Like a lot of us, Preston Murphy and his brother Tim Collins were driving around in the rain Saturday afternoon watching the water rise. They tracked First Creek north to its Fountain City headwaters and came upon a fire engine submerged in the torrent. Murphy had a vision:
“I said, ‘I want to float down the road on an ice cream sandwich next to that fire truck.’ ”
So Murphy, who is 23 and plays rugby for the Knoxville Possums – he went to Maryville College and is the rugby coach at South-Doyle High School – logged onto Facebook and let the universe know what he needed.
And the universe responded. The super-sized ice cream sandwich didn’t materialize, but a woman from his church, Keith Avenue Baptist, volunteered a big pink flamingo. He realized that he’d need a way to control the floatie, so he went shopping and bought a $10 paddle. He was ready to ride the brown water.
“We were riding down Broadway and saw the creek all the way up to the road. Normally it’s just a few inches deep right there. My first idea was to paddle down the outside lane next to the cars, but when I rode by the Kroger parking lot, I decided that was the spot.”
This was Murphy’s old stomping grounds. He attended Fulton High School – just up the hill and across Woodland Avenue from the Broadway Shopping Center – for three years before transferring to South-Doyle. His first job was bagging groceries at the Broadway Kroger. So he was pretty comfortable pulling into the parking lot to make history.
“There were, like, 20 people standing around, and when they saw me with the flamingo, they instantly knew what I was going to do. At that point I couldn’t say no, so it had to happen.”
He jumped into the creek up next to the Kroger gas station, did a quick float downstream past the cash advance place, struggling to keep the big pink bird facing south. He couldn’t get past the bridge connecting the shopping center entrance to Broadway, so he got out and did it again. And again.
“I wasn’t really content with my first ride. I didn’t look real good. I had to get a better shot than that,” he explained.
He braved the swift brown water two more times before deciding that he’d had enough. It’s February. The water was cold. He was out before the cops arrived.
“I was done and had hopped out just as KPD pulled in and asked me, ‘You’re not going to jump in, are you?’ I kept walking. He was just making sure nobody was being reckless.”
A dozen videos of the flamingo ride hit social media, and Flamingo Man went viral before he’d even dried off.
Mike Hermann, his old boss at Kroger, weighed in with Facebook praise:
“Props to now local viral video star Preston, who I hired at Kroger back in the day. He set off to accomplish a goal today and did it. He made a bunch of people smile and laugh either with him or at him.
“In a day of depressing rain in places it shouldn’t be, someone steps up to help out where he can. The ‘Cash me on a flamingo guy’.
“Can’t wait to see what he does next, let this event catapult you into greatness!”
Critics weighed in, too.
“Big Dummy Preston Murphy you got your fame buddy good job! Hope you don’t have any open wounds or sores on you or fresh tattoos you’ll be at the ER getting antibiotics tomorrow!”
In addition to the rugby gigs, Murphy has a tree-removal business (R&M Tree Services) and is a server at a local restaurant. He has adopted the name “Flamingo Man” and is looking for downed trees to haul away.
But it’s not all work, and he’s got his eye on some places where the water’s still high, and he’s undeterred by his critics, so in all likelihood, Flamingo Man’s going to ride again.
“I had fun. I didn’t hurt anybody and didn’t waste anybody’s money. I didn’t damage anybody’s property … Would I do it again? Yeah, I may be randomly popping up on a flamingo. I’ve been looking at places like Ebenezer and Cedar Bluff, and I’ve got some friends in South Knoxville with lakefront pools, so I’m planning on going through there and flamingoing through their yard.”