EDITOR'S NOTE: This is an update of a column written five years ago, with apologies to the late Chicago columnist Mike Royko, who had this idea long before I did.
Think about what the Christmas story might be like if it were to happen in present-day Augusta.
And so it came to pass in those days that there went out a decree from the government that to pay for the war in Iraq all the world should be taxed, or buy a lottery ticket.
And all went to be taxed, or buy a lottery ticket, everyone into his own city.
Bobby Joe lived in rural Georgia, but he was from the House of Deke, so he was to go to the city of Augusta, the great capital of the region. He took with him his pregnant wife, Mayree.
Bobby Joe also hoped to find a job in the second-greatest city in the kingdom of Georgia. He was a carpenter, but the downturn in the economy had left him without work for weeks at a time. Because he couldn't keep up the payments on his house or truck, the bank foreclosed, and Bobby Joe and Mayree were left with only their clothes, Bobby Joe's tools and a donkey.
He had heard there were plenty of jobs in Augusta, especially construction jobs in Columbia County, so the couple loaded everything they had on the donkey and headed to the Garden City. They hoped to get to Medical College of Georgia Hospital (or Talmadge as they call it in rural Georgia) in time to have the baby.
But when they got to Augusta, they were pulled over by a sheriff's deputy because they didn't have the proper license. The city commission had recently passed a donkey tax and because they hadn't paid it, the donkey was confiscated and sent to animal control.
So Bobby Joe and Mayree started walking toward downtown Augusta, but they had to wait for two hours when a train blocked the road. First it stopped, then it backed up, then it stopped again, and finally it moved through the intersection.
While they were waiting, Bobby Joe used his cell phone to call the hotels in town to try to get a room. But, alas, there was no room at the Holiday Inn, the Red Carpet Inn, the Knight's Inn, the Hampton Inn, the Masters Inn, the Partridge Inn, the Sleep Inn, or any other inn in town. (This might have been during Masters Week, but record-keeping was pretty spotty, so it's hard to know exactly when this occurred.)
The weary couple kept walking and finally found an empty downtown parking deck where they could get some protection from the cold night air. First Friday festivities were going on, so Joseph wandered over and found he could make some money selling wooden trinkets he had made. But after 11 p.m. he was told to move along or he would be arrested.
Late that night, before she could get to the hospital, Mayree brought forth her first-born son, wrapped him in swaddling clothes and laid him in a cardboard box.
About that time, the angel of the Lord came to the Augusta commissioners, who were tending to the flocks in their districts. And they were so afraid.
And the angel said to them, "Fear not: for, behold, I bring you good tidings of great joy. For unto you is born this day in the city of Augusta a savior." The angel wanted the commissioners to find the baby and tell the world about him.
The commissioners didn't know what to do because each of them thought he or she was the city's savior. They knew Mary and Joseph were of Middle Eastern descent, and from their photos they couldn't tell whether they were black or white, so neither voting bloc knew whether to claim them.
First the commissioners voted to go and find the baby, but the vote was 5-4 with one abstention. Then they voted to stay and the vote was 5-4-1. They voted to tell the world about the miracle that had occurred in their mighty city, and the vote was 5-4, with one commissioner taking a cigarette break.
So finally they agreed to cut the budget, add three more pricing tiers to the trash collection system and pass a tax increase. The only reason they didn't vote to tax the baby was because they weren't sure whether he should be taxed under urban or suburban district guidelines. Afterward, three of the commissioners went on a study trip to the Bahamas and the rest went home sulking.
Meanwhile, three wise men from the east followed what they thought was a bright star, but it turned out to be the lights from the Christmas decorations at Fat Man's. The men looked suspicious and were stopped for questioning.
One wise man had a turban and a long beard, so he was detained and convicted of something by a military tribunal. We haven't been able to find out his name, what happened to him or what happened to the gold he was carrying.
The other two were suspected of making meth because of the exotic spices they carried. They were convicted under the first offender's program and got out of town as quickly as they could. Their frankincense and myrrh were destroyed.
On Christmas Day, Mayree took the baby to MCG to make sure he was healthy. While filling out forms, she was asked who the father was. When she told them about the angel who visited her and told them who was the father, a psychiatrist was brought in.
Bobby Joe had walked over to Greene Street, where out-of-work men were lined up hoping to land a day laborer's job. When some of the others saw Bobby Joe's tools, they mugged him, even though Augusta is a crime-free zone.
As he was lying on the ground, his cell phone rang. The muggers had overlooked it. Mayree was on the phone frantic. The hospital had called in the Department of Family and Children Services. They sent a field agent to look after the welfare of the child. The concerned agent had decided the family couldn't properly care for the newborn baby, so she was trying to find a foster home for him.
Bobby Joe decided he had had enough of this city, so he sold some blood and bought a used golf cart cheap. He raced to MCG just ahead of Homeland Security agents who had listened in to his frantic phone conversation.
He grabbed his wife and son, and they were last seen racing out of town on Washington Road, with a donkey trailing behind. They stopped to buy a lottery ticket and won enough money to buy a house on the river in North Augusta. Bobby Joe started a successful building company, and the family lived happily ever after.
The bureaucrats were left to fill out their forms and wonder what those crazies in the countryside were going to do next.
Merry Christmas to all.
Dennis Sodomka is the executive editor of The Augusta Chronicle. You can reach him at (706) 823-3487 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
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