Tuesday, May 10, 2011

Cooter Festival 2011: On-the-Scene Report

If you’ve never thought that you’d get sick of hearing the word “cooter,” wait until you finish reading this.

I love a street festival. Newport, TN, used to have a street festival every fall – sometimes during Homecoming, sometimes not – so I’ve been keenly reared on an appreciation for street vendors, haphazardly established parades & ceremonies, and questionable in quality local artists & entrepreneurs hawking their homemade wares. And the entertainment!

Allendale, SC, is not immune; in fact, no city in South Carolina is immune to having a festival. Allendale’s contribution to the art of the festival is the Cooter Festival. Not to be confused with the Great American Cooterfest in Iverness, FL – yes, there are TWO cooter celebrations in our nation – the Carolina Cooter Festival (in its thirty-eighth year, as opposed to Iverness’, which is in its eighth) centers around, among a few other things, turtles. (What did you think a cooter was?) The big event of the Cooter Festival is the Cooter Race. Sometimes referred to as “The Running of the Cooters,” it’s a turtle race. More on the Cooter Race a little later ...

This shit's serious business ...

The festival starts on Friday, May 6. However, nothing major is scheduled for tonight; the main attractions, from 4:00 to 7:00, are the street vendors, the booths and the carnival rides. Expect the usual run of corn dogs, cotton candy, funnel cakes, and general gross shit that people use to kill their bodies. My little girl is glad to take one for the team, and she is more than happy to clog her young arteries with as much gross shit as she possibly can.

"Dada, take a picture of me eating a hot dog."

At 7:00pm, CWA held a wrestling event at the Allendale National Guard Armory. CWA used to stand for Champions With Attitudes, but I think they changed that at some point last year. They’ve been a long-standing staple of South Carolina’s independent wrestling circuit. I remember seeing posters for their shows as far back as 2005, hyping appearances by WWF & WCW castoffs. For tonight, they’ve been advertising former WWE wrestler Dave Batista. I’m thinking that they’re conning the rubes into coming to see local boy JAY Batista.
*I unfortunately failed to make this, as I was the one who came down with a bad case of mud-butt from some god awful thing called an “elephant ear.” Given that I used to use “elephant ears” in reference to a woman’s girl-parts when said woman has had too much babies pass that way (I refuse to explain this further), I was keen to see what elephant ears were in the dining sense. Not all that, I assure you.

Saturday, May 7

Carnies are gross. This, seconded AND quoted for truth. Every step I took down the carnival lane, I was inundated with hollers of “hey dad won’t you win a teddy bear for the little lady,” “hey turtle man” (a reference to my shirt), “hey man,” “hey sir,” “wanna throw a dart, pop a balloon and win a toy for the kiddo,” and so forth. I was really there more for the rides than any attempt to satisfy my ego by throwing an oversized ball into an undersized hoop, throwing a ping pong ball and winning a fish in which I had nowhere to keep, throwing a baseball at cement milk bottles, or, hell, whatever else there was. Having worked at the prison, I’ve gotten pretty good at ignoring hollers for attention. But, fuck, did I have nightmares of one dude near the rides who kept announcing, via headphone mic and P.A., “How fast do you throw? We don’t know! It’s FASTBAAAALLLL ....”

Thankfully, I didn't have to throw a dart at a bunny rabbit.

I did partake in the dart throwing, ‘cause for some reason I’ve always liked that; I won a tiny bear for my daughter, then I threw two more for an upgrade to a medium size bear. Funny thing was, when the carny took the little bear away from her to upgrade it, she started crying that she actually wanted the tiny bear back … so, of course, she got a medium AND a small bear. Who’s the fucking carny now??!

The Carolina Cooter Race. Holy cow, this is serious business. People showed up two hours before registration of cooters and, I shit you not, there were folks who were renting the use of some turtles out to the general public. I have no idea how someone would keep track of such an endeavor but sure enough, there were people who were renting these things left and right for a chance to race in this thing. A flighty girl next to us on the bleachers rented one and called it “Scooter,” and since she wasn’t much of a spaz or a bitch, we adopted Scooter as our choice to win the whole thing. Another family behind us rented one with only three legs(!), naming it “Dale” (who, according to a shirt I remember seeing somewhere, is in hell). (Spoiler alert: Dale didn’t win.)

While all of this madness is underway – the renting, the registration, et cetera – there was a performance going on of perhaps the worst, most rundown Elvis impersonator I’ve ever seen. He was off key and off tempo on everything, from “Hound Dog,” to that “I can’t help/ Falling in love/ With you ...” song, to songs I’m not even sure that Elvis sang. Five small girls went up to the stage, and “Elvis” gave out leis to them, but he only had three, and there were five girls ... it was a weird thing to see these two girls who got left out pitch a fit about not getting leis from “Elvis,” in 2011.

After ersatz Elvis finished, and registration continued well into the afternoon, the local radio station flooded the street with music of different sorts. All things came to a stopping point when the DJ, dedicating the next song to our troops oversees, played “Courtesy of the Red White and Blue,” by uber-Amer’can Toby By Gawd Keith (who appeared intoxicated on his WWE Monday Night Raw guest slot, I want to add). Those cooter folks knew this shit out of the lyrics to this thing, let me tell you. And at the end, the DJ said, “That one’s dedicated to you-know-who.” Didn’t you just dedicate it to the American troops? Why the clandestine shit now, Radio Raheem? Was it really dedicated to your undercover Afghan wife that you had a fight with last night? Small town drama must achieve closure!

Here are the *official* Cooter Race rules ... (all text outside of parentheses are [sic] ... are they ever ...) ...

1. Once race begins Cooter handlers may not touch their Cooter. Pushing, pulling or rubbing one’s Cooter will be grounds for disqualification. (And already, I hate myself.)

2. No drugged Cooters will be allowed to compete. (That would disqualify some of my clients at the mental health clinic, HAW!) If the judges suspect a Cooter has been drugged and the Cooter Inspector verifies, the parties responsible will be fines, or better yet, sentenced to clean up the Cooter Race Track area after the race. (Hey, Cooter Inspector, good luck getting that thing to piss in a cup.)

3. No foreign substances such as grease or oil can be placed on one’s Cooter to increase its speed.

4. Shouting, yelling, and coaxing one’s Cooter during the race is encouraged.

5. Cooter handlers are required to provide a safe environment for their Cooters before and after the race.

And now, for no reason, a picture of a man walking a turtle on a leash.

6. The Cooter Committee will provide a Cooter holding tank for those Cooter handlers unable to return their Cooters to their natural habitat after the race.

7. Cooter handlers found mishandling or mistreating their Cooters will automatically be disqualified. (Okay, isn’t this the same as rule #4?? Shit’s ridiculous …)

8. Any violations to the Cooter Race rules will force the Cooter judges to disqualify the Cooter Handler from the race competition. (You don’t know how bad I wanted to edit that whole statement.)

9. Decisions of the Cooter judges are final and there are no appeals.

Jesus tapdancing Christ ... you know, there’s an office in Allendale County for “Cooter Fest Chairman?” I think it’s an elected position; I wish I were joking with you right now.

About a block away from all of this madness was the Allendale Elementary Steel Drum Band. Now, this was fun to watch; it had a lot of educational stuff that I had to sift through for the actual music, but once the kids got going, damn, that was worth watching.

2:00pm hit, and the Cooter Race was underway. We actually made it through three, maybe four heats before my daughter got sleepy, then antsy, then unruly. Incidentally, “Scooter” won his heat, so we had fun cheering that. And of course, as you might expect, no news on who actually won the race on the official website … Love a small town, for real.


Waka Flocka Flame. Waka Flocka Flame had a concert at the B&G (Civic) Center in conjunction with the Allendale Cooter Fest. If you’ve never had the opportunity to experience Waka Flocka, check out his videos on youtube. I challenge you to make it through the first minute of, say, “Hard in Da Paint;” even better, try to make it through a full minute that does NOT include him mentioning his own name. If you like that brand of “rap music” (and I submit that it qualifies as neither), then you can have it. It’s very clear that Waka Flocka fancies himself as the Lil’ Wayne to Gucci Mane’s Birdman.

At any rate, when I was researching Waka ... wait, I don’t know him like that ... check it, when I was researching Mr. Flocka, I came across this video on Youtube, called “UpTopKid at Waka Flocka (BOTTLE FIGHT & SAYS CRIPS AINT G CHECK HIM)”, I was convinced that Allendale would be obliterated from the SC county map, especially when I read the comments to that video. Statements like “Bottles hurt bullets kill,” “how dis slobk ass nigga gone wipe his face wit hiz flag at 4:55” and “Is this nigga makin it popular to be fat?” Ooh, that shit’s scary. So, yeah, I decided that it wasn’t worth braving whatever the hell was going to happen there, especially when the music isn’t even that good, ESPECIALLY for $30 in advance, $60 at the door.

Is there a worse rap moniker than Waka Flocka Flame?

And Allendale County still stands, one day removed from Waka Flocka’s big Allendale debut. No one kill’t, no one came up from A-T-L to kill him, no one raped up (as far as we know), so I guess it was a successful market for Mr. Flocka. Heard that some folks saw him at the local El Cheapo buying rolling papers or some such, so good for him. He missed his big opportunity to run off with the carnies.

So, in all, the total tally was:
4: Rides on the carousel
2: Rides on the Honey Bear-go-round
1: Trip down the Jumbo Slide
1: *LIVE* Pony ride thankfully avoided
1: Attempt to ride the Ferris Wheel aborted by its rickety qualities

The pony less traveled.
4: Darts thrown
6: Dollars spent
7: Teeth visible in the mouth of the carny running the dart game
3: Balloons popped
2: Bears won
7: Carny games avoided like the plague
1: Carny mantra that still invades my dreams
3: Useless animals that could have been “won” at select games (a rabbit, a turtle, and a goldfish)

5: Shit foods eaten
2: ... of which included hot dogs
2: Turtles that we cheered for
1: Turtle of choice that actually won
1: Man walking a turtle on a leash

1: Waka
1: Flocka
1: Flame
0: Money spent on that garbage

Infinitum: Cooter-to-vagina innuendos suffered.

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