“No. NO. I do not believe you.”
My new girlfriend Deserae was shaking her head at me.
“Everyone has been to a parade.”
“Well you’re coming on the 4th of July with my family. It’s the best thing ever.”
I grinned and nodded like a fool, thus sealing my fate for the rest of my life.
If you’ve never been to a parade before, DO NOT GO. If you go, you risk it becoming a tradition, and there is no worse tradition than a parade.
I know because this past Saturday, Parma held its annual Independence Day parade, and, eight years after that first conversation, I was there in my place again. Because it’s a tradition. As a service to those who may one day have to lie about having been to a parade, I recorded the experience.
Parma has determined the best way to start a parade is to cause every dog in the audience to lose its mind by having the motorcycle cops drive down the street at 5 m.p.h. with their sirens on full blast.
Everybody stands and cheers as old veterans walk down the street with a POW flag. This is a legitimately cool moment and the only good part of the parade. Also, there’s still 58 minutes left.
Just as the dogs start settling down, a fire truck comes by and blasts its siren. You don’t realize how loud a fire truck is until it parks in front of you for a full minute.
Now that all that patriotic stuff is out of the way, we get to the real reason for the parade – free candy. Until I attended my first parade, I never realized the only reason people go is for free stuff. It’s kind of like Halloween, but instead of no-strings-attached candy from neighbors, the people throwing you candy are also trying to get you to visit their beauty salon, remember their name when voting for judges, pass the school levy to keep the marching band, etc.
Also like Halloween, you get to a certain age where it’s no longer acceptable to look like you’re actively trying to obtain this free candy.
“Frootsie! Get it!”
Deserae is pointing to a piece of candy on the ground. “Get the Frootsie Dustin!!!”
I look at the Frootsie on the ground – close enough to my general vicinity to claim, but too far to reach without getting out of my chair. A little kid swoops in and grabs it. Deserae glares.
Parade candy is about five notches below Halloween candy. If you were to hand out even the best parade candy on Halloween, you’d risk getting your house egged. At the bottom of the parade candy chain are tiny, concrete rectangles called “chews.” Just above those are generic gums and suckers, then there are Dum-Dums, Smarties and Tootsie Rolls.
At the very top of the list, at least for Deserae, are flavored tootsie rolls called “Tootsie-Frootsies.” Ten minutes into the parade, Deserae has given up trying to get me to collect Frootsies for her and is sneaking into the street when no one is looking to get her own.
Two people walk by holding a sign that says “Walk/Run for Pierogies.” Deserae’s mom stands up. “WOOOOOOOO!!!!! GO PIEROGIES!!!!!!!!!” The pierogi people seem startled.
For the 10th year in a row, the Lamest Float Award goes to…Safety Town!
Directly behind the Safety Town float comes a guy on a three-person bicycle with his two kids. The third kid is too short, so he has blocks duct taped to his pedals. None of them are wearing helmets. Since the parade is moving so slow, the dad has to keep wobbling back and forth across street and is always juuuust about to plow into the crowd. I’m not sure who they’re with, but I like to think they’re just there to mock Safety Town.
Gutsy move by Senator Rob Portman to give everyone already-peeled stickers. This leads to a whole row of confused people with stickers on their fingers, trying to remember if they support Rob Portman or not.
“Is he a Democrat or Republican?!” someone shouts down the row. Fortunately, Senator Portman has helped us out by bringing along a goofy elephant mascot to signify that he is a Republican – the friendly kind!
The parade feels like it should be over by now. I look at the time on my phone. Oh no.
The dogs haven’t had anything to bark at in a while, so a semi truck rolls up and blasts its horn over and over.
By now, even the kids are starting to figure out that the candy’s lousy. To stand out at this point in the parade, you’ve got to think bigger than candy. The Knights of Columbus, for example, are giving out flags.
One of them is handing out little plastic flags near us, trying desperately to teach flag etiquette to a group of grabby kids. “Nothing is supposed to be higher than the flag,” he says, his voice rising. One of the kids drops his flag, perhaps realizing it’s not edible. “The flag is never to touch the ground!!”
Sorry bub, but I think you may have already compromised on the sanctity of the American flag when you ordered 1,000 of them for $15 from the Oriental Trading Post.
The most effective floats are built with the understanding that they only have a limited amount of time to communicate a very specific message. A local martial arts studio has realized this, and they’ve decided that their message will be, “Breaking stuff is fun!” Kids are breaking boards and handing the pieces (that conveniently have the martial arts studio address and phone number on them) to other kids in the audience. The message is clear – if your parents call this number, you too can break stuff.
The 4H Club could take a lesson from the martial arts studio.
They’re trying to communicate everything the 4-H Club does on one sign and frankly, most of it is super lame: Citizenship. Sewing. Canning and Freezing. Notice how everyone in the audience is looking away from the float? Now I did see one word at the bottom of the sign that is the opposite of lame. My suggestion to the 4H Club for next year would be to lose all the other stuff and highlight their most important feature.
You know how dogs love sitting still for an hour? The APL should know, but they choose this moment to parade their animals down the street, showing all the dogs in the audience what they are missing. The audience dogs respond by losing their minds again.
Does this blog feel like it’s going on forever? Good, you’re starting to get the idea of what going to a parade feels like! To speed things up, we’ll just do pictures from the rest of the parade.
Parma ends its parade the same way every year – with a bunch of random people dressed as zombies. If they are promoting something, it is very unclear.
This is the happiest moment of the year, because it is the farthest away from the next July 4 parade.
LIFE LESSON #75
Don’t take candy from strangers. Especially parade candy.