Monday, July 05, 2010

5 JUL 10: Upa-Toi Something Big

The time to beat is approximately 29 minutes 15 seconds. If the fireworks show you watched Sunday night was shorter than that, it was NOT the biggest show in the Columbus area. Unless you're going by the number of explosions - and c'mon, who really can count that fast during the big finish?

The fireworks lasted nearly half-an-hour in one corner of Columbus. NOT Thunder on the Hooch - but at the other edge of town, in Upatoi. Your blog received a last-minute invitation to an Independence Day party, at the home of the man who owns local Goo Goo Car Washes. True to his tradition, I saw NO cars being washed there on Sunday.

The Upatoi Community Club stages a big Independence Day bash every year. The host has an estate large enough to hold old-fashioned croquet games on the grounds, along with volleyball and even a little soccer. Thankfully, there were NO goals set up for referees to make bad calls.

The person who invited me to Upatoi offered several enticements. Not only could I see the biggest fireworks show in Columbus -- I could eat for free, while seeing several local celebrities. The last two are perfect for a blogger like me. The first one struck me as simply southern-style hype.

A large enclosed porch behind the main house served as the dinner buffet area. And sure enough - I found my first celebrity there. Mayoral candidate Wayne Anthony showed up wearing a red, white and blue tie. I did NOT ask if he'd already visited Thunder on the Hooch - and if he posed for pictures with Hillbilly Bob, while buying a soda.

"Thank you for making all this food," I said jokingly to a woman behind me in the buffet line.

"I only made part of it," she answered. "Everyone was asked to bring two covered dishes." Uh-oh -- talk about feeling busted. The only covered thing I brought was for my camera lens.

At that point, I decided to shut my mouth and settle for one trip through the main dinner line. The barbecue chicken went one step beyond "fall off the bone" tender - the meat actually fell in my lap a couple of times.

Each table in the dining area had yardsticks on them. Everyone was invited to take one as a remembrance of Upatoi resident Willie Register, who died of pancreatic cancer earlier this year. But I heard one parent talk about a more practical use for them - a "beating stick" for children.

(Trouble was, several children seemed to use the yardsticks to beat each other. I saw one holding only about ten inches out of 36 - as if she might have a future playing for the Cottonmouths.)

But back to the celebrity watch: I was told Columbus Police Chief Ricky Boren would show up, since he lives nearby. Boren indeed was there with wife Nancy - so the smart alecks who shot fireworks down the street after the party ended simply were asking for trouble.

While I saw several Columbus firefighters in the crowd, I did NOT see Fire Chief Jeff Meyer. Perhaps his latest way to hide from public attention is to count the crowd at the Jehovah's Witnesses convention.

There was live music at the Upatoi party - but regrettably, I did NOT get the names of the performers. A bluegrass group performed inside a gazebo. Then a gospel quartet sang the national anthem at sunset, before the fireworks show - giving hundreds of people one last chance to adjust their viewing spot, while they stood.

The fireworks part of the party actually lasted longer than 29 minutes. Children were allowed to come forward and hold sparklers for about 15 minutes. The parental warnings about playing with matches will resume after breakfast today.

Then the big show started - with the crowd close enough that the explosions were pounding and the flashes of light occasionally were blinding. One woman said they reminded her of fireflies. To which I said: "Except these are much louder."

The story is told that a Upatoi resident became upset with this legal fireworks show several years ago - so he launched fireworks in his own yard, then received a citation for arguing with police about it. Not even upset Phenix City football fans went this far last fall....

Watermelon was offered to all comers after the fireworks ended - but I decided to head for my car and head home. You might say I've never been a fan of "Melon-camp."

Only a couple of people recognized me at the Upatoi Independence Day celebration - and I never met the man whose name I was supposed to mention, to get access to everything. Does that officially make me a party crasher? And can I make up for those two covered dishes, by sending someone a Subway gift card?

By the way, is it just me -- or did WTVM keep Thunder on the Hooch quite low-key this year? When it isn't even mentioned until six minutes into Sunday's 6:00 p.m. newscast, something's going on here. Are they about to trade this event to WLTZ, to settle Dee Armstrong's lawsuit?

-> If you like comeback stories, what until you read what happened at last Thursday's poker tournament. The story is on our other blog, "On the Flop!" <-

BLOG UPDATE: "I have some wonderful friends," Stephen King said Sunday in the wake of what he called a "perfect" fireworks show. Yes, he's still staging them - including a big show Saturday night at Lake Eufaula. If the bass were jumping, it might have been from all the noise.

Stephen King told your blog the drive to Lake Eufaula was the longest he's made since the assault which injured him last November. It was a painful trip -- yet he says people were more than willing to help with his preparations, and even pay for his food. If only someone had offered to give him on-the-spot massage therapy....

Stephen King had another fireworks show Sunday night - what he described as a small show for charity in Cuthbert. It benefited a program of the Randolph County, Georgia schools. And who knows - maybe the superintendent and school board members agreed the fireworks were good. They seem to disagree on almost everything else....

Let's see what else caused a commotion on Independence Day....

+ Calvary Baptist Church held its first service in a new sanctuary. The old one was demolished by the 2007 tornado, and the new one is completely paid off. Pastor Donald Wilhite might want to start teaching courses on financial management -- for members of Congress.

+ Larry Mize of Columbus won the Champions Tour golf tournament in Montreal. It's his first tournament win in 17 years - and I should note he followed the Danica Patrick example, by leaving the U.S. to do it.

+ Various reports indicated University of Georgia Athletic Director Damon Evans will resign today, in the wake of his DUI arrest. None of this would be happening if Evans had hired Stacey Jackson as his attorney. Jackson would have uncovered a conflict of interest -- perhaps by accusing the arresting officer of supporting Georgia Tech.

+ Instant Message to Chris at one of the Columbus Subway restaurants: It was hard to hear your last question - but if I asked you to make me a sandwich, yes I DO really want the sandwich.

SCHEDULED TUESDAY: What a controversial educator is thinking about doing next.... looking like another Blog Exclusive....

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