OP-ED: THE IDLE AMERICAN: Camels making a comeback?

Published 12:04 am Saturday, February 6, 2021

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Don Newbury

The Geico insurance people had the chance to keep camels in front of folks, but lost 15 percent of their credibility when they chose a gecko instead of a camel for their mascot several years ago.

I thought their ad showing Caleb the Camel clopping through the office to ask workers if they could guess “which day is it” to be pure advertising genius. It made us smile, and had tens of millions of “hits” on the Internet.

Caleb “yucked” it up, announcing Wednesdays to be “hump day.” (My guess is that most Americans clearly remember the commercials, but not necessarily what the dromedary was promoting.)

Millions have seen the Facebook picture showing a horse with two saddles–a “camel stand-in,” if you will–standing near a church altar.

Like the Hee Haw characters who said they repeated gossip because they didn’t know what else to do with it, I’m stuck between the “dilemma horns” of “maybe” and “no way.”

And all this because the camel owner allegedly got sick, thus was unable to deliver the animal cigarette that smokers would walk a mile for a half-century ago. Ah, yes, many smokers would walk a mile–or even more–for a Camel cigarette.

I do know this: Rental camels cost a pretty penny in December. There’s not much call for camels in the other months, but they eat the same amount of hay then as do in December.

The late Dick Baker, well-known minister of music at Prestonwood Baptist Church in Dallas, told me so. He directed Prestonwood’s first Christmas Pageant in the 1980s. It’s a spectacular production, expensive to produce and attended by thousands of persons annually.

Upon retirement, Dick said he’d sleep better in Decembers without the dratted middle-of-the-night calls from Dallas Police saying things like, “Dick, your camels are out again, weaving their way through traffic on Arapaho.”

Years ago, a fellow university administrator asked if I knew how camels

came into being. I answered that I figured they lumbered onto the ark, “two by two,” like the rest of the animals.

That didn’t shut him up.

“No, they are hybrids, the result of a committee charged with drawing a picture of a horse.”

Most of us have seen camels at circuses and zoos. I know that some camels have one hump and some have two.

As a rider, I’d want the latter, thus improving my chances to avoid injury. I might fall left or right, but not forward or back.

Little did I know that during a Mediterranean cruise ship stop in Algiers that having zero dollars in my pocket likely saved me from considerable embarrassment.

They had a “camel ride” operation, and my wife and I saw–and smelled them–up close. These were “camels on steroids,” too tall to enter most church doorways.

I was shocked that Brenda wanted to ride. She had two dollars, however, the exact amount needed for one rider.

I told her I’d “just watch,” secretly delighted with my observer status.  I mean it was “way up there” to reach the wobbly saddle. I wouldn’t want to ride such a tall animal without an oxygen mask, as well as “beefed up” travel insurance. (It’s a colossal understatement that her wanting to ride a camel seemed out of character for a woman who, in pre-school years, chose not to ride a carnival “hobby horse” because she might get dizzy.)

She has surprised me in dozens of ways across the years.

I wouldn’t have guessed she would “kiss a dolphin” or “swim with the stingrays.” She was not surprised that I preferred cuddling baby sloths at a Costa Rican preserve.

If anyone knows IF a Christmas Pageant somewhere that a horse “stood in” for a camel, please let me know. If so, I’d like to know if the preacher still has his job. Maybe only the three wise men know for sure.


Dr. Newbury is a long-time public speaker and university president who writes weekly.  Email: newbury@speakerdoc.com. Phone: 817-447-3872. Facebook: Don Newbury. Twitter: @donnewbury.