Pierre Dupuy and his brother Jacques check out the floats before the 2018 Rose Parade. Their duties that morning included driving then-Mayor Terry Tornek and his family in the procession. Sarah Reingewirtz, SCNG Photographer
Hundreds of thousands of Rose Parade fans generally line the 5.5-mile parade route to enjoy the floats, bands and equestrian units in person. Many reserve bleacher seats, while others, including this group, bring folding chairs and blankets. Sarah Reingewirtz, SCNG Photographer
LAUSD’s All District High School Honor Band will be one of 18 bands in the parade. Sarah Reingewirtz, SCNG Photographer
By Judy Moore
Watching the Rose Parade was one of the highlights of winter for a kid like me growing up in Des Moines, Iowa. I watched it from the family room on the ground floor of our split-level house, which had a sliding glass door leading to a small patio. On Jan. 1, the patio was almost always obscured by drifts of snow.
I’d watch the parade wrapped in a blanket, because with the frozen earth beneath the tile floor, the room was nearly impossible to heat. Our only TV was in that room, which may explain why I usually chose to read books in my warm bedroom over watching TV on the frozen tundra.
I knew I’d been born into a family who’d chosen to live in the wrong part of the country, the part where you needed to own a snow shovel rather than a surfboard. I’d see kids my age lining the parade route wearing sweatshirts and tennis shoes, and I knew those were my people.
So, when I moved to Los Angeles at 21, I made friends with the sweatshirt and tennis shoe crowd. When they invited me to go to my first real live Rose Parade, I accepted — no questions asked.
We staked out our sidewalk spot on Colorado Boulevard around 8 the night before, having driven there from the Westside. This was decades before cell phones, back when there was nothing to do while waiting 12 hours for the parade to start except doze off or talk to the other sleepy people you came with. Over the next few hours, it got cold and crowded.
I fell into a deep sleep and ended up rolling into the gutter — which woke me right up.
My best memory of that parade is the sweet smell of flowers as the floats rolled past, but mostly as the floats drifted by, I drifted off.
This was a one-and-done for me. I went back to watching the parade on TV.
Fast forward 40 years. I now live in Pasadena, at the beginning of the parade route, and have a ringside seat to see how the parade comes together. In my new location, my Westside friends are willing to drive to Pasadena on New Year’s morning. The rest of the year, many act as though I’ve moved to Norway.
Here are some things about the parade I never thought about when watching from the cold family room in Iowa, the gutter in Pasadena, or now from my warm house. Think of this as Parade Prep 101.
• The Parade doesn’t start on Colorado Boulevard. It starts on South Orange Grove, a couple of blocks south and west of where TV viewers get a first glimpse of the floats as they make a wide right turn in front of the Norton Simon Museum. This is what is known in our neighborhood as “TV Corner,” where networks and streamers from all over the world base their cameras and on-air talent, and it’s probably the best seat on the route.
• Bleachers start going up right after Thanksgiving. The first bleachers appear on Orange Grove, about a block north of the Wrigley Mansion, the headquarters of the Tournament of Roses. Over the next five weeks, bleachers are erected on private property that has been leased out 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 out on the sidewalk as I did back in my younger days (watch the gutters), you can buy a house or condo on South Orange Grove and erect your own bleachers (as many condo associations do) or you can make friends with someone (like me!) who lives on the parade route and wrangle an invitation to come over at 7 a.m. on Jan. 1.
• If New Year’s Day falls on a Sunday, the parade and football game will be held on Monday, Jan. 2. You can argue with me (as some have), but I will win this argument. If you show up at my door at 6 a.m. on Sunday, Jan. 1, I will be ticked off, and you will have to come back on Jan. 2 with pastries and an apology.
• A neighborhood party happens the night before the parade, starting around 11 p.m. The floats, lit by klieg lights, take their places on South Orange Grove, in the order of their appearance. People who live along that street start to come out then, too, some appearing to have started their party hours earlier.
• If you’re a float designer, it’s important to know what the bridge clearance is from where you are building the float to your spot on the parade lineup. You really don’t want your float stuck under a freeway overpass, delaying all the floats behind you for hours.
If you’re building a tall float, you’ll need to use hydraulics in the design, and if the design includes a giant hand (“The Voice” float, I’m talking to you!), make sure that when the hand is “at rest” it doesn’t look like you’re giving everyone the finger.
• If you want to see the bands and equestrian units before the parade starts, they assemble in order on side streets off Orange Grove around 5 a.m. Our side street is the band street, and they’re our wake-up call to start the coffee, and, in past years, take the dog out. Our sweet German Shepherd, Charlotte, would stop band practice and go around to all the kids to get petted.
Sadly, she passed away last year at 14, so this part of the parade is going to be bittersweet for us. But if you’re on Orange Grove and brought your dog to see the parade, it’s my experience that the bands love to warm up with canines watching them, so take a walk with your pup down Del Mar Boulevard.
• Everyone who lives on the parade route moved here knowing that on Dec. 31 and Jan. 1 the road was going to be closed. We plan ahead, and nobody complains. We have access in and out until about 11 p.m., because everyone on the parade route gets resident passes. If we have leftover champagne, we make mimosas, at home. If you’re watching from the stands or the sidewalk, no alcohol is allowed. And that’s OK, because seeing the parade in person will give you a buzz that no cocktail can match.
• I have a friend who has “been in the Rose Parade” three times. That sounds impressive, doesn’t it? I figured she’d ridden on a float, or maybe been in a marching band when she was younger, but I was way off. She was part of a three-person team who were given white canvas jumpsuits, a broom, a shovel, and a trash can on wheels — and they followed an equestrian unit to pick up poop.
One year her team followed a Siberian “throat singer” (you’re going to have to Google this!) who was riding a horse and had two scantily clad wrestlers walking with him. For some unknown reason, the singer and the horse dropped out of the parade very early, but my friend and her team were told to stay in the parade, and just follow the wrestlers. And you know what that looked like.
If, like my friend, someone asks you to be in the parade, you might want to ask a few questions before accepting a white jumpsuit.
• The parade, unlike a Madonna concert, starts on time right at 8 a.m. (I’m not dissing Madonna — I like her, but it’s well known that her eight o’clock shows start around 11.) The parade, like most rock stars, has an opening act, the B-2 stealth bomber. If you know where to look, you can see it in the distance about 7:55 a.m., flying around NASA/JPL, counting down the minutes. It sneaks up quietly and flies low by TV Corner, before roaring down Orange Grove Boulevard to get the party started.