Volunteer fire departments, especially rural ones, often have to resort to some creative fund raising activities. Turkey shoots are a real popular cash cow. No, they don’t actually shoot birds, they compete for accuracy shooting at targets. Winner gets a cash prize. And there are fish fries and pig pickin’s (barbeque). Dinner goes for about $5 a “plate”, as they call them, even though they’re served in Styrofoam tri-sectioned containers.
Plate sales reach epic proportions during lunchtime when volunteers will deliver the meals to businesses. To be a good boss around here, you need to be willing to shell out a few bucks every time the Bunyan or Clarks Neck Fire Department has a barbeque, and buy all your employees a plate. Then you tip the volunteers about ten bucks for driving out to your place of business, telling them to “put this in the kitty, and tell Bobby Earl that Rufus said hey and bought 16 plates.” The cheap skates call in the orders, have the employees pay for their own meals but allow someone to “take off from work” to go pick up the plates. Then the employer gets credit for buying the meals, even though it didn’t. Comes off as a real Daddy Warbucks. No lie, I had a boss who did that.
Hands down, the best fundraiser is the Pantego Volunteer Fire Department Fourth of July Mud Run. What’s a mud run? About $10 a head. Who would pay to see it? Just about anybody. The buyers are a diverse group composed of Mexican farm laborers, white-collars and blue-collars, plumbers and lawyers, Born Agains and heathens, blacks, whites, and in-betweens.
Somewhere there’s a rational explanation for the appeal of a Mud Run. The logistics are easily explained. Dig a 6-foot deep pit the size of a football field. Create a ramp-like entrance in the dirt, like a swimming pool angling toward a deep end but instead, have an exit ramp instead of staying deep. Then, every day for a week, spray water on it from a pumper fire truck. Get it real muddy and wet. Once its nice and gushy, swamp like in consistency, chain a telephone pole between two 4X4 Ford F150s and drag it across the mud to smooth it out, like a giant spatula spreading icing on a 500 foot chocolate sheet cake. For a small entry fee, contestants drive their just washed and waxed, totally spiffed up, jacked up, big wheeled, 4X4’s through the mud, trying to see who can go the furthest the fastest.
Oh, and the drivers wear helmets. Some of them motorcycle helmets, others, football helmets. Quite a few of the amateurs also wear Hyde County Reeboks (white crabber boots sort of like go-go boots only round toed, flat heeled, and made of rubber) because they know they’re going to stall out halfway through the pit. The stall-out provides great entertainment for the audience. Usually the stalled-guy has a large following of family, ex-girlfriends, and co-members of their high school football team cheering, jeering, and blowing horns. Once stuck, all the while listening to the redneck symphony of derision, the stalled-guy has to climb out through the window of the vehicle, slog through knee-deep mud to the rear of the truck, attach a six-inch thick hook and chain through the back bumper, and signal to the tractor driver to pull his truck out of the muck, back up the mud ramp, so he can try again.
All the while there’s a muffler-less modified monster truck taking people for rides around the track. The folks sit in the bed of the truck on special seats, strapped in, about ten feet off the ground above giant tires, while the truck circles the pit, the occupants heads bob like those little hula dolls in the back windows of 1973 Chevy Camaros. They pay $5 a piece for the 7 minute ride. Squealing and screaming the whole time, having more fun than you can shake a stick at.
After about two hours of amateur attempts at the mud run, the pros come out to play. Serious business. Specially made vehicles with huge, flat tires. Big money, no fooling around. The pros ride the circuit. The fans have their favorites and go wild with excitement when the modified 4X4s start revving their engines. These guys don’t wear Hyde County Reeboks they always make it through the pit and out the other side. It’s a timed event for them. Not a survivor series.
Every year the event draws more spectators. Two years ago, a second set of grandstands went up complete with burlap awnings to shade the citizens. Most folks, though, like to get there real early, back their pick-ups up to the fence and do a little homesteading turning their personal space into an outdoor kitchen, dining, and living room ensemble. If you watched any of the Stanley Cup finals when the games were in Raleigh, North Carolina, you’ve seen southern tailgate parties. Everything from gas grills to swimming pools to old recliners, all plopped in the back of a pick-up truck. And coolers, lots of coolers full of ice cold beer.
Many have described the Mud Run as Heaven on Earth for folks who love beer, tattoos, tube tops, and tobacco. And it’s true: watching a woman suck down a can of Budweiser in 7 seconds flat is a sight to see. You’ve got to bring your own alcohol to the Mud Run, but, as in all spectator events, nation-wide, someone will be selling hot dogs, nachos, and ice cold Pepsi, sure as you know it.
Well, it could be the alcohol, could be the flags with Hank Williams Jr’s silhouette printed in the center, could be because it’s the Fourth of July in Pantego, North Carolina, and anything that’s not work-related is big entertainment. It’s over 100 degrees, humid as the final scene in Apocalypse Now, and maybe it’s that the swamp gas fumes are getting to us. But there’s nothing like the Mud Run. You’ve still got time to plan your trip. Start the day with the Fourth of July parade in Belhaven, North Carolina. Afterwards, follow the crowd about 2 miles outside of town to the Mud Run, and then, after the Run, wend your way back to town for some fireworks on the Pamlico Sound. If you can’t make it this year, it’ll happen again in 2003.
Every year it’s a diverse crowd and, for the day, everyone seems to get along. They all come to watch the mud run and to celebrate our freedom to be whatever they damn well want to be.