Who’s afraid of a big ol’ Yankee bear?

Published 7:18 pm Wednesday, May 13, 2009

A few times in my career, I had the honor of representing the state by promoting tourism at travel shows throughout the country.

My first was to Columbus, Ohio for ten days of a travel show in their Coliseum. It was fun and quite an experience. Three girls from the travel bureau—who were so prettily dressed in their antebellum dresses, smiling pretty and handing out little “goodies,” maps and souvenirs—were actually a little anxious because a couple years earlier a group of “students” in Chicago held a demonstration and chained themselves to our booth!

I really enjoyed talking with those Yankee folks, though they do talk funny. I told them, “I may talk slower than you, but I listen a lot faster.”

After a few days of giving directions to Mobile or Huntsville and folks bringing their kids over to hear me talk, I began to have some fun with them, and they didn’t even realize it. When I would have an obnoxious one, “To Mobile? Well you go north on I-65, hang a right at the Lomax exit…” or I would tell them to take the Coopers Turnpike to Lake Mitchell. The girls laughed and said I should work for chamber of commerce.

This was the big night. They had more than 10,000 folks there. It was snowing and nasty outside—no wonder they were in the mood to travel south. They had an elevated boxing ring with some loudmouth challenging everyone to wrestle his contender, who just happened to be a 650-pound, 7 1/2-feet tall Canadian bear.

Like everyone else, I was trying to ignore him until I heard him say something about Southern men and the great “Bear” Bryant. About the same time, I was getting some “tender persuasion,” and I found myself challenging his bear. As I stood there looking at Victor, I know I appeared apprehensive in my full uniform—what will they say if I get a broken leg? But I was really ready to get it over with. It was not necessarily all courage. I had only seen half of the big fellow. He unwound his enormous body, roaring, with his arms high. I had to maneuver the bear into a vulnerable position if there was one. He don’t look too agile—Who am I, Muhammad Ali?

My friends, if you ever make the mistake of thinking a bear walks awkward, believe me he is quick! Stands tall, has hair like steel wool, and when he roars in your face—smells like a septic tank!

The fight? Oh, well, I made a couple of mistakes (besides getting in the ring). Never got him down, (which might not all be bad!) but I did come in a close second. Of course, our publicity and information officer was there and made sure Chilton and Shelby had copies. Bob Tucker didn’t use my good side. What did you expect, a knock out? I’ll tell you like I told them: I think everybody ought to wrestle a bear.

I’ve had mine—I’d rather be cruisin’.