Cal-List logo < back | home | Cal-List Business Directory

Herald Flashback 2001:

The Great Decline of the Small Town America Parade

Description: A description...The crowd favorite, The "Great Togo's Float". I'll bet they put a lot of work into those balloons. Everybody was mumbling about this car, I overheard people saying "What the hell is this?" The guy in the baseball cap walking by looked at it and was laughing and shaking his head. Gee, maybe I will get back some faith in my fellow Americans!

So a couple weeks ago I officially started out on my Summer Festival Tour. First up, the "Petaluma Eggs & Butter Festival" in downtown Petaluma, which included a parade, celebrating good 'ol fashioned, small town Petaluma. My chick-friend is from an Asian country, and is interested in the weird American way-of-life, so I thought I would show her what life was like way back, when small towns had parades and you didn't worry about getting shot by people who don't speak English.

Me and the chick-friend arrived right before the parade started, and she headed for the bathroom, as usual (I think she has a bladder the size of a walnut) and I headed for the food vendors, as usual. First I got a pork shish kabab, then a BBQ burger, so my hands were really sticky. So what got my attention right away was that right near the food vendors were portable hand-washing stations. This is a step in the right direction. Remember being a kid on the 4th of July, eating push-up pops and cotton candy with ants crawling all over your face and if you happen to pick something up it sticks to your hand because you are so nasty?

Anyway, we were wandering around when suddenly the parade started! We shoved our way to the front of the crowd, to see what we could see. First a marching band, then a high school float, then a little kid dressed as the young Elvis. Ahhh, this is alright, I thought to myself, reminiscing about when I was a kid growing up in small town USA. Then it got kind of weird. A truck rolled by, but it didn't have any decorations on it. It was a pest control truck, I know because the big letters on the side read "Peskin Pest Control". "Hmmmm, did he wander off the detour and accidentally end up in the parade?" I asked Holly (The chick-friend).

Ahh, here is another marching band, with baton twirlers and a terrible sound, they way they usually are. Then a big flatbed truck rolled by, with a bunch of people sitting on bales of hay. What could this be? I wondered, Kind of strange for a float. Then I saw a sign that they were employees of a car dealership. Okay, now I am getting a bit worried. This is too much like television, you know, a little entertainment with advertising in between. Then the entertainment part got a little scarce. Anyway, I whipped out the ol' camera and snapped a few shots.

Description: A description...

Ahh, the great Sunrise Assisted Living Float. Taking a mini-bus and painting black splotches on it. Oh, the genius of it all.

Description: A description...

And what would a small-town parade be without the fun-loving gang from Century 21, dressed as houses? John Mellencamp would be proud. Notice the hay bales in the back of the pickup, the final touch in the display!

Well, the rest of the parade was pretty much like this, just assorted pickup trucks and SUV's rolling by with morons waving at the crowd. I realized these were "sponsors" of the parade, and they were entitled to have a "float" or "display" in the parade, but this was ridiculous. I asked around if anyone else thought this was pretty cheesy, and almost everyone had an opinion, most of them saying it was way too commercialized. They also knew these blatant displays of commercialism were part of the sponsor package, but still, we all felt they could have put a little more effort into it than just a few balloons and magnetic signs stuck to the doors of the trucks. Holly was bored by now and had wandered off to go "antiquing", and I also noticed that many other people we had been previously jostling with for a good position had also wandered off, disgusted that Petaluma had turned a fine tradition like this into just another crude, boring, unmotivated display of commercialism. To be fair, there were some good groups, one was a bunch of guys dressed like WWI soldiers walking around with beer bottles and crutches, I didn't really get what they were going for, but at least it wasn't to sell insurance or something like that.

Then a few more stupid cars and trucks rolled by, promoting various businesses in the area, and things got quiet, and people started crossing the street and getting up. I assumed that this was the end of the parade. Some older couples were mumbling about getting up early to reserve a good seat, for a parade that lasted 10 minutes. I was also somewhat disappointed, and was walking away when some kid yelled out, "Wait, I think I see something!"

We all walked back to the curb and looked down the street like a bunch of desperate, abandoned Muni riders looking for the bus. Sure enough, there was some movement up the street, so we all stood around some more and a few more pickups, sponsoring everything from milk to car-parts rolled by, then another marching band. I guess it wasn't over yet, just a commercial break. From the commercials.

Description: A description...

Wow! My breath was taken away when this beauty rolled by! I was so stunned, I didn't have time to snap a picture! Just think of the simplicity behind this float, instead of the chicken-wire and flowers and paper mache, just put a banner on the trunk! Sheriff Taylor and Aunt Bea would be down-right proud of this honest display of small-town American pride and hard-work!

Description: A description...

Oh no, poor Ronald McDonald, assigned the lowly position of standing in the back of a pickup truck, without even any junk food to throw to the kiddies. And look, his float is so boring, no balloons or anything, that nobody is paying any attention to him! I sense a Keane painting coming on, of a sad clown with big puppy-dog eyes and a crocodile tear rolling down his face...*sob* Couldn't they have at least given him a larger "McDonald’s" (TM) (R) (C) sign?

One float was sponsored by the Mexican-American Society or something like that, with some kids dressed up like native Americans, which was kind of neat. A little civics lesson, and fun for the kids, perfect for a parade. But the guy in charge had this huge speaker array on the back, and he had this shrill, tinny Mexican music blaring out of the back, causing everyone within a 2 block radius to cringe and cover their ears. I think I also saw a few store-front windows shatter, too. When we left the main street to shop around, there was a group of souped-up hot rods coming around the bend. One would stop and then peel out, stopping before smashing into the car in front of it. I was kind of hoping it would, but the brakes held.

Needless to say, me and Holly were disappointed in the whole thing, especially after driving all the way up there from The City. We left and headed home.

The next festival we headed for was the Great Castroville Artichoke Festival, down on Monterey Bay. We left early in the morning, freezing our asses off, then hit San Jose and the usual weekend traffic, and the heat. I took the top off the Jeep, and we fried while sitting in 1 mile per hour traffic until we reached Gilroy, where we stopped to look around and eat. I saw a sign promoting the Gilroy Gang Task Force, and laughed about it. What kind of gangs were in Gilroy? If they went to New York or LA, would they be laughed at and beaten up as tourists?

Anyway, on to Castroville! We exited 101 and followed the signs to Castroville, when the cold hit us. I pulled over and scrambled to put the top back up, as it was about 40 degrees and windy. Good ol' California weather.

So we hit the main drag, traffic was way backed up, so I pulled over to the only parking spot I could see on a side street, and we walked 4 blocks to where the "festival" was. When it came into view, I could see big fences all around. We approached the gate and saw a line for $6  tickets. Tickets? Can you believe this? We drive all the way to this shitty town, and they have the balls to charge people $6 each for the privilege of buying junk! We stood there, looking through the chain-link fence, and all we could see were a bunch of vendors selling food and junk, like a flea market. I asked one of the short, fat women security guards what we had to pay $6 for - what did we get out of it, etc.? "Well, we have a fence up." That was it. For our "safety", they erected a fence and conducted pat-downs and looked in backpacks for guns, bombs, etc.

While we stood there debating it, 2 women came up with baby strollers and cut in front of us. I was about to say something when I noticed they were pissed. Boy, were they pissed. They went up to the ticket window and demanded their money back, saying they had only been in 5 minutes and that there was nothing inside but food vendors and some Mexican guys selling shirts and cowboy hats. They were still arguing when we took off. We are not poor or hard up for cash, but I refuse to part with it unless I feel I get my money's worth, and this was obviously a rip-off. So if you were hoping for a review of the Great Castroville Artichoke Festival, you will have to ask someone else.

One thing I am mad about is that nowhere, on all the advertisements for the damn thing, did they mention that it cost $6 to get in. The Gilroy Garlic Festival is $8, but they mention it on the fliers, so I was not pissed when I showed up. Yeah, that's all the Garlic Fest is, just a bunch of food vendors and art & craft dealers...but at least I knew about the fee when I got there. Maybe the weather had something to do with it too, as Gilroy is always warm and sunny in July, and Castroville was cold and windy. So there you are, until the next festival comes up.

Description: A description...

"Kids, look at me! LOOK AT ME, DAMNIT! I'm a clown, not just some loser getting 6 bucks an hour! Why won't you look at me..?...*sob* Look, I am in a pickup truck! It's been waxed just for the parade! Don't you damn kids appreciate the amount of work we did here for you? What do you want, crepe paper and balloons?! Those have no place in a parade!"###

All contents © 2011 by Gene Mahoney