The last time I attended a parade I spent it heckling city officials and beauty queens with my friends in front of the prestigious Alta Club in Salt Lake. We were discreet, of course; after all, we're not jerks. We were one of the all-time peanut galleries, though.
So I was a little taken aback when my neighbor asked me to announce the Bountiful Days of 47 Parade last Friday night. I was asked to jump ships, from heckler to collaborator, from critic to public relations lackey. Could I really become a part of the socio-cultural environment I usually preferred to observe and critique at a distance?
Hey, why not?
If I've learned anything in the last year or two, it's that if you want to get something going in life, you're probably going to have to take some risks. In some cases, you will have to deliberately seek out opportunities to get out of your comfort zone. After all, what's more interesting to read, a critique of parades or an account of me participating in one?
So, instead of focus on my seeming ideology jump, I looked at my new opportunity as a promotion of sorts. The only time I actually participated in a parade was in my high school homecoming parade. As a proud representative of the Viewmont Drama Club (insert "NERD!" heckle here), I spent the parade running around in a toga chasing my friend Taylor with a plastic bullwhip. I think we were supposed to be representing the Greeks and their tradition of theater, but I was more interested in chasing Taylor through the ranks of disciplined Vykelles that were marching in front of us.*
Anyhow, Parade Announcer was certainly a step up from Teen in Toga with Whip. Apparently I was to be one of nine such announcers positioned between 15th South in Bountiful to 4th North. I'd get a microphone and a little battery that would be hooked up to a pair of loudspeakers tied to a streetlight about four feet above the scaffolding I'd be sitting on. All I had to do was read the little pre-written blurbs about each of the parade entries that rolled by, and try to get the crowd to be enthusiastic about them.
"HEY EVERYBODY, IT'S THE BOUNTIFUL ROTARY CLUB! WOOB! WOOB! WOOB!"
In case of entry gaps, I was given a few pages of sponsor thank-you's and historical facts about Bountiful to fill the time. Naturally, I spent some time on the net looking up my own kind of filler info, like the fact that Bountiful residents get a $25 discount on grave plots, or that the leading legal infraction in 2002 was larceny.
When the big day came, I found myself parked in my blue camp chair six feet off the ground on a scaffold in front of the Bountiful Post Office. Across the street lay the historic Bountiful Tabernacle, and before it the vast green lawn that had seen so many classic football games over the years.
My crew was twofold: on the ground I had a radio guy named Ryan who was assigned to keep me updated on order changes. At my side I had my trusty friend Vaughn, who relayed Ryan's info and acted as my spotter on upcoming parade entries. He would also be available for color commentary and even lead announcing spots if I started feeling verklempt in the midst of 100+ entries.
I was instructed to be at my post at 5:15 to get my battery and microphone, but the tech truck didn't roll up to my scaffold until 6:05, five minutes after the parade had started over at 1500 South. I immediately got hooked up and welcomed the crowd, since we had three bags of promotional merchandise to hand out before the floats got there.
It was pandemonium. The instant I told people I had free stuff to give away, my scaffold was surrounded with 150 kids screaming and pleading with outstretched arms. It was like I was at a bread line somewhere. It was absolutely insane.
"PLEEEEEASE! Give something to MEEEEE!!!"
"HEEEERE! PLEEEEASE! HEEEEEERE!"
The crowd pushed out well into the street, and as Vaughn and I desperately tried to hand out our precious items, I was convinced that any second twenty kids would be run down by some rose-covered float carrying guests from KSL-TV. The only question would be how to spin their emergency broadcast.
"EX-HECKLER PARADE ANNOUNCER THROWS INNOCENT CHILDREN UNDER KSL FLOAT!"
The real weird thing was how the kids continued to scream once we stopped handing out the decent merchandise (t-shirts and hats) and started doling out cheapo plastic toys that you'd usually get out of a vending machine. I have never seen so many kids so passionate about pencils and hand lotion.
I wanted to tell them, "Hey, look at this crap! Stop screaming! I'll just drop it all off at the DI and save you a trip! LOOK OUT FOR THAT FLOAT!"
In the midst of this, the enigmatic Utah weather system elected to blow high-speed winds down Main Street, scattering my papers and setup as I tried to dispense the junk. I'd throw a handful of random items in the air, then a gust would catch them and send them either back at me or elsewhere in the stunned crowd. The outstretched arms of the crowd transitioned like a wave at a football game.
Somehow Vaughn and I managed to clear the bags, and we settled back in stunned shock for a moment before the first floats arrived. No kids had been killed, but I felt kind of violated by the whole scene. I gathered in my materials, muttered a few things absently into the microphone, and prepared to do my job.
We already had about a dozen changes to the schedule that we had neglected to fix in the midst of the promotional melee. This was going to be fun.
I had planned on entertaining the masses Letterman-style with a bevy of filler jokes and witty commentary, but when the floats started rolling by, it was all I could do to frantically read through the pre-written blurbs in time before another float was upon us. I repeatedly told the kids to get off the street, but when parade members were handing out candy, no one was going to keep them in their seats. I sat in horror as eight motorcycle-mounted members of the Utah Highway Patrol zipped back and forth in precision drills, flying at high speed up and down a street littered with kids, parents, and random idiots trying to cross the street in the middle of the parade.
"UTAH HIGHWAY PATROLMAN RUNS OVER FOUR CHILDREN DURING MOTORCYCLE DRILL--BLAMES EX-HECKLER PARADE ANNOUNCER!"
About two floats in, Ryan the radio guy poked his head up at me with a concerned look on his face.
"Hey, we can't hear you down here. Can't you turn that thing up any more?"
This news wasn't too bad, although it was a bit strange. The crowd sure heard me when I told them I had free crap to give away. I considered the idea of abandoning my script completely and switching back to "Pure Josh" commentary.
If no one could hear, why not?
Still, I had a feeling that if I was to do that I would be stabbed from behind by some elderly member of the crowd horrified at my defiling of the Days of 47 tradition, so I just shrugged and pressed on. I couldn't turn my mic up any without getting feedback, so we were stuck. From here out, it was less about my performance and all about just getting the thing finished.
As things got relatively settled, I began to take more notice of the floats themselves. They sure weren't Macy's Parade quality, but they provided their fair share of curiosity. For one thing, the Bountiful Jeep Posse hardly has any Jeeps in it. They were just a bunch of red trucks.
Lots of the floats were pioneer tributes by various local LDS stakes and wards, which was to be expected. What I didn't expect were the non-LDS floats from other Christian churches. Not that they were in the parade; after all, it was a community event. I just thought it was weird that one of them made a specific point of telling the largely LDS crowd that they taught the idea of salvation by grace alone.
"HOLY WAR BREAKS OUT BETWEEN LUTHERANS AND MORMONS AT DAYS OF 47 PARADE--EX-HECKLER PARADE ANNOUNCER IMPALED WITH CANE!"
As with any parade, there were a number of clowns wandering the route dispensing candy. Supposedly the clowns were coming from the Singles Ward that I'd be attending if I weren't at the one up on campus. I wasn't sure whether I was better off embarrassing myself on the scaffold. At least they had makeup and big pants.
To his everlasting credit, Vaughn repeatedly assured me that I was doing a good job through the whole thing. It was good to hear in the midst of misread announcements and float descriptions. See, there were a lot of float descriptions that didn't match the real deal.
"THIS FLOAT REPRESENTS THE FAMOUS PIONEER TREK. NOTICE HOW THE TRUCK HAS BEEN DECORATED TO LOOK LIKE OXEN PULLING THE WAGON."
I finished reading the description and looked up at a plain white Dodge pickup.
"Hey Vaughn, are there any white oxen?"
"You're doing a great job, buddy. Great job."
From time to time a truck would roll by or someone would be out walking that didnt seem to be part of the official parade. They had these vacant looks like they were either stunned by the crowd or completely unaware of how they had gotten there. It reminded me of an old ward friend that accidentally wound up in the middle of the PRIDE DAY parade on his way to church one Sunday morning. Naturally he was wearing a tasteful salmon-colored shirt and Oakley sunglasses at the time.
I noticed that we were getting pretty high up into the parade order. My voice was holding strong, and the frantic first few minutes had settled into a steady groove. No kids had been run over, and I began to find myself increasingly distracted by cute girls I noticed wandering around. I even began adding colorful quips to some of my pre-written descriptions.
"EX-HECKLER PARADE ANNOUNCER GETS DISTRACTED BY GIRL, CALLS BOUNTIFUL MAYOR 'WIENER-BOY'! HERE'S MARK EUBANK WITH WEATHER--"
About 100 yards up the street, the parade floats turned into a long line of backed-up sedans and SUV's. I was already past entry #100 in my announcer book. It looked like the end was in sight. I wondered if the people in the cars had been stuck there the whole time.
"Come ON! What is the hold-up!"
"Do you think it's a wreck, honey?"
"It better be a good one, this traffic SUCKS!"
Finally the last float rolled by, and the reported 80-100,000 parade attendees picked up their folding chairs and abandoned their trash and promotional merchandise to the memory of another holiday season. Time to either pack it all up to Mueller Park for a fireworks show, or just return home to the M-80's they picked up on the last trip to Evanston.
I myself wound up at Muller Park for the third of what would be four total fireworks displays this season. I joined some friends up there after clearing off my PA station and taking a moment with Vaughn to reflect on the events of the evening. Vaughn had been a part of that original peanut gallery two years earlier, so I think he appreciated the change I had undergone.
"You did a great job, man."
From what I could tell, no kids had been killed, though I found out later that a woman got a nasty bump on the head when one of the other announcers bounced a promotional bottle of hand cleanser off her forehead. I barely read any of my filler material, and didn't even get through all of the priority material I had been given. But Vaughn said I had done good, and no one had tried to stab me, so that was good enough for me.
"We've GOT to do this again next year," said Vaughn.
Sure, why not?
*Sometime I may have to tell the story of how I accidentally asked out all three members of the Viewmont Vykelle Presidency consecutively.