The llamas rounded the corner, making a last mad dash for the finish line. The race was going to be a photo finish. By “photo finish” I mean that I wanted a picture of the guy in last place who was – I am not making this one up – pushing his llama along the back stretch. I’m a writer, not a photographer, so I didn’t have the presence of mind to take a picture or video. I was able to stand there with my mouth hanging open thinking, “If this doesn’t make it into one of my blogs, then I need to give up trying to write things that make people laugh.” Now if the llama had chosen that moment to be flatulent, then I would have been on the ground, curled up in a fetal position, laughing until they came with the padded ambulance to take me away.
This event does have a serious side. It is to raise awareness of the plight of llamas who are being mistreated or ignored. There is even a llama rescue society. All of this would sound quite normal, sane and necessary in Bolivia. (Their national animal is… drum roll please… the llama! You didn’t see that one coming, did you?) I can just imagine the maltreatment of these gentle (a relative term I assure you) beasts at the hands of a harsh taskmaster, forcing them to carry load upon load of supplies up steep mountain trails for the sole purpose of making the loads of fat, rich tourists lighter. Did I mention the race was in Knoxville, Tennessee? Yeah, I had the same reaction. “Knoxville? Really?!”
It turns out there are many more llamas than you would expect in East Tennessee. Since my expectations for the area were limited to a couple in the zoo, that was not much of a stretch. It turns out there are several llama ranches and a rescue group that helps find abodes for llamas who find themselves destitute and homeless. I have looked and have not noticed any hanging around the Knoxville Area Rescue Ministries under I-40, yet. I figure it’s just a matter of time before they are down there, too, swapping smokes and stories of how they used to be somebody.
Now before you get mad at me, let me assure you, I like llamas. I would not have gone down to World’s Fair Park and gotten a sunburn on my scalp yesterday if I didn’t. Well, I might have just because I thought like you probably do: “A llama race in Knoxville? What the…?” But, no. That is not the ONLY reason. Ever since I saw The Emperor’s New Groove, I thought llamas were cool. And it turns out they do have teeth as bad as a 70’s era British Television actor. Those critters have a funky under-bite. Another interesting fact: the wool on the few I got to touch was silky soft. No wonder the socks I saw at one of the stands felt like clouds for your feet.
I also want to defend llamas. They have a reputation for spitting. I looked carefully and
never saw any of the dozens and dozens of llamas at the race dipping any kind of tobacco. There were no spittoons anywhere to be seen. Some of the teeth of these beasts of burden looked like they had been chewing some tobacco recently, but they had the sense to not do it around so many children. Kudos to them for that. On the flip side (literally as it turns out), since I was worried about the spitting, I became somewhat lax when it came to precautions when faced … errr… butted(?)… with the other end. Do you remember how funny I thought it would be if a llama passed gas during the race? It turns out it is not as funny as you would think when a llama farts at you. My son was able to revive me with industrial strength smelling salts and oxygen. Did I mention I decided against buying a llama?