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Roses on parade


Last updated 1/11/2007 at Noon

Arriving at the Pasadena Tournament of Roses Parade at 5:30 in the morning is an awesome experience and worth the 3 a.m. departure from Fallbrook. Arriving at the Rose Parade at 6:30 a.m. is a nail-biting experience no one should have to endure. One hour makes all the difference in the world, trust me – I’ve experienced both.

Let’s begin with “How Not to Attend the Rose Parade.” Since my last Rose Parade experience was pleasant when I left Fallbrook at 3 a.m., this year I decided to take the lazy way out, get an extra hour of sleep and leave at 4 a.m. Wrong decision. By the time I saw the sign that said “Fair Oaks Blvd. exit 2 miles” the traffic was at a crawl, and by the time I reached the off-ramp it was at a “stop and crawl.”

The Pasadena Police Department estimates that approximately one million people attend the Rose Parade each year. I believe they were all on the freeway with me that morning and all heading toward that golden tower reading “Parsons,” which is the parking garage nearest the grandstands.

I reached the garage just as the B-2 bomber flew over, signaling the beginning of the parade. It had taken me an hour and a half to go about a half a mile.

So, how does one get to the Rose Parade unruffled and with plenty of time to view the floats and smell the fragrant aroma? Leave Fallbrook at 3 a.m.! I take 1-15 to I-210 and exit at the second Fair Oaks Blvd. exit, not the first. You will be able to see the Parsons Garage from the off-ramp. (I know – I stared at it for over an hour this year.) This route from Fallbrook is about 120 miles, which is about 20 miles longer than the MapQuest route, but I prefer it because you miss a lot of the traffic.

The parking at Parson’s Garage is twenty-five dollars and you’d better have cash. Yes, it’s steep, but there are usually spaces left and it’s just a short four-block or so walk to the grandstands. I recommend a grandstand seat. The official seating company, Sharp Seating, can be contacted at (626) 795-4171 and tickets can be purchased February 1 through December 31.

There are places to view the parade from the street, but you can’t see very well because the people who have camped there overnight have the best spots. (Curbside camping on the parade route is allowed beginning at noon the day before the parade.)

As I said, it was amazing to see the Rose Parade from a grandstand seat and equally amazing to view the floats and the “street life” just before dawn. The floats were fragrant and gorgeous. The sky was pink as dawn came rolling down the street, illuminating the vigilant “campers” who were milling about waiting to become Rose Parade spectators. It was chilly, so people were wrapped in coats and sleeping bags and huddled over their “washing machine tub” fires. Some had brought tents and inflatable mattresses and others had slept under the stars.

Large tables laden with food were spread out on the curbs. Helicopters hovered overhead. The morning scents along Colorado Boulevard were a combination of coffee, donuts, gasoline fumes and diesel fuel. Vendors were hawking “official” Pasadena Tournament of Roses bench pads. People were everywhere; it resembled some of the refugee photos from recent disaster scenes.

The sun finally broke over the palm trees and the sky was no longer pink but a pale shade of blue streaked with wisps of white from either contrails or clouds – I wasn’t sure. At about 7:20 or so several Pasadena City Police cars with flashing red and blue lights moved in formation to clear the crowds from the streets. Finally, the tub fires were extinguished and the first floats began to roll down the streets.

The first Tournament of Roses Parade took place in 1890 and was staged by members of Pasadena’s Valley Hunt Club. The basic premise was to “tell the world about our paradise,” said Professor Charles F. Holder at a club meeting. During the next few years, the festival expanded to include marching bands and motorized floats. The Rose floats now feature computerized animation and use natural materials from around the world.

Because the Grand Marshal for the 2007 Tournament of Roses Parade was George Lucas, it seemed as though every band had a “Star Wars” song to play. Special entries included an “Imperial stormtrooper” army led by Darth Vader. The stormtroopers were impressive and when their boots clicked on the pavement I felt like I was in the middle of a “Star Wars” movie. These stormtroopers were actually fans from throughout the world who made their own suits of armor.

On an elaborate float depicting the garden-like planet of Naboo, Queen Amidala was waving from a balcony. On another “Star Wars” themed float, Chewbacca, the loveable “Wookiee,” was making his familiar, but strange, yowling sounds while shaking his fists in the air.

Other floats were amazingly well done – even the floats built by volunteers. When I was a senior in college I worked on the Cal Poly Universities float. We worked on one half in San Luis Obispo while the other half was being created at Cal Poly Pomona. All I remember is how cold it was in the warehouse! Our frigid fingers moved slowly as we attached the flowers.

This year the Cal Poly float had a North Pole theme with polar bears and snow, so the builders used 500 pounds of coconut, among other natural plants. For some reason I couldn’t smell the coconut from my grandstand seat, only two rows off the pavement, but I was told it was pungent. Since 1949, students from the two Cal Poly campuses have produced a Rose Parade float and have won more than 40 awards over the years.

The Rose Parade is a convergence of marching bands, exquisite floats and talented equestrian units. It is a joy to watch on television but an awe-inspiring fragrant exhibition when it is viewed live. It’s a bit of a journey, and a bit of a hassle, but the memories are worth it. Just don’t leave Fallbrook as late as 4 a.m. unless you plan to arrive by helicopter.


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