Here is the winning blind essay that won the 2019 Golden Coconut Award. A “blind essay” means that we couldn’t have any reference to our actual club or location. That was the challenge, and we worked our way around it. This is written by Geno Redmon, you will see his way with words throughout, and edited by Jeff Brewer, probably 80/20 Geno. We hope you enjoy.
Ordinary People Performing Extraordinary Actions
Parrot Heads are drawn together by the music, but they stay for the friendships! Everyone has a beach in their backyard. Jimmy may have started on the gulf coast rocking the Florabama, but his reach is far beyond. He sings of Paris, Tahiti, Montana, and Colorado as well as the Gulf coast and Caribbean, or that mythological land called Margaritaville. His fan clubs are everywhere, because Jimmy spreads an attitude that can be found anywhere. So what is the common denominator? It is US! We have all become the people that our parents warned us about! We are all growing older but not up. We all can relate to poor Frankie and Lola trying to get together again. We all love a good ragtop day, even if it doesn’t happen so often everywhere. It is about the people who will always have a school-boy heart, wherever we may call home. The Parrot Head experience can happen anywhere. And the universal truth is that it is always about the people, always about the group, the team, and THE FAMILY. So let me tell you a story about some Parrot Heads, joined together just because most of them lived in the same county, some by choice, some by career, some by birth.
This one particular club has its own salty piece of land, its one particular harbor that lies not in the earthquake zone, not in the flood zone, not in the tornado zone, but smack dab in hurricane country, which is anywhere from South Padre Island, Texas to Bangor, Maine. Their gang is as diverse as a group could be, a kaleidoscope of colored anchor line woven into a tapestry that looks surprisingly tie-dyed.
Yep they have all kinds: “God fearin’ gun toting MAGA hat wearers.” “Hey man let’s chill out, smoke a bowl and let these downtrodden immigrants in at the border.” They are old and young, tall and short, fat and anorexic, genius and idiot, millionaire and poor enough to need a loaner beer until the social security check comes. Some have travelled every corner of the globe and speak multiple languages and some have never travelled outside a circle whose radius would include one large city, one airport, one university and probably one body of water, no matter how small and muddy that puddle is.
And yet this amorphous mass is held together with more than caviar and chicken wings. They share a love of pure white sand and emerald waters. It is the land of first tattoos, and the “first time I ever got laid, fell in love, and broke up in the same 10-day period.” We’ve seen hearts come together, vows exchanged, broken hard, and the host of lonely hearts come to begin to heal again. Flirt, hook up, fall in love, get married, get divorced, repeat. And all the while the soundtrack of our lives sounds remarkably like “Songs You Know by Heart.”
They come together twice a month, ready to put their phins up. They know the words, they know the hand motions. They raise money for charity, clean up a portion of the beach road. They instinctively join hands and link arms when they hear those immortal words, “Mother Mother Ocean…” In summers past, they worried about paying their bills, increasing membership and preparing for their annual party.
Above all though, they live in hurricane territory. For most of their lives they’d watched the storms come and go. They’d watched the storm tracks. They’d watched Cat 1’s change to 2’s. They’d stocked up on water, canned beans and rum. They’d filled their generators and talked trash about riding it out. And then one recent October day, they found themselves in the very eye of the storm. The trash talk about ridin’ it out on Monday night changed to “loading the dog and cat and getting out of dodge” Tuesday afternoon. In a record pace the storm of their lifetimes went from a tropical storm to a CAT 4, and later to a CAT 5. Those that chose to ride it out experienced sheer terror, and a trauma they will remember anytime the thunder rolls in. When faced with a Cat 4/5 there is no trying to “Reason with Hurricane Season.”
When the storms of life came, they found solace in themselves. They immediately gathered together. The President of the club was blasted out of two houses and moved in with the Vice President for a month. That house became a command post. There were no telephones working, yet people managed to communicate. They drove around debris to check on their neighbors. Three of the group broke out their back hoes, front end loaders, and chain saws, and formed a rescue militia and went out riding to the sound of the chain saws roaring. They reacted to help people get the tree out of the hole in their roofs, clear debris from the doorway, or clear a group of trees just to get out of the driveway. The effort started first with fellow parrot heads then reached out to military, first responders and anybody that needed help or didn’t have the money or insurance to pay the rapacious contractors. The President of the club also has a band, and “Jefe’ y El Caminos” donated their time for the entertainment that next meeting, more than a month after the storm. $9,000 raised. At one meeting. In retrospect, that should have been a sign of things to come.
They lived in a land where life had changed forever in the blink of an eye. There was, at first, not even a new normal. Basic land navigation was broken down from piles of rubble blocking viewing with no familiar terrain to navigate from. Literally hundreds had to find refuge from the aftermath. This merry band of misfits were forced by circumstance, to make decisions they’d never dreamed a group of Parrot Heads would have to make. Decisions: who to help, how to triage assistance, who to be first, who to be next. Emergency board meetings were called. Decisions: how to distribute help that poured in from other clubs. They faced the burden of equitable distribution of aid. They had to band together plan fund raisers. And the biggest October decision of them all: Within this devastated community should they still put on their annual “Beach Party?” Fund raising would be so difficult, every business was hurt, maybe they would lose money that they didn’t have. Maybe there would be no money for charity. Maybe there would be no hotels for the out of towners. Maybe the members, devastated from the storm would still be hurting. Maybe they should focus on hurricane relief, raising money for the community and spending their time with small fundraisers and chainsaws. Their own people were hurting, displaced, and unemployed. Members of their gang lost jobs in hospitals that weren’t there, offices that were rubble. Some people had lost nearly everything. No house, no car, no job. Do not pass go, do not collect $200.
Now comes the question that historians have wrestled with over the centuries: Do the people make the times, or do the times make the people? Well, this group, struggled not with that question. They simply rolled up their sleeves, rose to the occasion and began to come together in new ways. They sold a t-shirt that said, “Hurricane Miguel–Kiss my Ass”, and true to form some of the more conservative members thought the language too profane. And yet the t-shirt sold out instantly with folks begging for more, and the money all headed toward hurricane relief. They bought more KMA shirts. And they sold out. They bought even more, and THEY sold out. The fund raisers started immediately. The money at first went to members in need. Then the group reached out beyond the very music that brought them together to help people and kids who had never even heard of “Margaritaville.”
And then there was the parade float. The float that marched through the Pirate Festival only 4 days before the Hurricane. The storm had passed, but the only reliable means of communicating was the coconut telegraph. And the drumbeats indicated that the terrible tempest had totally flipped their several ton trailer over. The club had worked so hard over the years to get their float adorned in bright colors to toss our beads out for the October Pirate Parade and two Mardi Gras events. These parades marked some phun times in the life of their club and now they had nothing. And just like that, Big Pat, the eternal fix it guy, stepped up, like he was born to the task. He designed a new model, built a small-scale prototype and he single handedly stepped off on the rebuild, all the while knowing his own home had no roof. And those other fearless members who were still busy trying to patch their own houses turned out to painfully and carefully build the new float. When the general construction was done, this band of future bead tossing balladeers let the good times roll by hosting a painting party. Their band of revelers showed up on a Saturday to grab a paint brush and get started. Of course, they had to have a bonfire to ease the winter chill. Of course, they had to BBQ hot dogs. Of course, they had to have their own non-professional campfire guitarists provide sing along entertainment. And of course, they all joined hands and arms as they sang “Pirate Looks at Forty” even though most of the club had seen forty in the rear-view mirror about a decade and a half earlier. And the float was done! And it was better, and more beautiful, like a Phoenix rising from the ashes. And of course, the board of directors worried about how to pay for it. And when this band of Mardi Gras bead-tossers did their thing with “Jefe’ y El Caminos” playing his Buffett list, they made the paper and the tv stations said great comments about having phun and supporting charity. Ordinary people, with extraordinary effort gave new birth to the rollicking mayhem that is Mardi Gras on this patch of white sand.
The board of directors were anything but bored. Besides the immediate crisis the team faced another challenge. How to responsibly manage the money and supplies that poured in? Amongst them all there was not one accountant or banker. Balancing a check book was a problem for some of them anyway, and now they had to control tens of thousands of dollars coming in. They kept notes, hired an accountant, and kept it all above board (no pun intended), with the aim of staying out of the IRS tax jail.
And of course, in the midst of rebuilding their own homes, and fighting with the insurance adjustors, they came around to that big decision. The club’s hallmark had always been the annual “Beach Party”. And it was a party with a purpose. Over its fourteen years it had raised hundreds of thousands for charities. Should “the Beach Party” go on? They were all wounded. Many had no place to live themselves; and were already writing checks the insurance brokers wouldn’t cover. Could they really patch themselves and their stick homes and still find enough inner strength to throw the “Beach Party”?
They asked advice of their emeritus leader who had run their club and “the Beach Party” for many years. They spoke to him quite literally from his hospital death bed. He said “Throw the party, have some fun, and hope to make some money for charity. If I had it to do again, I would worry more about having fun and what is left over would go to charity.” They took his advice, not knowing that cancer would take him before his next trip around the sun was done, and that he would not see the next “Beach Party.” They knew that the easy answer wasn’t the right answer. The show had to go on. They decided “the Beach Party” must go on, for the sake of storm ravaged refugees who looked forward to a reason to smile. They reacted, they came together. They rebranded their theme. Jimmy had already given it a name after Katrina: “Breathe In, Breathe Out, Move On.”
And more that, there were the kids. Sure, any story of inspiration must have kids. Oh here they go pulling at our heartstrings, pandering to the judges. Kids, you might say, how many parakeets are there in that club?
Short answer, one. But the longer answer is complicated and kind of tear jerking. This motley band of trop rockers had for the past three years designated that a local organization that provides after school and summer camp for underprivileged youths in the area was to receive any of the extra profits from their party. It was, and is, a great partnership, and the leadership and volunteers had pulled their share organizing the ticketing, passes, and silent auction for the “Beach Party.” Their efforts had allowed the organization to expand from one facility across the bridge to a great building servicing the west end. Now in that same blink of an eye, the storm had practically flattened their old building. This building served those kids who needed the help the most. And now these kids from the bottom of the region’s demographic barrel were truly in need. Their homes weren’t just damaged–they were destroyed. Many came from single parent homes, and the jobs they worked at just to feed their chicks were gone with the wind. Now their only source of daily refuge was unusable.
The Club worked hard. They were told things like “you’ll never get two big trucks out on the beach.” Their team leader said, “Hold my beer and watch this.” They faced rejection in fundraising efforts. “Not this year, we have no money to give to charity when we have no roof and no insurance.”
In the end they rested and took pride in their numbers: 6 fund raisers, $200,000 in donated clean up time, over $120,000 in donations over the course of the year responsibly managed and distributed. Their annual party required a huge team effort. More than 600 attended and veterans of nearly every Parrot Head gathering called it the best Beach Party they had ever been to. They raised over $55,000 for charity.
And now the sun is shining. The old men are fishing from the pilings drinking their beer. If the Hemisphere Dancer was cruising along the coast, it would indeed be the kind of day ole Jimmy would raise a toast. And just as they were catching their breath, Hurricane Barry took aim at Louisiana. And the cycle begins again, as Jimmy contemplates a bloody Mary watching the squall lines on the horizon. Their roofs are still covered with blue tarps and the insurance adjuster still hasn’t come around. But life moves on, for now it’s always “five o’clock somewhere.”
This tossed salad mixing bowl of a crew came together. They resolved to become closer than before. And when the chips were on the table, they rose above their daily cocktails and joined in their worthy work. They still live for the music, they still party with a purpose. They are just ordinary people who did an extraordinary job in the eye of a hurricane. Those Yankees who came down from Cincinnati, taking two days in the car, have found some peace and quiet. More people are joining their group, all looking to be held together by the universal Parrot Head glue made of equal measures of trop rock music and coconut rum. All still committed to party with a purpose.
None of this band will ever quite see a new normal. They will all get the heebie-jeebies when the weather forecast talks of storms and hurricanes. There will be much less trash talking about riding it out. And some of those weary world travelers will pause in their thoughts of visits to the Pyramids, Angkor Wat or the Great Wall of China and say, “My school boy heart has finally found me a home.”
Dostoevsky said it one way, “We shall soon part… And even if we are occupied with most important things, if we attain to honour or fall into great misfortune – still let us remember how good it was once here, when we were all together, united by a good and kind feeling which made us better perhaps than we are.
And that’s the story I wanted to share with you today. A group of people, who, for a time, were better together than they were by themselves.