Monday, January 6, 2014

The 125th Rose Parade

Honda's float
The Rose Parade is one of those things you watch on TV, like the Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade, that marks a certain day or time of year. It's one of those pageants you think you'll never witness for yourself, unless you happen to live in the area.

Well, this year I had the chance to see it for myself. The family and I traveled to the L.A. area, and on January 1st, we hopped on the first of several metro trains to make our way to Pasadena for the parade. There were a million people there to watch it in person. That's not a typo. One million. That's a quarter of the entire population of New Mexico, all of them present along a five mile corridor to watch this parade. Why do so many people turn out?

Bands are better with bagpipes
My favorite float
Because watching the parade on TV doesn't do it any justice. None. It doesn't even compare. When you're there, sitting just beyond that first, slightly-greater-than-ninety-degree turn, you get to watch the sun brighten the sky. You get to watch sky writers put out message after message. You get to look up at any point and see the Goodyear Blimp floating quietly overhead. You get to see people milling around on the street until the moment before the parade starts. You get to walk over a staging area where people in costume and horses and the bands' buses have gathered in the highway's median. You get to hear a couple of young women hawking the program. "You want 'em. We've got 'em." You get to smell coffee brewing. And then, the pace car and sound car come through. They pause. Fighter jets zoom over, leaving contrails in the sky. You wait. And then the first float comes around the bend, and it's a giant, futuristic car, towing a train, which is towing a giant TV camera, which is towing a giant screen showing the crowd. You get to feel the bands' drums vibrating in your chest, and hear the women behind you make catcalls at the bare-chested men leading the Hawaiian band (way to stay classy, ladies).

KC singing "Get Down Tonight"
Everybody around us was happy. People ooh'ed and ahh'ed. People laughed. People danced and sang along with KC & The Sunshine Band. Yes, they were actually on one of the floats. Before it came around the bend, we heard that crowd yell and cheer, and then confetti came floating over to our side.

The parade is like a huge, post-midnight New Year's celebration. A lady in front of us wore a one-piece Chicago Bears PJ set with the words 'Bear Bum' on the rear flap, and a Bears hat, and a little New Year's fascinator hat on top of that. Others wore similar get-ups. But everybody wore a smile, and hope for the new year.
A million people trying to leave Pasadena

And then there's the part they never show on TV. The post parade, where people come through with their homemade signs and floats and costumes, mostly showing political ads like "We're felons" on a background that looks remarkably like Wells Fargo, or the guy holding a "Wake Up" sign upside down (he should've had some coffee). Looks like someone should have taken his own advice. Or the guys holding Jesus signs and wearing loudspeakers and proclaiming gloom and doom and how everybody is going to hell. One of them ended up at our line into the metro. Captive audience, and all that. After they passed, everybody climbed down from the bleachers and followed the parade route. There were bits of asparagus and rose petals on the ground. There are tons of people waiting to lead tours.

The parade lasts two hours, and yet it felt like it flew by. It is just that much fun. I will definitely go back one of these days.

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