Parading Around

“I love a parade, the tramping of feet,
I love every beat I hear of a drum.
I love a parade, when I hear a band
I just want to stand and cheer as they come.”

The preceding song lyrics have been sung by which of the below performers?

  • Bessie Smith
  • Maxine Sullivan
  • The Lawrence Welk Orchestra

(Three out of three is correct. Incorrect answers not offered include Macklemore, Beyonce and Soundgarden.)

But beyond singing about a parade, being part of one seems like the easiest thing in the world. After all, all you have to do is walk along—or, in the best of circumstances, ride along aboard a car or some sort of platform, right?

But if you want to be truly great there is more required.

And since we are just underway with the year’s summer parade season, this writing space seems like an excellent platform for advice and reflection on the art of processions and marches—be it for celebrating patriotism, Santa Claus, gay pride—or all three.

The humorist Will Rogers, the same guy who famously once said, “I never met a man I didn’t like”—sure did not speak as kindly of parades. He said parades “should be classed as a nuisance—and participants should be subject to a term in prison. They stop more work, inconvenience more people, stop more traffic, cause more accidents, entail more expense, and commit and cause…I don’t remember the other hundred misdemeanors.”
Those are rather harsh words—especially coming from a celebrated man who likely rode in a parade or two in his time. Maybe he was stuck behind the horses once too often.

My hometown has had a long tradition of staging an annual summertime “Pet Parade.”

It brings a collection of volatile elements all together in one long march: Kids, animals and stultifyingly hot weather. What starts out as a happy-go-lucky procession usually ends up as a heaving, screaming, barking, meowing dissonance that can compete with any plane that Boeing makes.
During the parade, there is lots of coaching from the sidewalks: “Courtney! Over here! Smile like you’re having fun!” Or, “Dustin! Take your finger out of your nose!”

For most kids, it is the last parade they will ever take part in. Nuts! And just when they were getting the hang of it.
I have been lucky—or perhaps ‘fated’ would be a better word—to ride in several parades through the years. I have represented Seafair, TV and radio stations and the like. I have walked along, ridden in cars, trucks, golf carts, floats—and even rode shotgun on a six-team Wells Fargo stagecoach. (The strong box was stolen somewhere between Pike and Pine.)

At the time of one particular parade, I had been on local TV quite a bit appearing in a series of commercials for a Mexican food restaurant. So as the parade moved along, every other shouted remark from the sidelines was “Hey, man! You got a taco?” It stopped being hilarious after about three blocks.

One year I helped broadcast the annual Fremont Solstice Parade. I have never been much good at describing fashions or attire—and luckily in that parade, nobody is wearing much of it.

But if you ever find yourself being a participant in any kind of street parade, you will need to know the finer points of proper parade etiquette, style and technique. Here are some tips from a veteran parader:
If you are asked to ride in a car, insist on either driving—or sitting in the front passenger seat. But not on a city councilman’s lap. If it’s a convertible, sit up on the top of the back seat where people can not only see you better, but you can make a quicker exit if nature calls. Never agree to ride in the trunk.

When waving, move your hand slowly to avoid cramping. Keep all of your fingers close together. The wrong, rogue finger could make it appear you are making a nasty gesture to the parade goers—and they could turn on you.

Smile broadly—-until your face aches. Make it look like you are having the time of your life—and NOT like you’d rather be getting hit over the head with a heavy-duty garden hoe.
If your name is displayed on the car or float you are riding on, make sure the spelling is correct—and that the banner is not inadvertently folded over to obscure some of the letters. That happened to me one time so that my name read “SHMAN.” It gave the impression that I might be a mystic reaching an altered state of consciousness.

Wear comfortable clothes—but definitely wear clothes. Unless you are in that Fremont one.
I do not have firm proof, but I believe that a Seattle man may be the local record holder for career parade appearances. If you’ve been to a parade or two, you’ve probably seen him.

His name is Cecil.

He operates a street sweeper.