chairman and he’d worked a lot harder than myself in the months and weeks before HydroFest.
I got to follow Dink as we delivered a large family with kids to their tent site.
Perhaps the most rewarding rides were when I picked up someone who was disabled or elderly in the handicapped parking lot and gave them curbside service to their tent site. They were very grateful.
A few of those folks offered $10 bills as tips. I politely told them I couldn't take their money.
One of the last rides I gave was to a couple of Alabama Department of Environmental Management (ADEM) guys who were headed to the EMA trailer. They were fresh back from the big Tyson Foods industrial fish kill on the Mulberry Fork River.
"We haven't really been able to talk to reporters about what we're doing," one of them said. I didn't have the heart to tell him he just did.
My time at HydroFest was fleeting, though. I needed to spend some time in the office too that day. Mary came and took my place as a driver.
I showed her the basics of driving the golf cart and told her, “Ask Karen if she needs me to come back and drive again in the morning.”
She did and I spent another 6 hours on Saturday riding folks around the HydroFest venue.
More than once I ran into people who said, "I'm going to try to volunteer as a golf cart driver next year."