2 years ago

Lay Lake Christmas Boat Parade a floating gallery of lights

Joe Sullivan decorates his boat for the Lay Lake Christmas boat parade. (Bernard Troncale / Shorelines)

 

Lakes on a winter night are silent things. Flapping with little waves when a wind sweeps in. Luxurious views you can only see in your imagination. Inky black places not the least bit inviting – unless, of course, it’s the holiday season and there’s a boat parade.

Take the happy event on Lay Lake the second Saturday of every December, which finds spectators and a fleet of festooned pontoons reporting with glee to Beeswax Creek Park, where the evening commences at 5:15. People flock to watch the boats pass Paradise Point Marina (5:50), Cedar Creek (6:30), Okomo Marina (7) and Bozos Marina (7:35) with church groups, Boy Scouts, holiday parties and lake residents camping out on shorelines flickering with campfires and a s’more or two.

It’s a merry toss-up as to who’s the most delighted – the boaters or the up to 3,000 spectators along the way. “I wish I could show you a video of what we see from out on the water,” says Joe Sullivan, who has led the event for at least 10 years (or is it 16 or 17? He’s having too much fun to count). “The best part for those of us on boats is nearing the people and hearing the kids go ‘ooh’ and ‘ahh.’ You can hear them shout ‘Merry Christmas’ to us – and that is why we do it. My daddy was a founding member of the HOBO association, and it’s also my last tie to him.”

‘The people are waiting’

Whipping up a parade each year is a combination of pluck, luck, prep and the weather. “I don’t think we’ve ever ridden it in shorts – it can get cold out there on the water,” Sullivan continues. “Fog and too much rain can literally stop the parade – you can’t navigate in fog – but mostly we just get out there and go. We take it slow and just try not to hit the boat in front of us. The only rule in this whole thing is safety. And we know the people are waiting.”

The sheriff’s boat sets the pace (with the Water Patrol at the end and the Coast Guard Auxiliary in between). Pontoons drift at an idle – maybe 5 mph or less – along the 10-mile course. Last year’s boat count numbered some 30-plus vessels (though it’s hard to count them when you’re in one yourself, Sullivan says with a laugh). And each is a floating gallery of colored lights and themes.

One of the years they staged a contest, Butch Whitten’s boat, shared with friend Ralph Lucas, won hands-down. “People on the shore think it’s different boats going by, but it’s all ours,” he says of operating 16 buttons, each of which switches the light show to a new scene. “You look once, turn away, then look back and see something completely different – all with music from Elvis’ ‘Blue Christmas’ album.”

For instance, there’s a brightly lighted dolphin jumping an arc over the boat. Blink. A helicopter with spinning rotors. Blink. A Christmas tree blazing with multicolors. Blink. Santa and a sleigh pulled by running reindeer (which wore out but may return to the repertoire).

“We don’t have an artistic bone in our bodies,” Whitten says. “We just string those lights on this old houseboat of ours that has a little cabin sitting on it – the kind of a hybrid they used to make in Sylacauga years ago – and we just leave the lights strung on there all year long. Christmas is the only time we crank up that boat.”

At this time of year, they crank it a lot. “Between Thanksgiving and New Year’s we’ll go out on the water, turn on those scenes and see who flashes their house lights at us – that’s the way we know they see us. And, of course, if we think of a new scene each year, we add it. Colored lights on the water at night look good; that’s what it boils down to.” Whitten, by the way, participated in the first Lay Lake Christmas Boat Parade 24 years ago.

Jim Davis, who also won during the brief contest era, struts the same theme each year. “Kids love trains,” he says, “So I made a frame and strung it with lights and used hula hoops with lights for the wheels. I use PVC pipe to curve the roof over the engine. And last year I put a smoke stack on it and might put a second one on this year – maybe with dry ice with a spotlight to look like steam.”

The hula hoops gave way a while back to bigger, rope-lit metal wire wheels with a few “chasing lights” to add action. Davis invites friends for holiday cruising during the season, aiming his stern – choo-choo blazing – toward sloughs not included on the parade route. Like Whitten, he glories in the shouted greetings and is known to yell “Merry Christmas Back Atcha.”

Keeping it going

Sullivan, Whitten and Davis are boat parade veterans. Newcomer Brandy Contorno, who came to Lay Lake as a bride several years ago, is infusing the event with youthful passion while respecting its heritage. “Thank goodness for Brandy,” Sullivan says without hesitation. “She brings good energy.”

Contorno, married to lake dweller Nick, attended the parade one year when the boat count sank to single digits – a rare but every-so-often occurrence. “I thought immediately that Lay Lake is a tight-knit community and that we needed to get the word out,” she said. With Sullivan’s blessing, she revved up social media, peppering Facebook sites like Layke Living [dedicated to all things Lay Lake]. They issued zippy, and very frequent, email blasts to the lake’s boating community. Then came the fliers bordered with bright holiday bulbs, appearing in prominent spots anywhere a lake resident might visit. The result: a swelling of numbers, bringing boats decorated by young and old alike.

“I love holiday lights in general,” Contorno admits, adding that their pontoon resembled “National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation” with its exuberance. “They’re kind of my thing at this time of year, so I just really wanted to help on this.” She adores the variety – a mixed bag of old-fashioned lights, anything marked down in price for after-holiday sales, and brighter-than-bright LED models. It’s definitely every designer for himself out there, with hodgepodge reigning as the prevalent style.

Rather than relax and reflect, the new parade promoter vows to surpass last year’s turnout both on land and water. One thing is certain: One more Contorno will be aboard the 2018 boat when baby Mac, due in February, joins the ranks. “We hope this will become his tradition, too,” she says. “And that Mac can someday keep the torch lit for his generation.”

By Carolanne Roberts. This story was written for Alabama Power’s Shorelines.

7 hours ago

Fmr Gov. Don Siegelman appears to be using outrage over George Floyd to sell new book

Former Alabama Governor Don Siegelman to sell his new book is using robocalls that appear to reference the current unrest over George Floyd’s death while in Minneapolis police custody.

On Thursday afternoon, a Yellowhammer News reporter received a robocall from 1 (800) 890-5875, a number listed as “Robocaller” by the phone protection company NoMoRobo. The voiceover of the robocall was apparently recorded by Siegelman himself.

The message began, “Don Siegelman, your governor here. We’ve got to protect people from the abuse of power by police, prosecutors, or presidents.”

“My new book, Stealing our Democracy, is a wakeup call to action. It’s also number one among new releases on amazon.com,” the message added.

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An individual from the Wiregrass told Yellowhammer News that she also received the voicemail.

In addition to that, at least one Twitter user appeared to have received the robocall.

Siegelman was convicted on June 29, 2006, of conspiracy, bribery and fraud.

The former Alabama Democratic governor appeared to lump in his claimed unjust treatment by the authorities with the death of George Floyd.

Listen:

Siegelman is currently promoting his new book “Stealing Our Democracy.”

Yellowhammer News’ request for comment from Siegelman was not immediately returned. A message was left on his personal cell phone number.

He claimed the book is “#1 among new releases on amazon.com”

Yellowhammer News examined the new releases chart on Amazon.com, which revealed that Siegelman’s book is not in the top 100 best selling new releases.

However, the book is #1 in the sub-subcategory “Urban, State & Local Government Law.”

Urban, State & Local Government Law is one of 12 sub-subcategories of the “Administrative Law” subcategory.

The “Administrative Law” subcategory is one of 23 subcategories under the category “Law.”

“Law” is one of 36 categories into which Amazon divides the kinds new-release books that it sells.

As a matter of record, the book is only available for pre-order. It has not been released to the public yet.

The former governor’s book claims that his downfall and conviction of felony bribery were part of a politically motivated prosecution coordinated by Karl Rove.

His book will be released to the public on June 16.

Henry Thornton is a staff writer for Yellowhammer News. You can contact him by email: henry@yellowhammernews.com or on Twitter @HenryThornton95

7 hours ago

Two charged with capital murder in slaying of Moody PD officer

Two suspects have been charged with capital murder in the case of slain Moody Police Department officer Stephen Williams.

The two suspects are 27-year-old male Tapero Corlene Johnson and 28-year-old female Marquisha Anissa Tyson. Both are from Birmingham and will be eligible for the death penalty if convicted.

At a press conference Friday, St. Clair County Sheriff Billy Murray described said the investigation is still continuing and described it as “complex and intense.”

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Williams was posthumously promoted to lieutenant at the press conference on Thursday by Moody Police Chief Thomas Hunt.

Hunt said Williams had remarked at times that he would like to achieve the rank of lieutenant someday, and now he will forever be known as Lt. Stephen Williams.

The District Attorney for St. Clair County said the two suspects had been in police custody since the shooting on Tuesday night.

Investigators say they have determined that Johnson and Tyson fired weapons at Williams who was responding to a disturbance at a Super 8 Motel.

A GoFundMe page to help Williams’ family has been raising money in recent days.

Williams served the public as a police officer for 23 years before being killed in the line of duty this week.

Governor Kay Ivey commented on the incident earlier in the week, saying Williams “died a hero.”

Henry Thornton is a staff writer for Yellowhammer News. You can contact him by email: henry@yellowhammernews.com or on Twitter @HenryThornton95

8 hours ago

Data shows Alabama nursing homes performing better than national average for COVID-19 cases, deaths

The Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services on Thursday released facility-specific COVID-19 data for nursing homes across the United States, and an analysis of the data shows Alabama fairing better than the national average.

The data was collected on a mandatory basis by the CDC and currently covers through the week ending on May 31.

Nationwide, the average number of confirmed coronavirus cases per 1,000 residents in nursing homes was 91.2, while the average number of deaths from the disease per 1,000 residents was 30.2.

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In Alabama, both of those numbers were significantly lower than the national average, at 64.9 and 20.9, respectively.

Alabama Nursing Home Association president and CEO Brandon Farmer issued a statement on the data’s release.

“According to the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS), Alabama nursing homes report fewer cases of COVID-19 per 1,000 residents and fewer deaths from COVID-19 per 1,000 residents than the national average,” he confirmed.

“Because we are on the front lines of fighting COVID-19, we expect the number of COVID-19 cases to rise as more tests are administered and the data is added to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) system. The Alabama Nursing Home Association hopes this data will be used to prioritize resources for skilled nursing facilities,” Farmer advised.

“Alabama nursing homes have been transparent from the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic,” he continued. “Our members have reported cases to their local county health department and the Alabama Department of Public Health from the start. In May, we began reporting cases to the CDC. Facilities also inform residents and their family representatives and employees of cases in their buildings. We are following the guidelines set forth by the multiple state and federal agencies that regulate our sector. No other business or health care provider reports COVID-19 cases to more government entities and people than nursing homes.”

Nationwide, nursing homes reported 95,515 confirmed COVID-19 cases and 31,782 deaths through May 31. Nursing homes in Alabama reported 1,000 confirmed cases and 335 deaths.

Moving forward, CMS will release the next round of data on June 18. After that date, new data should be released weekly.

“The Alabama Nursing Home Association and its members will continue to work with local, state and federal leaders to address the needs of nursing home residents and employees,” Farmer concluded.

The CMS data can be viewed here.

As of Friday at 2:00 p.m., the Alabama Department of Public Health reported 19,073 total confirmed COVID-19 cases in the state, with 672 deaths.

Sean Ross is the editor of Yellowhammer News. You can follow him on Twitter @sean_yhn

8 hours ago

NFIB survey of Alabama business owners shows ongoing COVID-19 related fears

A new study from the National Federation of Independent Businesses (NFIB) showed that an overwhelming majority of proprietors are nervous about several aspects of how the coronavirus pandemic is affecting their business.

Yellowhammer News reported in the first week of May that 70% of the NFIB’s membership across the United States was concerned about individuals filing frivolous lawsuits claiming a business had caused them to catch COVID-19.

A poll from the Alabama division of NFIB this week shows that 69% of businesses in the Yellowhammer State remain nervous about lawsuits, and roughly equal amounts are worried whether customers might come back and that it may prove difficult to comply with ongoing regulations.

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The top results of the survey as follows:

  • 70% of owners say they’re very or moderately concerned about getting customers back.
  • 69% are concerned about managing the health and safety of their customers; 66% are concerned about managing the health and safety of employees.
  • 69% are concerned with having to comply with new regulations related to the coronavirus.
  • 68% are concerned about finding an adequate supply of supplies such as hand sanitizer and disinfectant.

NFIB state director Rosemary Elebash told Yellowhammer News Friday that the survey was administered to businesses in every county and every city with a significant population.

“It wasn’t just NFIB members,” Elebash added about the survey, saying the group had worked with a number of trade associations to increase the amount of responses.

The NFIB also continues to strongly support Senator Arthur Orr’s (R-Decatur) bill to grant civil immunity from COVID-19 lawsuits to businesses in Alabama.

Elebash noted in a release that Orr’s bill would be “one of NFIB’s top priorities” if Governor Kay Ivey calls a special session later in the year.

Henry Thornton is a staff writer for Yellowhammer News. You can contact him by email: henry@yellowhammernews.com or on Twitter @HenryThornton95

9 hours ago

Tuberville: Nationwide unrest linked to ‘education and jobs’

Many argue there is much more to the civil unrest across the nation than the lone incident in Minneapolis involving the death of George Floyd while in the custody of the police department. Former Auburn head football coach Tommy Tuberville indicated he agrees with that.

During an appearance on Huntsville WVNN’s “The Jeff Poor Show,” Tuberville, a candidate for U.S. Senate, said based on his interactions with people on the campaign trail, there is a longing to get back to a sense of normalcy in the wake of the heights of the COVID-19 pandemic.

“I speak to eight to ten places a day — groups are worried, obviously. I think they’re getting a little more confident they can go out and be around other people,” he said. “And we’re just hoping we can just put this pandemic, and it is a problem, it is serious — again, you’ve got to protect yourself. It’s not going away. It is still here, especially if you’re having health problems and those things. That will go away — but then all of a sudden we get hit with this civil unrest, and again — we’re all Americans. We’re all in this together. We’ve got to find a solution.”

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Tuberville said he is asked for his thoughts by voters while on the trail, to which he said he points to “education and jobs,” and the erosion of the American middle class.

“I had a group ask me today, ‘Coach, what do you think the problem is?’ Education and jobs. We don’t have a middle class anymore,” Tuberville stated. “There are people out there that don’t have the opportunity to advance in this country like they want to. This is not a black issue. This is not a white issue. This is an American issue. We shipped our jobs to China, bottom line. We’re finding out more and more about that every day, and we’ve got to give the opportunity for young men and women to have a chance to grow in this country, and give them a fair chance. Unfortunately, our middle class has dissipated. We have more drugs in this country, and a lot of people take other options. We got to understand — we’re all in this together, 340 million people. We’re either going to make it together or not make together.”

@Jeff_Poor is a graduate of Auburn University and the University of South Alabama, the editor of Breitbart TV, a columnist for Mobile’s Lagniappe Weekly and host of Huntsville’s “The Jeff Poor Show” from 2-5 p.m. on WVNN.