by Judy Moore
For a kid like me growing up in Des Moines, Iowa, watching the Rose Parade was one of the highlights of winter. I saw it from the family room on the ground floor of our split-level home, which had a sliding glass door that led to a small courtyard. On January 1, the courtyard was almost always covered with snow drifts.
I would watch the parade wrapped in a blanket, because with the frozen earth beneath the tile floor, it was nearly impossible to heat the room. We had the only TV in that room, which may explain why I chose to read books in my heated bedroom instead of watching TV on the usually frozen tundra.
I knew I was born into a family that chose to live in the wrong part of the country, the part where you needed a snow shovel instead of a surfboard. I saw kids my age on the parade route wearing sweatshirts and tennis shoes, and I knew they were my people.
So, when I moved to Los Angeles at age 21, I made friends with the sweatshirt and tennis shoe crowd. When he invited me to go to his first real live Rose Parade, I accepted – no questions asked.
After getting there from the Westside, we spotted our sidewalk on Colorado Boulevard about 8 nights ago. This was decades before cell phones, when waiting 12 hours for a parade to start had nothing to do except sleep or talk to the other people who accompanied you. The weather turned cold and overcrowded in the next few hours.
I fell into a deep sleep and rolled into the gutter – which woke me up immediately.
My best memory of that parade is the sweet smell of the flowers as the floats rolled, but mostly as the floats drifted away, I drifted away.
This was another done for me. I went back to watch the parade on TV.
Fast forward 40 years. I now live in Pasadena at the start of the parade route, and I have a ringside seat to see how the parade comes together. At my new location, my Westside friends are ready to move to Pasadena on New Year’s morning. The rest of the year, many act as if I have moved to Norway.
Here are some things about the parade I never thought of when watching from the cold family rooms in Iowa, the gutters in Pasadena, or my now warm home. Think of it as Parade Prep 101.
• The parade doesn’t start on Colorado Boulevard. It begins at South Orange Grove, a few blocks to the south and west where TV viewers get their first glimpse of the floats as they make a wide right turn in front of the Norton Simon Museum. It’s known in our neighborhood as the “TV Corner,” where networks and streamers from around the world base their cameras and on-air talent, and it’s probably the best seat on the route.
• The bleachers start going up just after Thanksgiving. The first bleachers appear on Orange Grove, about a block north of Wrigley Mansion, the headquarters of the Tournament of Roses. Over the next five weeks, bleachers are built on private property that has been leased along five miles of the Colorado Boulevard parade route.
But if you don’t want to buy a bleacher seat from Sharp Seating, you have a few other options. You can camp on the sidewalk as I did in my younger days (see gutters), you can buy a house or condo on South Orange Grove and have your own bleachers (many condo associations do) or you can make friends. There is someone (like me!) who lives on the parade route and invites you to come on January 1st at 7am.
• If New Year’s Day falls on a Sunday, the parade and football game will be held on Monday, January 2. If you come to my door at 6 a.m. on Sunday, Jan. 1, I’ll be dropped, and you’ll have to come back on Jan. 2 with pastries and an apology.
• A neighborhood party takes place the night before the parade, which begins around 11 p.m., with floats lit by cleg lights take their places on the South Orange Grove in the order of their appearance. People living on the side of that street also start coming out, starting their party a few hours before.
• If you are a float designer, it is important to know what the bridge clearance is to your location on the parade lineup from where you are building the float. You really don’t want your float to get stuck under a freeway overpass, causing all the floats behind you to be delayed for hours.
If you’re making a tall float, you’ll need to use hydraulics in the design, and if the design includes a giant arm (“The Voice” float, I’m talking to you!), make sure that when the arm “at rest” doesn’t look like you’re giving everyone a finger.
• If you want to see the bands and equestrian units before the parade starts, they gather around 5 a.m. on the side streets of Orange Grove, our side street is Band Street, and they’ll come to our coffee shop to start. There are wake-up calls, and, as in years past, get the dog out. Our adorable German Shepherd, Charlotte, will stop the band practice and go to all the kids to go petting.
Sadly, he passed away last year at the age of 14, so this part of the parade is going to be very dear to us. But if you’re at Orange Grove and brought your dog to watch the parade, it’s my experience that the bands are warmly in love with the dog watching them, so walk down Del Mar Boulevard with your pup.
• All the people living on the parade route left knowing that the road was going to be closed on 31st December and 1st January. We plan ahead, and no one complains. We have access in and out until about 11 a.m., because everyone gets resident passes on the parade route. If we have champagne left, we make mimosa at home. If you are watching from the stand or sidewalk, alcohol is not allowed. And that’s okay, because watching the parade in person will give you the impression that no cocktail can match.
• I have a friend who has “been in the Rose Parade” three times. It sounds impressive, doesn’t it? I thought she’d ride on a float, or maybe she was in a marching band when she was younger, but I was far off. She was part of a three-person team who were given a white canvas jumpsuit, a broomstick, a shovel, and a trash can on wheels—and they followed an equestrian unit to pick up the prey.
One year his team followed a Siberian “throat singer” (you’ve got to google it!) who was riding a horse and was followed by two modestly dressed wrestlers. For some unknown reason, the singer and horse dropped out of the parade long ago, but my friend and his team were told to stay in the parade, and follow the wrestlers. And you know what that looked like.
If, like my friend, someone asks you to join the parade, you might want to ask a few questions before accepting the white jumpsuit.
• Unlike the Madonna concert, the parade starts exactly at 8 a.m. (I’m not disliking Madonna – I like her, but it’s well known that her eight o’clock shows start around 11 a.m.). ) The parade, like most rock stars, is an early act, the B-2 stealth bomber. If you know where to look, you can see it flying around NASA/JPL, counting down the minutes, at about 7:55 a.m. It sneaks up quietly and flies low from the TV corner, before roaring down Orange Grove Boulevard to get the party started.