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    Porter drove the hearse for A.D. Porter and Sons in Muhammad Ali's funeral procession. The following appeared in our December 2016 issue as part of our feature on Ali's death.

    “Albert Logan was driving the hearse to the airport and from the airport to the funeral home. I was riding with him, and he backed it up to the airplane, and I got out and made sure the locking mechanism was on the body so it didn’t rattle in the car. All these helicopters are around, and all this security. We peeled out of the airport. You’re on the expressway, and you get off on Bardstown Road going to the funeral home, and now people knew what was going on. News travels so fast. People were on Bardstown Road by the Rally’s, by the Thortons, by everywhere, and they’re standing. And we had police escorts and whatnot, but this was already like a parade, like a New Orleans funeral.

    “At the funeral home there are some preparation tables, like from mortuary science. Those are stainless, and you have a counter — it’s a preparation room. The tables are on wheels, pushed aside. And then you have the Champ, just there in his casket. He was in a locked location, so nobody could get in there except for a few. The code on the door was changed just for that. There were police in there, sheriffs, and officers maintaining the grounds the whole week because people would come to take pictures and stuff like that.

    “I knew I’d be driving the hearse, and by Friday morning, I knew it was going to be a lot of fanfare. The hearse was at our downtown location, and we got there early, around 7, to make sure the car was nice and cleaned off. Ron Price, he was like my copilot, right there with me the whole time. We drove out to the funeral home, and of course we got there before 8 and it was already a circus. Helicopters. Traffic. But then it just became more and more and more and more. And then, as the family arrived, it was really wild. I was kind of calm on Friday because Thursday I had to drive the body from the funeral home to the Fairgrounds, where they had the prayer service. Getting the body out, taking it in the arena, bringing it back out to the hearse, driving back to the funeral home — it was kind of like a rehearsal.

    “Friday, we got to the funeral home, and the pallbearers and everybody come in. Mike Tyson, Lennox Lewis — like, these are names. We got the pallbearers on either side of the casket, and we wheeled him out to the car. They had put these black curtains on both sides of the carport at the funeral home, so it was very dark — you couldn’t really see. There were so many helicopters flying around. By this time, people were everywhere all around the funeral home. Everybody was kind of respectful, nobody was acting crazy. This is what America is supposed to be about — it was all sorts of different people there smiling, high-fiving, shadow boxing.

    “I always had someone in front of me, so I never had the opportunity to actually dictate the pace. I was just driving. That really allowed me to soak in the moment a lot more. I remember, we kept joking during the procession, ‘Ain’t nothing gonna top Bardstown Road.’ And it’s like some comic strip. You get to the next spot, like, ‘Nothing’s gonna top that.’ I remember people going south on Bardstown Road, them stopping. And so then you have traffic backing up. I remember people rolling down the window, screaming, ‘Yeah! Yeah!’ And then, going down Bardstown Road, people were everywhere. Where did these people park? It was just people everywhere, people with different flags, people with signs they made, people shouting, tossing flowers on the hearse. When we got on the expressway, the flowers all kind of blew off. I remember feeling relieved about it. I was able to see for the most part, and then, once the flowers got to be so much, the wipers didn’t work anymore. The flowers were too heavy for the wipers. We go past the Newburg Road exit, and there are people on the overpass stopping, watching. That moment was like the O.J. Simpson chase. They blocked the entrances to the expressway, but people going the other way are stopping.

    “Right as we got off the interstate there, at Ninth Street, you kind of go down, and it’s like, all these people. I remember Ron and I just like: ‘Do you see this? Are you kidding me?’ You heard people scream and yell and shout, and everybody was singing and happy, you saw some people crying — but it wasn’t a sad moment, it was totally incredible. Then flowers were just going, and we were like, ‘Raise the windows up!’ Because they were flying in. These were like torpedoes or something. They were in the floorboards, on both sides. As we were riding, people were just tossing, and they wanted their flower to stick.

    “We got to the childhood house. People were so close, they were brushing the side mirrors. People were smacking the car. At the same time, people were kissing the car, just wanting to touch it. You saw people running up to the car. All the while, people were throwing flowers on the car. Once we got a few houses down from his home, the cops moved away, and we were able to pick up speed again and get back onto Broadway. And then it was mass hysteria. By then, the flowers were too heavy for the windshield wipers again. It was like a veil over your eyes; you can see, but you can’t see.

    “We finally got to the cemetery and all the people disappeared. It was like out of a movie, like the character just woke up in dreamland, like you blink and you’re in another place.

    “There’s like 6 billion people in this world. How much of 1 billion saw a picture or a clip? How many people know that happened? How many people saw that picture of the hearse with all the flowers on it? I can never forget.”

     

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    Dylon Jones's picture

    About Dylon Jones

    Staff writer Dylon Jones first contributed to the magazine in 2014 and joined the staff in 2015. He's written profiles, features, essays, criticism and reportage about a wide variety of topics and won awards for feature writing and profile writing from the Society of Professional Journalists. He is particularly interested in narrative journalism, the arts and LGBTQ experience. Jones is an award-winning poet with work published or forthcoming in Tinderbox Poetry Journal, The Collagist and Redivider.

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