Squished in the middle of several parades came the Mobile Comic Cowboys, a parade more in keeping with the more popular Mardi Gras theme in New Orleans, compared to the family style parades in Mobile, Alabama.
The Comic Cowboys parade consists of trucks pulling flat bed trailers adored with costumed or plain clothes folks throwing beads and candy, along with numerous editorial cartoons poking fun at local officials, national news, and, of course, everyone else.
This year is the 122nd anniversary of the Comic Cowboys parade. A local businessman, Dave Levi, started the Comic Cowboys in Mobile in 1884, keeping the theme eternally locked on satire. There are now about 400 members who comb the local and national news looking for things to poke fun at in time for the February Mardi Gras events. Their satirical theme is constantly underwritten by their saying “without malice”, in keeping with the southern gentleman’s attitude that reminds me of the saying, “If you can’t say anything nice, sit down next to me.”
The floats this year poked fun at Hurricane Katrina with several sign boards. A nod to FEMA and the famous FEMA trailers that dot the Gulf Coast like white beached whales scattered everywhere and in groups, along with the many problems with the budget and planning for local schools, the sign read, “Thanks to Katrina, Biloxi and Bayou La Batre have more portables than Mobile Public Schools.”
Casinos once off-shore in Mississippi but now crashed onshore after the hurricane, went into overdrive to clean up the mess and get their businesses back up and running, proof that money can indeed get things done faster than anyone else, including the government and volunteer organizations. The sign read, “We salute …The Mississippi Casinos for reopening!!! So people can lose their shirts twice In the same year!!” I got that one really fast.
Others were more oblique and I relied upon a friendly “old timer” of Mobile Mardi Gras festivities standing next to me, a veteran rider of almost 50 years of parades now retired, who knew the ins and outs of local news and gossip. He explained the reasoning behind the local ribs.
“Tillman’s Legacy as Sheriff … He could keep’em alive for $1.75.”
It seems that retiring Mobile County Sheriff, Jack Tillman, took more than his fair share of lunch money from state prisoners under his care. According to a story in the Mobile Register:
Tillman gets $1.75 per inmate per day from the state to spend on food for the inmates. He has been spending about $1.45 per inmate, however, and reserving the rest. The sheriff, who said a state law allowed him to keep the surplus cash, is charged with theft and violating the ethics law for public officials in connection with one of those food fund withdrawals.
The first sign that led off the Comic Cowboys had me confused it said, “Warning! Please stand back. David Thomas is pulling this float.”
I turned to my elderly confidant and asked him what the founder of Wendy’s Hamburgers, now deceased, was doing in a Mobile Mardi Gras parade. He laughed and explained that Mr. Thomas was involved in a “heet un run” accident during Mardi Gras last year which seriously injured an 8 year old there for the festivities. Even now, a year later, and during the arrest, investigation, and indictment for hit and run and driving-while-under-the-influence of alcohol, he remains the President of the Mobile County School District, which upsets a lot of people. I checked it out and found Mr. Thomas was brought before a grand jury on felony charges, and eventually indicted on this and another hit and run accident from the previous year. Nice of the school district to keep employing him. Very strange.
Still, the Comic Cowboys brought a bit of entertainment and local history and culture into my life, learning a little more about this odd place we are temporarily living in. Strange politics and bedfellows can be found anywhere, and everywhere we go, we seem to find the eccentrics.
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