The annual Tournament of Roses Parade is easily one of my favorite Southern California holiday traditions. This year I got the opportunity to experience it in a totally new way – actually watching the parade.
As I write this, I am camped out on Colorado Blvd. (in front of the Apple Store for easy WiFi, natch), having braved the chilly night with a friend with whom I’ve marched in five Rose Parades. It wasn’t enough to just watch on TV or pay for a seat for our first time on the sidelines; we decided to go all-out and spend the night on the streets of Pasadena, finally experiencing this ridiculous tradition we’ve so far only known by the aftermath seen in the morning. I thought by now I’d be an expert in all things Rose Parade, but as a n00b, it turns out I had a lot to learn about this “spectator” thing.
Lesson #1: Getting a good spot is much less stressful than you think it will be.
The City of Pasadena says you can start staking out your spot at Noon on the 31st. You don’t need to be there that early. I got here at 9:00 PM, which was good for people-watching while Old Town was still full of restaurant- and bar-goers. Even at my pretty prime location near the beginning of the parade, There was still space for a few people to set up camp. Lots of people had set out dozens of folding chairs, though, which still have yet to be filled (turns out nobody really enforces this supposed “no seat-saving” rule). Lots of parade viewers start to arrive after 3:00 AM, after they’ve celebrated the New Year elsewhere, and after many of the parking structures open for parade parking only. And though I thoroughly enjoyed the company of the fellow Apple nerd and his Chihuahua sitting next to us, I felt kinda bad that he had been sitting there a whole 10 hours more than us to get pretty much the same view.
Lesson #2: There is actually some method to the Silly String and projectile food madness.
For some reason, New Year’s Eve is the one occasion it’s totally OK to vandalize cars right in front of cops. In fact, parents regularly encourage their children to do so. It seems most who dare drive down Colorado Blvd. are prepared for the barrage of marshmallows, Silly String and tortillas (with whipped cream – so they stick to your windshield); some even honk and ask for it, and throw the food back at the crowd. The totally unsuspecting ones are hilarious to watch, though, as they duck and swerve and are generally aghast at this behavior. It’s usually little kids who are relatively harmless, but the ones you have to watch out for are the teenagers with no manners (who spray Silly String at people’s faces) and, apparently, college kids from Ohio who are totally new to this concept and take to it like excited nine-year-olds, except they’ve added alcohol and they start throwing food into the interiors of convertibles with their tops down. Also, I’ve decided that the kids who just drive by throwing stuff at the people sitting on the curb should only be allowed to do so if they’ve also sat outside overnight for the parade one time or another; we’re like sitting ducks here, it’s only fair that they pay their dues before pelting us with marshmallows.
Lesson #3: Yes, at some point, the honking, screaming and shouting do quiet down.
During the parade, there’s always lots of shouting of “Happy New Year!”, cheering, honking and noise-making, and throughout much of the evening prior it’s the same thing. All the kids are still awake and hyper and enthralled with their megaphone-like toys, and bar-hopping girls just stop in the middle of crosswalks to scream at each other. This all culminates in the hooting and hollering that accompanies the clock turning to midnight, and it goes on for about an hour afterward. Somewhere in there, people realize there’s still seven hours until the parade, and they get bored and/or tired and start settling into their sleeping bags (or air mattresses, or fold-up chairs, or, in at least one case, their big freakin’ camping tent). The majority of parade-watchers get at least a little bit of sleep sometime during the night. That’s not really my style, however, and I’ve managed to stay awake, though it got harder after everything got calm and quiet.
Lesson #4: Hey, Big Ten fans: You may think you’re tough, but you still need to dress for the weather.
It got down to about 46 degrees tonight, and is just now finally starting to warm up again. When you’re sitting outside, not moving, and quite possibly asleep, even for Midwesterners, it gets cold! This is chillier than most years, but I can’t even imagine how awful it must have been three years ago when it rained so badly the day of the parade. From my personal experience, I recommend layers, multiple pairs of socks, a sleeping bag (more than just a single fleece blanket), and a good friend who brings you hot chocolate without prompting. I would also say get one of those portable gas heaters or campfires, but apparently that would make me insanely jealous and hateful towards you.
Lesson #5: Parade viewing hygiene and you!
Unless you’re one of those who paid for grandstand seats and have the luxury of showering before getting here, you’ve just got to accept that you’re not going to look that cute. But it’s OK – everybody just woke up, half the people are in pajamas, and I still haven’t found a place to brush my teeth, so it’s likely no one else has, either. There came a point during the night where everybody was kind of haggard-looking and walking around in blankets, and I couldn’t always differentiate between actual bums and those of us who were, as a friend of mine adeptly put it, “simulating homelessness”. So, get comfortable with this slumber party look, since everyone else is in the same boat. But most importantly, if at all possible, avoid the porta-potties. They are few and far between, and, as a result of overuse, are the most awful, disgusting porta-potties I have seen in a long, long time.
Lesson #6: In the end, you can say you’ve taken part in something special… just like everybody else.
I set out to have a hi-tech camping experience – I got the laptop, internet access, WiFi-equipped iPod, and some friends even used my Facebook posts to track me down and visit my “campsite”. But the bare bones of it are pretty low-tech, and have been for over 100 years. People gathering together and watching a parade featuring traditions including marching bands and equestrian teams and floats made almost entirely out of plant life – this is what it’s all about, and is nearly the same as it was decades ago. It’s an experience shared by all those in attendance, and I am proud to be able to check this one off my lifelong “To Do” list. Though, to be fair, there probably haven’t been a ton of people before me who passed the time blogging, and I’ll totally be the one following the parade online rather than from the printed-out programs. So, I guess I can still make it a unique experience for myself, too.