By Carolyn Roy, Carolyn@natchitochestimes.com, 318-352-3618 ext. 219
If you’re looking for an optimistic person, look to Lee McKinney, the electrical superintendent in the Natchitoches Utility Department. McKinney has worked for the City for 26 years and for all that time, he’s had a part in hanging the strands of lights with 300,000 bulbs that illuminate Natchitoches for Christmas.
“We all work together,” he says of the crew of 15 full-time employees who have begun the two month long task of hanging the lights. They may get extra help as the festival nears. It’s an arduous task that begins with moving the strands of lights stored in City property on Mill Street. Then comes managing traffic. The crew generally can’t work before 8 a.m., nor after 2:30 p.m., peak traffic times because of school starting and ending.
“The traffic is a nightmare,” McKinney says. “Front Street and the bridge are the hardest.” Lights in those two locations are the last to go up and are strung at night. The first locations are the side streets. He says the crew got lucky this year because they had strung the lights on the riverbank before the heavy rain started and the trucks didn’t damage the landscape. There was minimal damage from the two hurricanes.
This year there will be 110 set pieces on the riverbank. While there are no new ones, the American flag has been totally restored for the first time in about six years. McKinney laughs when asked which is easier, hanging the lights or taking them down.
“When it’s over, we just pull ’em down.” Hanging and removing the glowing strands of lights are just part of the job. Aubrey Garcie is a former utility department employee who works part-time, year round. “When the lights come down, he examines every single one,” McKinney says. Garcie replaces damaged and faded bulbs. Despite two hurricanes and endless traffic, McKinney is sure the lights will be in place for the thousands of visitors and home folks as well. “We’re going to get it all up and make it pretty.”