Archive | 7:19 am

Parading Around

11 Dec

“During  Christmas he  took the kids down to see the floats
When he wanted to stay home and watch the Baltimore Colts.”

                                                                         Bobby Russell

                                                                              The 1432 Franklin Pike Circle Hero


I have to admit that I am not a parade person. Parades tend to have  a lot of things that I,  usually try to avoid–  like noise, crowds,  traffic jams, and  Porta Pottis®.  However, there’s no denying that parades can be  exciting, flashy, if not somewhat exhibitionistic,  a lot like  America  itself.  Maybe that’s why most people love them so much.  I missed this year’s Harvest Homecoming Parade,  but I did work a few hours in our company’s booth at the festival. I blew up helium balloons, that my wife Diane pressed on passing children and babies. To avoid losing the balloons, Diane would try to get the people to tie the balloons to the child’s hand or to their stroller. I was surprised at how the babies were so crabby about this minor  invasion of their personal space. Diane said it was probably because babies have such little control over things, it makes them testy about people interfering with their immediate environment.       

After Harvest Homecoming behind us,  parade enthusiasts always  look  forward to that  most famous of American parades, the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade.   Back in the 1920’s many of Macy’s Department Store employees were immigrants,  who wanted to celebrate the new American holiday with  a familiar European tradition, the holiday parade. The employees marched throughManhattan,  dressed in costumes,  accompanied by floats,  bands,  and animals borrowed from the Central Park Zoo. A quarter of a million people watched that first parade and by  the 1930s  over a million people lined the parade route.

 With the popularity of the  1947 movie  Miracle  on 34th Street and expanded television coverage,  the Macy’s Parade  quickly became a national phenomena. Like Pavlov’s dog, every time I see this parade, my mouth starts watering,  as I imagine I smell a turkey roasting.

    Back in high school I  marched in several parades. However, I was never in the right place at the right time and there  was no way  I was ever coordinated  enough to  march and play music at the same time.  Mostly, I remember wearing  a heavy woolen band uniform in the middle of the summer and  the most excitement came not from the marching, but from  guessing who would be the first to  past out from heat prostration.

When we lived in Florida,  I enjoy watching the  boat parades, which were  held at night, when it was cooler.   Such water parades  have a long tradition.  The term “float”, itself  was derived from  the decorated barges that were originally towed along canals,   by  people  or draft animals on the nearby shore.    

Diane and I once visited Mardi Gras World,  the place  inNew Orleanswhere they build  and store  the elaborate Mardi  Gras floats. The floats, which they keep in warehouses called dens, were spectacular.  We also saw Voodoo World on our way back.  

Before Hurricane Katrina over 200,000 people annually  visited  Mardi Gras World on Algiers Point, directly   across theMississippifrom the French Quarter.   This is where float maker,  Blain Kern, established his workshop  back in the 1940’s. His team of artists and sculptors not only make floats, but also fiber glass figures  for casinos, amusement parks, and studios like Universal and Disney.  Overcoming high winds, six feet of flood water,  and looters,  the Mardi Gras parades went on  as scheduled, just six months after the storm. Today parades are still big business in New Orleans  and  the 82 year old Kern is about to  triple the size  of Mardi Gras World in a new facility near the convention center.

While parades are associated with religious holidays and seasonal festivals, they’re are often used in totalitarian countries  for propaganda and political purposes. We all set in front of our TVs and watched the  huge missiles being towed down Red Square during the May Day parades in the formerSoviet Union.  Earlier this month,Chinacelebrated its  anniversary  of Communist rule with  a massive military  parade that  included 5,000 troops, ballistic missiles, and  a fly-by of more than 150 fighter aircraft. The Chinese even had a  fleet of special aircraft ready to  disperse storm clouds,  to make  sure nothing  rained on their parade.

In America it is a little different. My step-father was an enthusiastic  member  of  a veterans’ association  and was the designated driver for the post’s amphibious vehicle, a customized version of the military’s enormous DUWK (pronounced duck)  amphibious truck.  He drove the duck  in a lot of  parades around theMidwestin the 1960s.  Usually they would stock the duck full of beer and snacks and a small delegation of post members would accompany him to wave at the crowds and throw candy  to the kids.  

Once they set out for a national convention and parade inChicago. After a little too much partying along the way, they got lost and ended up on some back road. Things were going along fine  until my stepfather tried to  drive the 14 ft. tall duck through a 13 ft. tall underpass. Part of the roof was sheared off and the vehicle  was tightly wedged beneath the underpass. With the help of some local veterans and a gigantic tow truck, they were able to dislodge the  ruptured duck and continue on to Chicago. They were able to make it to the parade, although the duck now sported a  sunroof. I always miss the good stuff.

Based on a column in  Southern Indiana’s  News-Tribune