Each night this month Concord Parkway has twinkled with car headlights that lead into Charlotte Motor Speedway's new Carolina Christmas, where a million more dazzling lights wait to behold.
But if that steady stream of traffic for some reason made a mistake and turned onto Sandusky Boulevard, the street across from the racetrack, those carloads of jolly holiday-revelers might have happened upon a good show, just the same. Residents of the mobile home community that stands in the racetrack's tall shadow sat on their porches to watch a merry spectacle of their own Dec. 19.
Seventeen golf carts, tricked out in elaborate holiday decorations, each piping festive music simultaneously through a set of speakers, crawled through the neighborhood for its first annual golf-cart Christmas parade.
The idea started off innocently enough, said Clay Hyde, 54, one of the parade organizers, and a 17-year resident of Ver-El, one the four mobile home parks that make up the 150-home community.
"We ought to have a golf cart parade," he remembers saying to the salty pirate at the neighborhood's Halloween party.
That pirate, Sandra Thatcher, 54, a five-year resident of neighboring Apollo Mobile Home Park, took hold of that idea immediately.
A softy for the senior citizens who make up more than half of the neighborhood, Thatcher thought a golf cart parade would be a perfect way to bring holiday cheer to those who rarely venture out past their front doors. "Some of the elderly people can't go to Christmas parades," she said.
This is not the first time Thatcher has brought the spirit of a season to her neighbors. On Halloween, she and others dressed in costumes and knocked on the doors of seniors to hand out treats instead of receiving them. Their appreciative expressions spoke volumes to Thatcher.
"I know quite a few elderly people in the park who don't have family," she said.
In a neighborhood teaming with golf carts, the idea for a golf cart parade seemed natural. It's not unusual to see a half dozen of them herding through the streets or parked in a neighbor's yard.
And although their parade didn't boast a million lights like across the street, it's no small production, either.
Under the cloak of darkness Hyde pushes up the large garage doors of the towering warehouse in the back of the park. This is where decorated golf carts were stashed until the parade. "Everybody is supposed to do their cart, and not let anybody see it," said Thatcher, who flicked on the overhead lights to reveal a display surprising enough to widen eyes like a child's on Christmas morning.
Blinking golf carts, lined in a row. Each heavy with sparkling ornaments and shimmering tinsel trim. Some draped in a cottony snow. Others wrapped in ribbons and paper to look like stunning presents. A few had Christmas trees on top.
"This is what happens when you're unemployed and bored," said Hyde, a former motorcoach driver for the racing industry.
To Thatcher, this is what happens in the tight-knit community she has come to know.
The kind that would bring a parade to those who would otherwise not see one.