Post-hurricane humor helps

Power trucks pulled Santa's sleigh.

BY SUSAN KIM | HIGHLANDS COUNTY, Fla. | December 13, 2004



"Our original idea was to do a manger scene with a blue tarp over it."

—Sarah Hopton


Power trucks pulled Santa's sleigh. A decorated Christmas tree was falling through a house. A brand new dump truck was front-and-center. And a generator powered the whole thing, complete with a sign that read: 'Have generator, will travel.'

This was the county-sponsored float for the Highlands County annual Christmas parade. County officials decided to put a humorous twist on hurricane recovery this year.

After clearing 500,000 cubic square yards of debris this hurricane season, county officials were ready for a reason to laugh, said Sarah Hopton, public information officer (PIO) for the county.

"We wanted to pay humorous homage to the hurricanes," she explained. "Every year the PIO is charged with creating this float."

In past years, the float has been an elaborate work of beauty that's taken hours to create.

But this year, county officials were more in the mood to poke fun at the hurricanes, said Hopton, who is new to the PIO position.

At least some county leaders resisted the idea in the beginning, she said. "They were very leery." But after some thought, they donned hardhats and appeared on the float.

In the end, the float was a toned down version of some original ideas that got batted around. "Our original idea was to do a manger scene with a blue tarp over it," she said.

Thinking that might offend some people, they elected to go with a house that had a decorated tree falling through it - "we thought that was universally true," she said.

The title sign on the float read, "Rain, wind or shine - we're always working for you."

And Hopton and her peers were nervous the night before the parade: would the crowds laugh or boo?

"I was so stressed," Hopton said.

Well - they laughed. And laughed and laughed. "They thought it was a riot. The float got a standing ovation the whole time," said Hopton. "We pushed the envelope and we took a risk and got rewarded.

"It reached people in the right way - or maybe just luck was on our side," she laughed.

Looking back on the difficult hurricane season, Hopton acknowledged that a sense of humor helped people get through each day. "We had a director's meeting about this float, and we said one thing that got us through this hurricane season was that we got to make fun of each other."

No one person came up with the idea, she added. "It was definitely a countywide contribution."

A cutting-edge float might not be such a surprise in a county that just elected the first female sheriff in the state of Florida.

Another first: the float made the front page of the Highlands News-Sun newspaper. "They have never run a picture of the float on the front page before," said Hopton.


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