Growing up in Michigan during the 1960s city names of French, Indian, and English origin are all around (Warren, Detroit, St. Clair Shores, Houghton/Hancock, Mackinaw City) but , foreign sounding names like Albuquerque, NM, Pismo Beach, Cucamonga, California pop up in childhood cartoons one in particular marches across the television screen every New Year’s Day, Pasadena, California. While Mom and Dad assemble a traditional New Year’s breakfast of Eggs Eiffel Tower sausage, toast, coffee, juice, and something sweet siblings and I gather in front of the television to watch bands with their brass blasting into the New Year and batons soaring into the morning sky followed by flowered floats in procession down famous Colorado Boulevard. The pronunciation of Pas-a-dena, observing the parade passing under Southern California palm trees plants a romantic sense in my young, inquisitive mind. Shortly after the last float and band fade into the horizon, the winner of the Big Ten college football conference plays the winner of the Pacific 12 capping off a thrilling day. Just as a child’s imagination with trains invokes wishful adventure, Pas-a-dena, far from the frozen tundra of Michigan, stirs that same want of what it must be like standing on Colorado Blvd cheering, waving, freezing, and having a good old time.
New Year’s Eve, 1988. So here, I am with friends Andy and Paul in Pasadena, California, on Colorado Boulevard, well before midnight, warm and comfortable. The drive east from Ventura in Andy’s Dodge Ram pickup with camper shell takes one hour
and with no change of clothes or food as the arrangement is to ring out the old and ring in the new, catch a parade then back home by day’s end. The best part of this adventure is arriving the night before and mingling amongst the one million plus in attendance who have journeyed from far away frozen parts of the country, like the Midwest. People laying out on mattress, lawn and patio chairs, sofas anything to make this event memorable and relaxing parents cracking open coolers spreading out food stuff with children running about. I used to watch weather forecasts during cold Michigan winters jealous of the warmer climate in Southern California and now I am a part of it and the sea of humanity, a five-mile long block party, most carried away in the moment, some into makeshift jails of wood posts and chicken wire constructed by the Pasadena Police.
The march to mid-night continues as we stroll up Colorado caught up
in our own conversations, meeting strangers, and checking out overcrowded bars voices raise in joyous unison. Then five, four, three, two, one HAPPY NEW YEAR echoes along the boulevard, some sing Auld Lang Syne, others cheer, high fives all around. Slowly the revelry settles in many stay awake or snuggle under warm blankets next to a lover or loved ones for us it is back to the pickup to sleep but, the electric atmosphere parading about outside cuts into our sleep and we are back out in the party under sunny skies and cold air searching for coffee which took some time as the coffee house craze was still a few years away. Mmmmmmmmmmm, cccooofffffffeeeee. We settle at the sunny corner of Fair Oaks and Colorado where spectators are few as many cram near the parades beginning giving us the advantage of spectacular views.
Crowds cheer and wave at vivacious marching bands their music echoing off tall buildings and floats of all sizes and shapes splashed in lime, blue, orange, red, and yellow flowers no TV commentary is needed. Over the years I’ve been to parades celebrating roses one lampooning parades, small towns commemorating themselves, and even events that mark the changing seasons but never bored or looking for a distraction from the nonstop excitement or wondering when the darn thing will be over. However, there is a first time for everything! A man and two woman friends sitting in lawn chairs with front row seating take out a copy of the L.A. Times and start reading. HUH! Taking the time to drive into town, park, walk, setup, and with one of the best parades in the world you do what. I can see reading while waiting for the parade to begin but during. This is not the occasional glance down then up at the floats no, the paper is open at eye level blocking views of the action! Either they are veterans or the article is that good. I snap a photograph for posterity.
The Tournament of Roses Parade is not complete without the marching bands from football colleges of the Big Ten and Pac 12 who will later square off in the Rose Bowl game. This year the Michigan State Spartans and USC Trojans bands play their respective fight songs that fire up the crowd. Being in a Michigan state of mind I wear a blue cap with a big yellow M for the University of Michigan and a white, long sleeve shirt with Michigan State in green across the front, Michigan State and the University of Michigan are cross-town rivals just like USC and UCLA. Almost as if they were following the Spartans band a man and a woman from Michigan pass where I stand, stop and say, “you are wearing the wrong cap,” referring to my support towards the U of M. Instantaneously, the jacket I wear pops open to reveal the Michigan State t-shirt. “Doesn’t matter what team I support them both”, says I and they walk away maybe thinking, he so confused. I do not care to busy enjoying the atmosphere.
The remainder of the parade is spectacular and as the last float passes, the masses disperse behind it into whatever direction they came from. We take the easy route right down the middle of Colorado Boulevard amongst mattresses, couches, and mounds of garbage from the last 24 hours of celebration and there still standing the chicken wire and wood jails. The afternoon sun adds a warm feeling from an experience of a lifetime making the drive back to Ventura seem like mere minutes. I’d forgotten all about the game that was to be played a few miles away in the Granddaddy of them all “The Rose Bowl.” By the way, Michigan State beat USC that year 20-17. We go back three more times.