August 26, 2013
I first noticed it about a decade ago.
It was mid-morning on a crisp Autumn day. A man pulled in front of our newspaper office, got out of his truck, jumped into the bed and set up a lawn chair with a cooler next to it. He then sat down in the lawn chair facing the main drag in front of our office and popped open a cold one.
“What in the heck is that guy doing?,” I said to myself and to anyone without earshot.
He just sat there and sat there and sat there.
Finally, my journalistic curiosity kicked in and I went outside to find out what was up.
“Excuse me, sir,” I said to the man as he surveyed the passing traffic. “What are you doing?”
“I’m waiting on the parade,” he said between swills.
“The parade? You mean the Homecoming parade?”
“Yep,” he muttered, or perhaps it was a burp.
I paused, looking down at my watch, baffled.
“It’s 11 o’clock,” I said. “The parade doesn’t start until 2.”
“Yep,” the early bird replied. “Wanted to get a good seat.”
He wasn’t the only one. By the noon hour, the highway in front of my office was lined with people in lawn chairs and on tailgates – waiting on the parade.
It was then I realized that folks in my community love parades.
Our county only has 7,000 residents, and I would estimate every one of them, and then some more, line our streets annually for our Homecoming parade. A couple of years ago, I saw more of my classmates from my graduating class along the Homecoming parade route than I did at our reunion – which was held that night.
I often wondered what travelers going down our main highway on a fall day at noon thought as they saw people just sitting on the side of the road, watching cars passing by.
“Look, Margaret, these people down here in South Georgia must not have cable yet. They have to watch cars pass by for entertainment.”
For years, I have thought that this was a phenomenon of my community only – a rich tradition of loading up the extended family and waiting on the roadside for four hours to watch a 40-minute autocade.
Not so, I learned a number of years ago. I had a book signing in Blackshear at Country Bumpkins Gift Shop. The signing (for my book, “The Greatest Book Ever Written About Cheese” – available in fine bookstores online everywhere, most probably, at a substantial discount) was slated to begin after their annual Christmas parade.
I had to park three blocks away. Their Christmas parade consisted of every beauty queen and business and church and fancy truck in the tri-county area – just like ours. And I bet the streets were lined with folks for hours, wanting “to get a good seat.”
Why are parades so beloved in small towns? I live in one and don’t really know.
My best guesses are as follows:
1. Free candy.
Most parades I’ve been to involve the throwing of free hard candy from the procession’s participants to onlookers on the side of the road, which has to violate some type of ordinance or safety code. Being hit in the head by a Jolly Rancher thrown from a moving vehicle – even one going five miles per hour – can be smarts.
But it is free.
2. People like funny trucks.
Parades often involve trucks dressed up in some fashion – which some folks apparently find amusing.
3. In addition to free candy, parades are also free.
Unlike cable, which should be free, they don’t charge you anything to watch the parade.
That said, PTA meetings and public hearings on civic matters are free too, and nobody seems to go to those. Maybe if we called them “parades,” more people would show up.
So, please make plans now to attend my next Book Signing Parade – coming soon to a tailgate or lawn chair near you.
© Len Robbins 2013