Copyright © 1997, 2015 by Jim Hull
(Please cite the author if you quote from this work)
Every year about a million people converge on Pasadena and crowd together along the sidewalks of Colorado Boulevard to behold the outrageous spectacle of gigantic, flower-decked floats - some larger than strip malls - rolling sedately past on hidden chassis, as if defying gravity. It's the Tournament of Roses Parade, and each New Year the street crowd is joined by over one billion tv viewers. Everything about the parade is gigantic: the floats, with their huge, gorgeous shapes smothered in petals and other vegetable matter; the massed marching bands, many over 100 strong; the ornately decorated horses and riders; the cool, blue skies of that alarmingly good weather that always seems to show up for the parade. Add to these the size of the viewing audience, and you have simply the biggest, most famous parade in the world.
About six weeks prior, another parade
lumbers along Colorado Boulevard. This time a motley crowd of
perhaps 30,000 watches not lovely floats but garish hand-pulled
wagons covered in Dadaist art and absurd political graffiti
("Save the Ferret!"); not marching bands but transvestite drill
teams and rows of hibachi-clad chefs in full grill; not
equestrian units but people dressed in dog or skunk costumes
merrily squirting phony animal effluvia onto the rowdy crowd.
It's the Doo Dah Parade, and all you can get of it televised are
highlights on the evening news. Everything about this parade is
goofy, from the sudden phalanx of roaring Harley-Davidsons at
the start to the Silly String and tortillas kids fire at parade
members who wander too close.
If the Rose Parade is the queen of pageants, the Doo Dah is the court jester. It's also the closest the Southland comes to Mardi Gras. For over two decades this exercise in silliness has tweaked the noses of bluebloods who rule Pasadena society, poking fun at their biggest, most important celebration. The Tournament committee - whose workers toil for decades in the trenches, directing traffic and manning telephones before they can even hope to achieve membership - naturally takes a jaundiced view of any sarcasm about its hard work. The Chamber of Commerce, meanwhile, isn't sure what to make of the Doo Dah. After all, the Rose Parade funnels millions of dollars into city coffers; might the Doo Dah deflate popular enthusiasm for the senior event? On the other hand, there's quite a little flurry of commerce along the boulevard during the Doo Dah: one restaurant worker told me (as I purchased a scone) they were doing a land-office business.
Still, the powers-that-be have managed, over the years, to limit the parade's effect. From its early life as a December event, the Doo Dah has lately been driven back to the weekend before Thanksgiving. The parade route, once a lengthy collection of doglegs down several streets, is now slightly more than half a mile - against the five miles of the Rose Parade - and limited to a short six blocks downtown.
The anti-Doo Dah forces have been greatly aided by the loopiness of the Doo Dah organizers. The latter decreed in recent years that live tv coverage would be severly restricted, in hopes - as Director Tom Coston put it - of "keeping its creative edge sharp...." No doubt this tones down the commercial feeding frenzy, but it also pinches off most of the potential audience. Organizers once even tried to charge admission. They'd meant merely to defray the costs of this overgrown block party, but the ensuing brouhaha simply added to the local conviction that the Doo Dah's days were numbered.
Perhaps it's this precarious, endangered feeling that energizes the parade, that nourishes its desperado appeal. If so, then the Doo Dah will survive out of sheer orneriness.
What's it like to march in the Doo Dah Parade? I've had the weird privilege of marching in both Pasadena parades. In the big pageant I proudly pounded on a bass drum for my high school band (my back and hearing have never been the same), while in the small parade I marched with a slightly off-kilter Scottish pipe-and-drum group called The Wicked Tinkers. In the big walk I wore a crimson band uniform, topped with furry shako hat and gold trim. In the Doo Dah I wore a kilt. And a tee-shirt and an Aussie bush hat. The big parade is a serious event; the little parade is kind of a romp.
They have one thing in common: crowds stretch out before you on both sides of the street, applauding. This is very cool. It sends chills down you. In the Rose Parade, as we made the turn onto Colorado in full view of the network tv cameras, we looked down the hill at the parade stretching off into the distance, and on either side stood the biggest crowd I'd ever seen. In the little parade the crowd was much smaller, but the principal was the same: chills. I also had a lot of influence with that crowd: I helped carry a banner out in front of the Tinkers, and the Tinkers led the parade, so basically I was the first thing coming down the street. Every time I waved, they waved back vigorously and applauded. Wave, applause. Wave, applause. It was like throwing a lever! I wished everything were that easy.
It helped, of course, that there was an extremely good Scottish band immediately to my rear, or all that waving would have looked pretty inane. (In this parade that might work out, though.) Three pipers and five drummers raised enough decibels to drown out a jet plane, and none were plugged into anything! The many rock bands that followed - blasting away atop their impromptu wheeled stages, amplifiers fed by portable gas generators - were no louder. (How did the old Highland Scots, hearing-impaired from all the piping, fight their famous wars? "Attack!" "What, sir?" "ATTACK!!" "Eh?")
One hazard of the Doo Dah is Silly String. Some of us had flyer duty, handing out ads that promoted upcoming Tinkers play dates. If you approached a smiling child seated on the curb, he or she might suddenly whip out a can of the foamy, spongy stuff and anoint you, head to foot, with a calico striping. There are two ways to deal with Silly String. The first is to wait till it dries, then peel it off; this works if you're wearing something with a fairly smooth surface (anything frilly or shaggy and you're in trouble). The second trick is to look at the street itself: impatient parade watchers will have been testing their cans of String for an hour or more, and you can tell by the colorful glops on the pavement which areas to avoid.
One benefit of the parade is that you can turn around, when you're through showing off, and join the crowd as a spectator. From the sidewalks you may emit catcalls, applaud, try to catch one of the many food objects released by parade participants, or engage in impromptu judging, as in "What the heck was that?" It's a kind of reverse Golden Rule: you're doing unto others what had so recently been done to you. The fun is pretty maximal either way.
The Doo Dah has a charmingly disorganized, spontaneous feel to it. The pace is agonizingly slow, as each entry stops every hundred feet or so to perform comical skits. But if you get into the swing of it you can have a good time.
And here they come!
Red Elvis - A rock band from Siberia. Loud.
West Hollywood Cheerleaders - Transvestite drill team with some smooth moves. You go, girls!
Dr. Demento - With his top hat and grey beard, the nationally syndicated deejay of silly songs is the patron saint of the parade.
Sister Maria Teresa de Los Angeles Shapiro ("from the order of baklava, Gouda and holy smoked ham") - In her black nun's habit, she's short, she's wide, she looks ridiculous. What more can you ask?
Torment of Roses - It looks promising, but after they've gone by you can't quite remember what they were doing. Their name - emblazoned on a wide banner - is most of the joke.
Bastard Sons of Lee Marvin - Beneath an eight-foot picture of the late actor (like the image of some banana-republic dictator) trudge several people dressed up as Marvin in his most famous roles.
Pool Balls on Parade - They're giant, walking pool balls! The crowd shouts "Rack! Rack!" and the man with the giant cue pokes the guy in the white-ball outfit, who runs back and bumps into the colored balls, and all spin wildly away, ricocheting off audience members and each other. I guess you had to be there.
Marv Albert's Stud Training Service - They were wearing pantyhose and garters, and it got me wondering: how is Albert ever gonna make a living?
Claude Rains Invisible Drill Team - The drum major's face and hands are wrapped in gauze, and he leads... well, nobody. But he's very busy at it.
L.A. Mudpeople - They're covered in mud and not much else, and they wear giant, primitive masks caked in earth. They rush around as a group, doing something important, but I couldn't figure out what.
Basset Hound Howllelujah Chorus - A lot of short dogs with their owners on leashes.
Queen Lily of the Hereafter - Lily Hobge is dead, but her ashes were on parade, accompanied by her husband, Claude, 80. Lily always wanted to be in the parade, and Claude helped grant her wish.
There are many other entries - 1,000 people
in all - but you get the drift. It's an acquired taste, so don't
feel bad if it all seems pointless. That's the point.
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