How Not to Have a Parade
Some free advice--if your hometown is about to play for a championship, urge the city leaders to plan the victory parade well in advance. The local media made serious hay about Seattle planning their parade before the game was played, and this was seen as an act of monumental hubris. In fact, this was an act of, like, PLANNING, which the parade today could've done with.
I walked from the North Shore to downtown around 10:30, and it was already nuts. I called my friend Scott (who drove up from Baltimore just for the parade) and got a general idea where he was. Here's the first snafu--it was reported that the reviewing stand was going to be in Point State Park. It wasn't until I got to Gateway Center that I learned the stand would be...at Gateway Center. Which is not a big piece of territory. It would've been nice if we'd known of the change before the morning of the parade. I think the reason for the switch is that to enter Point State Park you have to walk through a short tunnel, and with 250,000 people attending the parade, and the chance that many of them would walk toward the Point hoping to hear the speeches, officials realized that our city might see a re-enactment of the Black Hole of Calcutta. Massive casualties not being a good way to celebrate One for the Thumb, they changed the location.
Why, oh why, are there so many friggin idiots in the world? I finally tracked down Scott and Neil and Vince and Ben, but crossing the last 15 feet to reach them was an ordeal. The lawn facing the reviewing stand was jammed, but people were shouldering their way through. But blocking my way was a complete jackass who'd brought one of those folding lawn chairs and was sitting right there in the middle of the crowd blocking everything up. I thought at first he was in a wheelchair, but no, he just decided he was going to sit there and everyone else be damned. He had one of those portable UHF televsions...why the fuck not just watch it at home. All he could see from his seat were thousands of asses. Fucking idiot.
So I get to my friends. It's cold. Not bitter, but cold. The place is jammed. So we wait for about 30 minutes for the parade to wind its way down Fifth Avenue. As soon as the first hint of action occurs, people start hoisting their kids and girlfriends up on shoulders to get a better look. Completely blocking the view for everyone else. One girl, who frankly could've used a copy of Pilates for Doughballs
, cut off my angle of vision to Fifth Avenue and would not get down, even as everyone behind started screaming at her behind. Once the guests of honor started mounting the stage my view was blocked by a little kid sitting on Daddy's shoulders. I searched the ground but couldn't find a rock to throw at the little bastard's head.
The stage. The stage was not a stage. It was one of those trailers you see at festivals and concerts where they sell T-shirts and other souvenirs. It was narrow and dark and rusty and looked like shit. I mean, for the halftime show of the Super Bowl the Rolling Stones roll out a massive stage shaped like their lips-and-tongue logo with people dancing in the, uh, cavity. To celebrating winning the actual game the stage looks like something you'd see up on blocks in a trailer park. "If you needed proof the city's broke, there you go," said a wag standing beside me.
Most of the people around us were great. Everyone was having fun and laughing and cheering for our beloved Steelers. Not that we could SEE our beloved Steelers. The stage sat at ground level, so unless you were over six feet tall you couldn't see jack (or Hines or Joey). I'm six feet tall, meaning I spent a lot of the time on tippy-toes. My calves are friggin' killing me.
We cheered and cheered and cheered. Play-by-play announcer Bill Hillgrove says, "And now, welcome Allegheny County Executive Dan Onorato!" And the crowd goes "BOOOOO!!" Onorato is fairly popular here, but as he started to speak he was drowned out by a raucous cheer of "SAVE OUR PENS! SAVE OUR PENS! SAVE OUR PENS!". He leaves the podium, and Hillgrove says, "And now, the Mayor, Bob O'Connor!!". I'm sure O'Connor knew what he was in for. "BOOOO!!! SAVE OUR PENS!! SAVE OUR PENS!!!" Jesus, how I love seeing democracy in action.
One politico who came out very well was Lynn Swann, who is running for governor. He spoke movingly about what this win meant for this generation of Steeler fans, including himself. His words were drowned out by the crowd, but this time they were chanting "VOTE FOR SWANN! VOTE FOR SWANN!" Incredibly, Swanny raised hands to shush us and kept talking about the game. Methinks he'll do well in Western PA. I later saw our current governor, Ed Rendell, standing next to his car and cheerily greeting people and letting folks take snapshots. Seemed very nice. He's an Eagle fan. He's doomed against Swann in this part of the state.
Hines Ward arrives to a chant of "MVP! MVP!" He starts to speak, but one of the helicopters (there were three) hovering above moves down and the sound of the rotors drowns out most of what he's saying. It doesn't help that the sound equipment is about as advanced as a junior-high PA system. The choppers fly so low I half-expect to hear Ride of the Valkyries
before a volley of rocket fire.
The Bus arrives, with the Lombardi Trophy in hand. The route through the city was as jammed at Gateway Center, and at times the crush of people forced those standing at the curb into the street, blocking the parade route. It got so bad that Bettis got out of his car and walked down Fifth Avenue with the trophy in hand. How tempted would you be to race out there and grab it? Maybe not so much when you see how big some of these guys are. Max Starks...he's a big dude. Joey Porter looked like a little kid standing next to Max.
When the Bus finished his speech there came the deep, familiar BOOM BOOM BOOM sound of fireworks launching. They go off, but directly behind one of the buildings of Gateway Center. You couldn't see them go off. Oy vey.
Still, it was cool to see many of our conquoring heroes...well, the tops of their heads. A co-worker lent me her digital camera and asked me to take a picture of Big Ben. I held it up over my head, pointed in his general direction, and started clicking away, hoping his freshly-shaven mug would show up in at least one shot.
So, again, if your city is in position to win a title, get to work on the parade right away. Don't worry about providing bulletin board material, don't worry about karma. Planning for eventualities is what good government is all about. And you should be confident that your team will win and all that planning will be worth the trouble. At least get the goddam stage five feet in the air. And if you team is lucky to win and you go to the parade, fill your pocket with rocks beforehand.