As the B-2 Spirit bomber flies overhead the crowd roars in excitement and awe. I catch a glimpse of the Stealth Bomber out of the corner of my eye; before I turn 180 degrees the camera recording my every movement as I refocus on the plane as it flies over Colorado Boulevard and out of sight heading back to Whiteman Air Force base in Missouri.
It is Tuesday, January 1, 2013 my wife and I are sitting in the grandstand seats on West Colorado right at the start of the parade route. Earlier that morning we awake at 4:30 and hop our bus to Pasadena. It is still dark and the crowd is also out early as we queue and wait to enter the parade area. In spite of the frosty temperatures die-hard parade fans stake out their spots overnight or in pre-dawn hours with folding chairs, sleeping bags, hammocks and portable barbeque grills you name it. Finally the crowd begins to move and we enter the viewing area. Although the sun should be at our backs there is a little of it peeking through the clouds this morning. The floats are ready and we can hear the faint sound of the bands tuning up in the distance. Above us the Goodyear blimp gently floats passed.
Known as America's New Year Celebration, the annual Tournament of Roses Parade features spectacular floral floats that are completely covered with natural materials. According to parade rules, every inch of the floats must be covered with flowers or plant material, most of it applied by volunteers in the last weeks of December.
The parade route is nearly six miles long and the participating bands march the whole route. There are approximately 1 million spectators that line the parade route. We have viewed the parade in the past through the television coverage provided by the more than 200 international territories and countries, this year we view it live.
This years theme of, “Oh the Places You’ll Go,” is borrowed from the title of a beloved Dr. Seuss book which offers advice to a young person setting off down life’s highway. It was chosen by the Tournament of Roses President Sally Bixby a registered nurse. Through the efforts of five of her former colleagues this year’s parade features the first float honoring the nursing profession entitled, "A Healing Place." The Grand Marshal of the parade is Dr. Jane Goodall, DBE a primatologist and conservationist.
The 2013 parade is featuring 42 floats, 23 marching bands and 21 equestrian units with over 200 horses and including the Nurse’s float "A Healing Place, the U.S. Marine Corps's Mounted Color Guard and the U.S. Marine Corps West Coast Composite Band, the city of San Gabriel Centennial Float "Celebrating Our Journey,” and the Stanford University Band and many more.
As the parade moves along Colorado Boulevard, among the crowd the parade officials dressed in white, head to toe, zip around in white scooters, and buses occasionally roll through, with police escorts. As the parade continues below us is the float depicting the Korean War Veterans Memorial in Washington, D.C. dedicated to the Korean War Veterans and commemorating the 60th anniversary of the Korean War.
The many performing bands are selected based on musicianship, marching ability, uniqueness and entertainment value. The bands are sought having the ability to perform a field type show while marching forward. Bands of all sizes are encouraged to apply as there are no set size requirements, and bands from around the world are welcome. One of the most unusual bands in this year’s parade is the Stanford University Band and as it turns right onto Colorado Boulevard it looks like chaos as the members are scurrying helter-skelter to turn the corner. This is a planned event as the Stanford Band is not technically a marching band but rather a scatter band and as the band moves between formations the members run to each formation without using a planned path so this goes for normal for the band.
The day before the parade we tour Pasadena and along the parade route there are portable fences placed in front of many of the homes. There are also grandstands everywhere rented for family and friends etc. Typically 48 to 72 hours prior to parade day, visitors can view several of the floats being decorated with flowery mantles in the various 'float barns' that dot the Arroyo Seco / Rose Bowl Stadium area in West Pasadena, not far from where the parade begins. A rule of the parade is that all surfaces of the float framework must be covered in natural materials (such as flowers, plants, seaweeds, seeds, bark, vegetables, or nuts, for example); furthermore, no artificial flowers or plant material are allowed, nor can the materials be artificially colored.
We walk on a skywalk above the volunteer workers below us as we view the floats in their final stages of decoration. The float barn is completely full of floats from wall to wall some floats surrounded with scaffolding. There in front of us we see the floats up-close, and in living color flowers in the various hues of red, yellow and all the other colors of the rainbow it is a variable blast of every color in the spectrum. Volunteers below are working in assembly line fashion preparing the natural materials for further assembly on the floats. Looking at the many floats in various stages of completion it appears that it is an almost impossible task to finish the floats in time for the parade. Yet the volunteer’s mostly young teenagers working on scaffolding high above the ground will complete their tasks and the floats will be ready in time for the parade. Some are lying prone as they attach the vast array of flowers, seeds and natural plant materials that cover these massive floats it is a mirage of colors. I watch one volunteer as she patiently glues seeds to the underside of a part of a float. There are flats of flowers spread out everywhere on the floor yet I am surprised that the perfume scent of flowers does not permeate the air. Our guide also mentions in passing that last-minute volunteer opportunities are still available.
The history of the parade began when the Pasadena's Valley Hunt Club first staged the parade in 1890. Historically many of the members of the Club were former residents from back East and they wished to showcase their new California home's mild winter weather. Originally flower decorated horse carriages were entered in the parade and floats, built by volunteers from sponsoring communities, supplanted most of the carriages over time. Today most are built by professional float building companies and take nearly a year to construct. On January 2, 2013 the day after the parade the builders will begin planning for next year’s parade. Some communities and organizational sponsors still rely on volunteers. The Valley Hunt Club still enters a flower decorated carriage and the Cal Poly Universities Rose Float still relies solely on students who volunteer.
The day before the parade, the entire environs of the neighborhood streets south of the intersection of Orange Grove and Colorado Boulevards are sealed off and reserved for the marshaling of the dozens of floats, bands, equestrian units, and other elements. This staging area is referred to as the "Formation Area" and is managed by the Formation Area Committee.
The route of the parade begins at the corner of Green Street and Orange Grove Boulevard and travels north on Orange Grove at a leisurely 2.5-mile per hour pace and then turns right onto Colorado Boulevard where the majority of the parade takes place. At the end of the route, the parade turns left onto Sierra Madre Boulevard and ends at Sierra Madre and Villa Street. Altogether the parade is five-and-a-half miles long.
If You Go:
After the parade the floats are parked at the end of the parade route on Sierra Madre Boulevard and Washington Boulevard, near Victory Park, and are on display for one-and-a-half days (unless January 1 falls on Friday then it is two-and-a-half days) after the parade. If you have the time and the $10:00 entrance fee I recommend viewing the floats for the allotted two hours.
Some interesting historical notes the first football game was held in 1902 between Stanford University and University of Michigan. A Roman-style chariot race was held during the 1908 Tournament of Roses and the Rose Bowl Stadium was built for the 1923 game hence the game derives its name from the stadium. The games on the town lot (which was re-named Tournament Park in 1900) included ostrich races, bronco busting demonstrations and a race between a camel and an elephant where the elephant won.
All photographs are by Larry Zalatel.
Larry is a freelance travel writer, an avid and dedicated traveler, and recurring visitor to Europe, the Caribbean, and the Far East. He enjoys writing about the various people that he has met and places that he has visited during his travels.