New Year’s Day, January 1, 2016

#23         See the Rose Parade

Here we are! New Year’s Day! How exquisite! Our year of pleasures awaits!


Does this list of fun seem decadent to you? Do I offend your Puritan work ethic? If so, then a list like this is doubly important for you. It may prevent you from yelling at children, beating your fist against your steering wheel, plotting the demise of ill-tempered people, and sitting on your couch in a melancholy fugue.

The first adventure on my list actually started yesterday afternoon when I staked my claim to a square of sidewalk on the parade route of the 127th Rose Parade in Pasadena, California. I have wanted to see the parade since I was a little kid. AND I wanted to see the parade from the curb, NOT from bleachers, NOT from a hotel room– I wanted to be right up close where the action is. I had heard all kinds of horror stories- the kind people love to tell you right before you are about to attempt anything interesting. People muttered about poor weather, security issues, nightmare parking, and general discomfort. I just smiled and refused to let those worries take hold. Those stories have kept me watching the parade from the couch for decades.

Not. This. Time.

There was a little hiccup, though. No one wanted to go with me.

Actually, it was the leaving at 2 o’clock in the afternoon for a parade that began at 8 o’clock the following morning that was making it difficult to sell. My oldest son said he would meet me there “later”. The other kids had plans. So I packed up a jacket, two folding chairs, a sleeping bag, a couple of blankets, two cameras, and off I went. Off to conquer the rose parade!

I was three miles from the house when I realized I had forgotten my camera battery and memory card. Off to journey back home! Hey, not every adventure is a straight line.

When I arrived in Pasadena about an hour later, it was chaos. There were bleachers in every space where I’d hoped to set up my chairs. There were cars and pedestrians everywhere. Weird, right? Apparently, the parade is kind of… popular. Go figure.

I turned on to Orange Grove Blvd. near the beginning of the parade route and glimpsed a few people setting up chairs on the grass between the sidewalk and the curb. I parked my Jeep in a tow-zone and ran over to stake my claim.

As luck would have it, I met a nice couple that agreed to watch my stuff while I looked for legitimate parking. I unloaded my gear at the edge of their blankets. They explained that they were newbies too, and the busy lady seated next to them had given them some pointers. The lady was actually pointing. She was a parade pro. I looked around and saw that some people were clearly more prepared than others. I saw a family that had brought air mattresses, heaters, and even a ping-pong table. One clever man had set up a hammock with an iron stand, and even the makings of a full kitchen, complete with a stove and dinette. I saw other families which were dressed in sweatshirts and sitting four to a bath towel.

I headed over to speak with a police officer and asked where he thought I might find parking. He just shook his head and laughed. “That’s funny,” he said, and walked away chuckling.

Just then an elderly man approached me and said, “Hey! Anyone who drives a Jeep Rubicon can’t be ALL bad!” He introduced himself as “Global Noble” and proceeded to tell me about his 3-year trip around the world in his Jeep. It was fascinating and I hoped I would see him later so he could tell me all about it. He then explained that I could find parking half a mile up the street in the Parson’s Building. It would cost ten dollars. I followed his direction and parked in the Parson’s Building. It was actually over two miles away and it cost eighty dollars to park. Eighty! I was desperate to be done with the parking portion of my adventure, so I just paid it.

I called my son to tell him to forget it. Parking would be a problem. He should just take the Metro or skip it all together.

He said, “Yeah, I’m kind of far away and I have a flat tire. Dad is coming to help me.”

My husband, who was focused on packing for a business trip to Australia, now had to drive across town to deal with a flat tire because the spare was in our garage, not in the car.

I see.

I quickly resigned myself to a solo parade experience. I picked up a couple of sandwiches from a shop and schlepped more stuff back to my chairs. I was thankful that I had noted the intersection where I left everything BEFORE I went searching for parking. In all the commotion, I could have easily driven off and then spent the rest of the night looking for a nice couple and two empty chairs down the many side streets of greater Pasadena.

When I returned, I chatted up the wife of the nice couple. She is a second grade teacher in Tehachapi. She told me about a rather difficult diet she is beginning for the New Year. There was a lot of math and ratios to it. The whole notion made me hungry. I went back to my chair and ate my sandwich. I sat there for a couple of hours, watching kids play football and fiddling with my phone.

Then, out of nowhere, my son walked up and said, “Hi Mom.”

He had fixed the tire and made a beeline for me. He found parking on a side street about a mile away. He said there were tow signs, but he could tell that they weren’t going to be parking any buses on the street he chose, since it was too narrow to accommodate them. He assured me that there wasn’t any danger of being towed. I hugged him and gave him his sandwich.  Nice kid.

IMG_5275I wish I could tell you now that the night went smoothly and we were cozy and snoring in our chairs until daybreak. Nope. We froze our hineys off. We are Californians. It dipped down into the thirties, and for us that is arctic. The metal frames of our chairs turned into ice and every time we spoke to each other, puffs of frosty breath came out of our mouths. The night was a bit rough. I slept about an hour and a half. At 4am the bands started rehearsing and I went looking for a restroom. It was tricky to maneuver the situation using the flashlight on my phone without dropping it into the dark.

As I was heading back, I smelled something delicious. I knew exactly what it was. For many years my grandmother told me that women should drop everything and go into the kitchen when their husbands get mad at them. “You should run over and start frying onions. That scent will sweeten any man’s temper!”

I don’t know about that, but there was something of the miraculous in finding bacon-wrapped hotdogs piled high with onions and peppers in the dark, frozen minutes two hours before dawn. They also had menudo, which seemed more difficult to manage.

I could have kissed the young girl holding the lid of an old pot by its foil-covered handle when she offered me coffee. It didn’t matter that it was powdered or sweetened or not terribly hot. All those things that matter at home are not concerns for the cryogenically sealed mini-adventurer. Gratitude and opportunity are instead our watchwords.

My son is not a coffee drinker, nor a breakfast eater, and he was also quite pleased with my bounty. I was happy to see a little color come back into his cheeks, especially after medics put a pale young man across the street  onto a stretcher and wheeled him away with suspected hypothermia.

The parade began to take shape a few hours later at 7am. Bands and floats queued up and paused in front of us. A drill team from Dallas waited for the better part of an hour. They were wearing short skirts and small red sequined tops. They were visibly shivering. One girl squatted into a sort of standing fetal position and stared blankly into the middle distance.

IMG_4744I was eager to see the Downton Abbey float, which I had read would feature thousands of English roses that are so fragile that they couldn’t be placed until the day before. The float was said to feature more than 60,000 roses all together. It took about 2000 hours to build and 6000 hours to decorate and it even sported a 1919 Bentley.  (Downton Abbey’s final season airs on Sunday, January 3rd. I’m looking forward to it.)

IMG_4770IMG_0172 copyI was also hoping to get a glimpse of the parade’s Grand Marshall, Ken Burns. I love to watch the productions he puts together for PBS, especially “The National Parks: America’s Best Idea”. The theme of the parade this year is “Find Your Adventure”, something that I am taking to heart in my own small way.

IMG_0205The parade was everything I hoped it would be. The flowers were spectacular, the marching bands were loud and fun, and some even raucous. The horses-from the Clydesdales to the mules to the miniature horse-all looked noble in their rose-covered saddles or other finery. People in the stands sang and danced spontaneously. Strangers waved at each other and shouted, “Happy New Year!” with heartfelt exuberance.

IMG_0228 copyIMG_0329 copyParades can perfectly capture those elevated moments that seem to still the hands of time. You look across the landscape and see all of life’s richness unfold in an instant. I see it in the hopeful face of a young girl catching her spiraling baton, or the old ranchero tipping his sombrero at a child who is gobbling a blue fluff of cotton candy. Even the crazy guy who shouts, “you dirty liberal” at random people and the guy with the shovel who cleans up after the horses with a comic flourish, give you glimpses of our splendid sameness.

All my senses were heightened with this adventure- the colors, the music, the action, the well wishes, the nippy air, and the scent of frying onions. The beginning to my New Year was better than perfect, it was alive, messy, hopeful, and different.

One down, 364 to go.



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