Friday, February 25, 2011

The Owassee Prophecy

The most recent installment from E. G. Paine follows. Or, follow this link for all episodes to date.

Chapter Sixteen

As soon as news of the proposed motorsports park got out, the controversy snow-balled. People who knew about Lola and Winona’s camp – and especially the volunteers and donors making it happen – were outraged that there was nothing to prevent something as disruptive as a race track.

They contacted every environmental agency they could think of, in hopes of finding some law on some level to halt work on the track. They even tried to get a court order to stop construction, but none of their strategies were panning out. When the sisters and their friends approached the individual board members, the officials were sympathetic and promised nothing.

Even before the race track issue came up, the board had been considering a high-impact development ordinance for Owassee County. It had been getting to the point where, almost every year, a group of “Concerned Citizens” in one part of the county or another would coalesce to fend off new and incompatible enterprises (in the order they appeared on the scene):

Rock quarry
Asphalt plant
Shooting range
Abattoir and rendering plant

After the quiet neighborhoods of several elected officials were threatened by a couple of these projects, the board of supervisors warmed up to the idea of an ordinance. But such things happen slowly. If the race track was going to be stopped, time was of the essence. So, track opponents convinced the board to consider a moratorium on high-impact development pending adoption of a new ordinance.

It was a long shot, but Lola and Winona thought it was their best hope. The county attorney drafted a moratorium and it was set for a public hearing, a prerequisite to the board’s vote at a subsequent meeting.

Meanwhile, the story had been front page news in the Owassee Sentinel every week. A batch of impassioned letters to the editor protested plans for the motorsports park on Mulberry Creek and endorsed the efforts to establish a therapeutic equestrian center.

A week before the hearing, the Fallingwaters’ mailbox was smashed and they found roofing nails scattered along the end of their driveway. On the morning of November 16, Lola got a phone call informing her that the public hearing, set for 6:00 that evening, was being moved from the courthouse to the Owassee High gymnasium two blocks down River Street.

The updates trickled in all day. Apparently, Pam Jackson and Dewaine Dewitt were giving most of their employees the afternoon off with the understanding that they would show up for the public hearing prepared to raise hell.

At 5:30, the gym was filling quickly. The atmosphere was as boisterous as it might be if the Owassee Warhawks were going up against arch-rivals in a playoff game. After Lola and Winona arrived and put their names on the sign-up sheet to speak, Lola whispered, “This is not going to be pretty.”

Daniel came in and sat next to Lola. A couple of minutes later, Vee Nikopoulos joined them. By 6:00, the gym was packed. A couple of rebel flags waved and somebody kept bumping the trigger of an air horn. It was like a pep rally. A very tense pep rally.

The county board of supervisors filed in and chairman Mitch Ryan gaveled the hearing to order. He spelled out the rules for the evening:

“Speakers will be called in the order they signed up. You will have two minutes apiece to make your comments. The board of supervisors will take your concerns into consideration and we will vote on the proposed moratorium at our next regular meeting on November 30.

Ryan called the first name on the list, “Jim Winston.”

When Winston stepped to the microphone, he announced “I’m yielding my time to a special guest who has to get back to Franklin, Tennessee tonight.”

With that, he turned toward the entrance of the gym and nodded.

In walked three-time Nascar champion (and Daytona 500 winner!) Darrell Waltrip. A deafening roar shook the gym. You’d think Elvis was in the building.

Waltrip grinned like the cat that ate the canary, strutted to the podium and motioned an end to the ovation.

“Ladies and gentlemen, I’ll keep it short. I just came here tonight to tell y’all one thing.”

He leaned back from the microphone, raised his arms, pumped his fists, and issued a guttural scream, “BOOGITY. BOOGITY. BOOGITY. LET’S…GO…RACIN’!”

Then DW strode toward the exit, grinning even wider, while saluting the crowd and giving everybody the thumbs up. The gymnasium went berserk. People jumped to their feet and hooted, rebel flags waved furiously, cow bells clanged and air horns honked. From one corner, a chant started and rolled through the crowd:

“Let’s go racin’…Let’s go racin’…Let’s go racin’…”

Ryan’s attempt to gavel the meeting to order went unheeded. When the cacophony finally started to fade, he called the next speaker, “Sergeant Rick Swain of the Owassee County Sheriff’s Department.”

“As many of you know, I run the DARE program here in our county. Sometimes, it seems like we’re fighting a losing battle in the war on drugs. But we can’t stop now. We need to do everything we can to keep our kids off dope. They say there ain’t nothin’ to do around here, and maybe they’re right. A race track is just what we need more of, a positive thing for the whole family and especially our young people. If it’ll keep one kid from getting’ hooked on that ol’ dope, then I say full speed ahead with the race track.”

Dewaine Dewitt’s turn came. With a raspy growl, he explained:

“I know this thing’s done got blowed all outer proportion. So I’m gonna set the record straight. We intend to be good neighbors. This’ll be good for Mulberry Creek. This’ll be good for the whole county. This’ll means jobs. This’ll mean lots of jobs. Provided the county don’t pull the rug out from under us. Far as them varnmeddlists who claim we’re gonna muddy up the creek, y’all don’t understand that we’ve got engineers to make sure everything is done right. This’ll be world-class.” Dewaine concluded triumphantly, “They ain’t gonna be no varnmeddle impact. So let’s get on with it.”

The next speaker on the list was Rev. John Donne. A rotund fellow in a white linen suit, the venerable old preacher shuffled to the microphone and addressed the crowd in lugubrious tones.

“Precious brothers and sisters, my heart is heavy tonight. Just look at what is happening in our blessed community. The spirit of contention, which comes from Satan himself, has been unleashed upon Owassee County. We must stand firm in unity and brotherhood. I pray that the people demanding this moratorium will reflect on how their actions are afflicting our dear little town. I pray that those who are fighting against this motorsports park will place the peace and harmony of our dear little community above their personal, even selfish, desires to prevent the race track. To them I say: Turn the other cheek. Let us move beyond the rancor and the discord.”

Before leaving the podium, Rev. Donne pulled out a handkerchief and dabbed away tears before blowing his nose. Then he turned and shuffled back to his seat. The crowd responded with a solid round of applause and a smattering of “amens” and “hell yeahs.”

Other speakers were less conciliatory in their calls for surrender. Take Randy Barlowe:

“Them girls up on Mulberry Creek act like these good folks that plan to build the track need to bow down and get their permission to do what they want to do on their own land. Pardon my language, but that’s a load of horse hockey. If you’ll notice, them girls didn’t ask nobody’s permission to set up that camp, or whatever it is.” He pointed at Lola and Winona, “You people move here and want to turn this into Roosha or sumpn’. Well I got news for you. This is still the greatest country in the world because we still have our freedom. And when it gets to the point a man can’t do what he wants on his own property, then we ain’t no better off than them Rooshans or them Red Chinese. I got one word for you girls if you don’t want to live next to a race track. It’s real simple, folks…MOVE!…MOVE!”

In the course of the evening, quite a few speakers did stand up to support the moratorium and they received their share of catcalls, but nothing like the torrent unleashed when Lola’s turn came. While making her case, she mentioned the great breakthroughs she had witnessed in children attending a similar camp in Georgia.

At that point, she was interrupted by one shrill voice, “Then why don’t you go back to GEORGIA, bitch?”

Lola tried to ignore the woman and continue with her comments. Then, someone directly behind Daniel bellowed an especially vile remark, the kindest words in it being “squaws” and “retards.”

Daniel snapped. He jumped to his feet and faced the heckler. “What did you say?”

“You deaf, boy? You heard exactly what I said. But if I need to say it louder, then I reckon I will.”

Daniel was irate and closed in on the man, “Lola and Winona are good people trying to do a good thing. You’d better apologize right now.”

The man laughed derisively, “Get outta my face.” He grabbed Daniel by the shoulders, shoved hard and sent him tumbling. While Daniel was trying to disentangle himself from the bleachers, Vee aimed a solid punch at the heckler’s gut, doubling him over.

Pandemonium exploded throughout the gym. Deputies tried to break up the scuffles, but the scene deteriorated to complete bedlam within seconds.

The board members looked at one another in shock. The vice-chairman caught Mitch Ryan’s attention and dragged his finger across his throat. Ryan nodded, declared the meeting adjourned, banged his gavel and led a hasty retreat from the building.

[to be continued]

From The Owasssee Prophecy, by E. G. Paine


Laurence Holden said...

Gee, I've been to this same county board meeting, more times than I can count on one hand. The script works just like this, 'cept at the end, no fights yet, just down here in the hills of Georgia, some one says "I know where you live," and flicks his thumb as if he was lighting a cigarette lighter. When issues get to the board meeting it's a fait a compli, as they say a few thousand miles east of here.

GULAHIYI said...

Your observations (and E.G.'s) you confirm what I've come to believe: if you've been to one of these meetings, you've been to them all. They're entertaining in the same way that watching a train wreck is entertaining.