I recently read an article about the controversy that surrounds New York City's St. Patrick's Day parade. It seems that relations between Irish Catholic authorities and more liberal groups are now so strained that the question, "Are you marching in this year's parade?" is a litmus test of cultural identification ... a thorny, allegiance-challenging conundrum.
Not to be outdone, Orlando faces its own uncertainties when our March procession of the green-blooded winds its way through the downtown streets. "Do you think it'll rain?" is one. But last Saturday, the intermittent morning showers vanished from the skies in time for the fourth annual caravan of floats and walking brigades, affording onlookers a clear view of an event that was open-hearted in a manner New Yorkers might envy.
What can you say about a parade that not only finds room for Ronald McDonald and dancers from the Southern Ballet Theatre, but places them on the same flatbed? How about the selection of rocker Eddie Money -- dressed in a fluorescent lime blazer that made him look like an Irish-Mafia associate of the "Sopranos" -- as grand marshal? You can't call it exclusive, that's for sure.
At least I'm pretty sure that's what we saw. A faulty P.A. system mounted on the balcony of BAR Orlando rendered WKCF-Channel 18 anchorman Bud Hedinger's running commentary all but inaudible to the crowd below. His words were drowned out by an electronic whine that ran up and down the scale of frequencies. (For a moment, I thought he had decided to chuck his gig and play prerecorded Irish pipe melodies instead.) In front of him rested the club's standing "DJ wanted" signage, an irony that was lost on no one.
Oh, well; true populism means not counting on anyone else to lead the way.
Pa for the course
We didn't need an official explanation of most of the parade's sights anyway. The aged members of the Model A Club showed off their vintage autos, clearly relieved that no one would assail them from driving too slow just this once. The tanklike Seminole County Rescue Vehicle was cause for some concern as it rumbled down Orange Avenue -- watch out for this sucker if Sanford ever declares martial law -- but the marchers from the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers were reassuringly benign in their dirty clothes and beat-up sneakers. Hoisting a threadbare American flag that appeared to have been retrieved from a member's garage, they emitted an occasional "YEE-HAA!" for emphasis. Hardly Celtic, but sincere.
Many of the participants threw candies to the mob, a friendly gesture that caused instinctive ducking as one too many sweet-toothed spectators took butterscotch pieces directly in the eye. Had John Morgan elected to follow the route with promises of wrongful-injury litigation, he could have cleaned up.
When he wasn't picking up goodies from the sidewalk, an acne-scarred kid behind me took it upon himself to sarcastically deconstruct the panorama of kitsch. "A dog is driving a car!" he howled in mock merriment at a motorist who had perched her pooch upon her lap. And later, as the Chick-Fil-A coach drew near: "A cow is driving a car!" (Actually, the faux bovine was a passenger.)
"Cowed" was the word for Mayor Glenda Hood, who rode in an Orange County fire truck. Stopping at the intersection of Orange Avenue and Pine Street, Hood was greeted by a shocking and prolonged chorus of boos. God knows what she was thinking, but it didn't help that the next few moments would take her past the many empty buildings that lay between Pine and the Church Street turn-off -- a parade vista straight out of "Roger & Me."
Despite the efforts of blue-shirted crowd-control volunteers, the mob waded into the intersection throughout the afternoon, often limiting the paraders to two walking lanes' worth of space. (And you thought widening I-4 was a priority.) We all took a few steps back, however, when the Zuma Beach staff parked its rig in the middle of the street and then used a compressed-air tank to blow toilet paper and napkins all over us. The avenue was cluttered within minutes, and I heartily approved. With what those guys are paying for downtown rent, I think they're entitled to make whatever mess they want.
The arrival of street-sweeping vehicles indicated the end of the festivities, but some folks weren't ready to leave. They remained welded to the curb, narrowly avoiding the motorized mops that threatened to turn them into so much Soylent Green. It was all part of the show.
I thought back to something my acerbic little pal had said when one of the more unspectacular traveling exhibits came into view. "This is Bob," he had deadpanned. "He had a pickup truck, so we let him be in the parade."
Yes, but isn't that the point? If a day comes when you can't join the St. Patrick's Day convoy with a Huffy bike and a hand horn, I won't watch. Divisiveness I can get in New York.