I don’t know if you have ever participated in a parade, but I have. It’s both a wonderful and a strange thing to be sitting on a float or marching along next to some display or vehicle decorated for the day.
Facing the public is always interesting. You see so many expectant faces. But you never really know what they are expecting. To be entertained, perhaps. To laugh? If possible, sure. To be awed and inspired? Well, sometimes.
The rather large Swedish Days parade used to go right past our home in Geneva, Illinois. There were 100+ bands, organizations, marching twirlers, cheerleaders and groups of Shriners in their various configurations. Some of these acts were bent on silliness, as the Shriners certainly were in their little cars and on their funny bikes with big wheels. Of course the Shriners also raise money for their pet causes like hospitals. So the silliness, we must suppose, had a purpose.
Never gonna do it without the Fez on
As President of the Batavia Chamber of Commerce years ago, I was given a place of honor at the start of a parade through town the day after Thanksgiving. It was cold outside, so I wore a heavy jacket and showed up on the parade grounds to find my spot. The Executive Director walked up and handed me a number and I walked down the line to find a scooter with a giant golden Shriner’s cap (a Fez) hanging over the top like a massive dewdrop. “You have got to be kidding,” I muttered.
My children laughed and my wife smirked. “Serves you right,” she chuckled. “You should never have signed up for this.”
That ride through downtown was a chagrined waltz with humility.
Previously I’d volunteered to ride on a community float and brought my son along to help toss candy out to the crowd. From high up on the float it was not hard for even a three-year-old child to heave Jolly Ranchers off the porticos where we sat. And then the inevitable happened. My son wound up and whipped some Jolly Ranchers too hard, and it nailed some old lady in the neck. That was the last year they allowed anyone to throw candy in the parade.
I’ve also marched in parades. As an athlete in high school, you sometimes get to walk along with your fellow teammates waving to the crowd. It always seemed like such a strange way to glom on to support. “We’re runners,” one of my teammates moaned. “What the hell are we doing here?”
Our coach had purchased special shirts for the Homecoming events, but when washed, those shirts bloused out at the bottom like skirts, and they shrank two sizes to boot. They were awful. But coach made us wear them and we were teased mercilessly. It was bad enough in that era to be out for a supposedly “pussy sport” like cross country, but we took solace in the fact that our cross country team went 9-1 that year while the football team was 1-9.
But we didn’t dare say anything about that, because we knew our place in the parade of fall sports was always to play second fiddle to the football squad. No matter how badly they got their asses kicked, it was the school’s responsibility to root for the football team because it somehow seemed to represent the masculinity of the school itself.
A new look
Such is the logic of all such events and parades. Fortunately, as culture has progressed, the facades of Homecoming Kings and Queens have been transformed by students who get that blind machoism is a bogus ruse. We now see special needs kids and other students whose character is admirable and positive being named to the court. It’s not just a popularity contest anymore, and the nature of the parade is changing as a result.
To be honest, you can’t expect everyone to get the message of any parade. One year our newspaper sponsored a float in a Electric Holiday Parade held after dusk. To keep with the philosophy of the parade, we put some lighted Snowmen in the two back seats of a van and opened the doors so people could see in. That was all it intended to do, have fun with the snowmen. But walking alongside the van as it was driving along, I heard comments that made me laugh. “Look!” one woman said. “They’re trying to tell us to wear our seatbelts!”
Well, okay…I thought. Whatever. If that works for you, then have at it.
Every race is a parade
All this parade thinking came to my head on the heels of the recent race at the Sycamore Pumpkinfest 10K. Plenty of people came out to see the race, but many of them would also be there to see a parade later that day. With a race like the Pumpkinfest 10k, there’s a fine line between a race and a parade. Plenty of people wore costumes. Even I taped two triangular eyes and a triangular nose to my coral colored race shirt. “Look, I’m a Jack-O-Lantern!” They fell off, but so what?
My companion Sue wore adorable bunny ears and an equally cute bunny tail. Suffice to say that I’d have rather held my own little parade with her once I saw her in that outfit.
And as the race spread out along the road heading south out of Sycamore, we passed blankets spread out on the lawn to protect spaces for parade-watching later. There were families huddled together under blankets and clapping as we passed. It’s always nice to be cheered on even if you’re basically this anonymous drone trundling along with heavy breathing and a cold nose.
When we consider the biggest events on the world stage such as the Tour de France, the world’s most famous cycling race, it is true that they are basically one large parade. The cyclists with all their colorful kits and the peloton rolling through tunnels of insanely manic spectator are a grand spectacle.
The human condition
It teaches you that this wonderfully odd thing we call the human condition cannot be taken too seriously. On top of the silliness of my outfit, I had to pee the entire run, and considered peeling off into the cornfield at one point, to relieve myself. That’s one of the tarsnakes of running and riding and swimming. If you eat well, and hydrate, you’re bound to have the end process conflict with your training or racing at some point. And isn’t that a fun little parade when it happens?
But then I thought there was really no good place to hide. You’d have to go back at least three or four rows to be hidden, and I’ve been in cornfields plenty of times. It’s no fun wading through tall salks of corn.
And everyone would see you going anyway. We wear these bright clothes as if we’re all clowns in a parade, you see. But those same clothes make it very hard to hide in a massively bland cornfield on a bright sunny day. Better to hold it in and keep your place in the parade. So I did.
I finally finished the climb up the last 150 meters of the race and was planning to trot over behind a giant spruce tree to go pee. As I walked toward the tree a buddy from our team finished just behind me and blurted out, “Hey, good run. I gotta hit the Porta Potties… cause I squirted out there.” It made me laugh. At least I didn’t have that problem.
As runners and cyclists and swimmers our bladders and GI tracts love to play games with us, don’t they? It’s absolutely true that on the wrong day, it can be like a mad parade down there, with noise and special effects to boot. It’s one of the tarsnakes of running and riding that the better we eat and hydrate the more likely it is that we’ll run into a poop and pee situation along the way. And isn’t that a happy little parade when it happens?
In fact, some clown pooped all over one of the Porta Pottie seats before the race began. The woman who went into the unit before me came out shaking her head. “You don’t want to use that,” she said. She was right. The clown before her had committed some sort of levitation act and failed. Miserably. Poop all over the seat.
Back in the parade
Despite the poopy obstacles, I was really happy to be back action and participating in the parade we call a race. A couple years back I was sidelined following a wicked surgery on a finger that had gotten infected from a simple sliver. The finger nearly had to be amputated and I was on a daily antibiotic drip to keep the infection from coming back. My hand was bandaged like some giant Muppet character, so running was out of the question. That made me sad, like one of those clowns with the big black tears coming down from eyes.
So to run and appreciate the feeling of being part of the parade again was a real joy. We all have a space in the parade, and some of us get to wear a Fez now and again. My advice is enjoy it whatever condition you’re in, and let it all hang out. No one will blame you for being a goof. It’s a parade, after all.
With that in mind, we’ll see some of you at the Sno Fun Run in Lake Geneva this winter. Talk about a parade, and madness, and fun! Can’t wait.