Sometimes I get these ideas, and there's no way of knowing how they'll turn out. Fortunately my family is very tolerant and falls in with many of my crazy schemes. Last November I was walking home from work, trying to think of a little trip we could take over the New Year. Someplace warm, someplace new, someplace Benny would like ...
Our coworkers often talk of Tahoe and Hawaii and Disneyland and Legoland and Napa wine-tasting, but I was thinking of something a little more ... Midwest.
Then, 10 feet from our apartment building, it hit me: The Rose Bowl Parade! That would be SO COOL!
On nearly every New Year's morning in my entire life, I've switched the TV to the Tournament of Roses Parade in Pasadena, California, most recently over the protests of Ron and Benny. I decided 2012 was the year we would go.
But at 4:40 a.m. on Jan. 2, I was having second thoughts. You see, the parade starts at 8 a.m., and the closest hotel I could find was in Palmdale, a bleak, nearly deserted commercial strip an hour's drive away. We left in pitch darkness, padded stadium seats tucked in the trunk of our little Fit.
We ignored Greta, our new GPS Garmin system, who wanted to take us through the twisting Angeles Forest in pitch darkness, and kept to the main highways, entering Pasedena north of the parade route.
Which was a problem, because our reserved parking space and grandstand seats were south of the parade route along Colorado Street. There was no way to cross Colorado, everything was blocked off. So Ron slid the Fit into a miniscule parking spot on a residential street and we trotted off to the nearest checkpoint, Ron carrying a big white bundle holding the stadium seats.
Of course, we were hell and gone from our grandstand, and the white-suited volunteer at the checkpoint wouldn't let us pass. He recommended a circuitous northern route which might allow us to see the parade's final floats. Ron didn't think much of that, so we just moved away, then snuck back when Mr. White Suit's back was turned. A security guy barely glanced at our tickets, searched our bags, waved us through, then shouted: "That's the last one! The parade's starting! This checkpoint is closed!" Ron, Benny and I bolted for Colorado Street, keeping our heads down as Mr. White Suit watched us with disapproval. A stealth bomber flew overhead -- they were on to us.
Now we had to cross the parade route. We infiltrated the lines of cops in camo-print riot gear and came to a halt at the big Main Grandstand as the second float sailed past. "All right, there's a break!" an official said, and we dashed across after the float, skirting the car carrying the Grand Marshal and ducking into a tunnel to Green Street. Then it was a sprint along Green, parallel to the parade route, Benny leading the way, Ron taking rear guard.
But we couldn't get to the grandstand! Hordes of onlookers were packed in front of the fence dividing ticket-holders and the rabble. Ron was ready to watch the parade where we were, but I noticed some people tugging a bit of fence away from the wall, leaving a little gap.
"You think we can get through that?" I asked the saboteurs. Two people slipped through the fence while I hesitated, so I sent Benny through. I shoved my way through the tiny gap, then someone held Ron's stadium seats while he pushed through, popping out like a cork.
Then it was only a matter of going to the wrong grandstand, going to the wrong side of the right grandstand and finally finding our seats. "You haven't missed much," said the nice lady sitting beside me.
We had a great view — the Wisconsin float and band went by. I took a few pictures, then dropped my camera about 20 feet into the weeds below the bandstand. Oh well.
The parade was very exciting to watch in person. The floats were big, the bands were loud and the crowd cheered wildly. One woman was sitting on the edge of the street in a furry Wisconsin Badger hat, and half the Wisconsin band suddenly broke out and circled her, trumpets blaring.
The theme of the parade, as you can tell by the title, was "Just Imagine," and a more vague, amorphous theme would be difficult to find. The best application was by U.S. Bank's "Idea Factory,"which had some mechanical assembly line turning ideas into real-life objects. We missed the Royal Court (which was fine with me), but here's the flagrantly patriotic "Imagine in America" float, the only float picture I shot before I dropped my camera.
We cheered the Wisconsin and Oregon people, and then came Paramount's Hollywood float with the huge Starship Enterprise on top. (The rest of these pictures and videos were taken with Ron's iPhone.)
Benny loved the tiny ponies pulling costumed people in carts and the China Airline's huge dragon with the smoke puffing out of its nostrils. He also liked the cowboys performing rope tricks on horseback.
After all the horses came sweepers in white jumpsuits, who had to work fast to keep from being run over by a fast-moving float. The City of Alhambra's train float was appropriately named "Bearing Down the Track," because it was gaining threateningly on the Cowgirl's horse sweepers. They barely got out the way.
Ron liked the bands the best. The biggest band came from Texas and seemed miles long.
My favorite favorite band featured these amazing musicians from Kyoto Tachibana High School:
Here are some other floats:
Most people in reserved parking had to clear out right after the parade, but since we'd parked on a residential street, we could hang around. First I hunted down a Sharp Seating employee, and he took me under the grandstand and hunted around the weeds with me until we found my digital camera.
Then Ron, Benny and I had lunch at a cafe and wandered down Colorado Street buying souveniers. One pedestrian walking behind us, obviously from the Midwest, had a little trouble crossing streets. First the lady and her friends wandered vaguely out into the intersection against the light, then when that was prevented by the cars, milled around on the corner. The light turned, and Ron, Benny and I crossed. "Look!" the lady cried. "They're crossing diagonally! You can do that? I've never seen that before!"
We drove back to Palmdale, and Ron and Benny played in the outdoor pool. After dinner, we sat on the bed and watched the parts of the parade we missed. And sure enough, on local station 5, we saw Ron scuttling across the parade route, carrying a big white bundle of stadium seats, behind Bayer's "Garden of Imagination" float. And there I was on the corner for an instant in a pink shirt, holding Benny's hand, before crossing.
Benny said: "I want to go to the Parade every year!" And I'm thinking, the city lets you reserve RV parking spaces along the parade route, so we could rent an RV next year and load it with people and watch the Rose Bowl Parade from our RV. That would be SO COOL!