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