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Thursday, December 31, 2009

The Subject is Roses

New Year's Eve in the northern part of Los Angeles county is different from New Year's Eve in any other part of the country. The neighboring town of Pasadena puts on a pot luck. They furnish the venue and we all bring something. Like most people, as the years have gone by and the party flourished we like to bring our best to the table. We also like to outdo our neighbors. To this end most of the party goers now hire someone to make their dish for them. But here, in Burbank, home of the Urban Village, we still make our own. Citizens submit designs that are voted on and one is chosen in February. City workers and volunteers start playing with blow torches, re-jiggering the chassis to accommodate the new dish we've decided to bring. A LOT of unnecessary meetings take place, giving the people in charge of our contribution to the event something to do, because anyone who wears a tie to a meeting probably has little, if anything to contribute except whining like a little girl over the budget. Pictures are drawn and re-drawn. Flowers are ordered, thousands upon thousands of them. And the day after Christmas, all hell breaks loose.

Because here, in a big, big storehouse type of building in the City yard, the City of Burbank builds it's Rose Float. Every high school student in the city shows up to put in some service hours. Their parents and little sisters show up. Retirees show up, working people take a day off to show up. Just walk in, there will be a job for you. You might haul buckets of roses, you might sit with a sociable group over in the corner snipping long stems off of roses and inserting them into tens of thousands of little glass vials filled with 7-up. Yes, 7-up, that's how we keep 'em fresh. You might, if you're lucky, get to sit cross legged on the floor next to the float with a bottle of glue and a big basket of pistachios covering each and every fraction of an inch of exposed area with plant material.

And, while the rest of the country parties on New Year's Eve, half of Burbank gathers in the vicinity of the City yard and we stand, some silent, some noisy and some the better for the champagne and we wave that puppy off to Pasadena. And, if we're lucky, by 8am the next morning that float will move at a breakneck 4 MPH down Orange Grove, towards the revered corner of Orange Grove and Colorado Blvd and make its right turn down the street following two boy scouts, each one carrying the end of a street wide banner that proclaims "FOUNDER'S TROPHY".

If you've grown up around here you know that is awarded for the best self-decorated float. Well, they used to call it self-decorated, my husband says he always had visions of a happy little float, frantically slapping flowers all over itself while it waits in line for the judges at 4am on New Year's morning. It's now an "all volunteer" decorated float or something like that.

The Rose Parade used to be different. One looked for the same floats, because there were a finite amount of spaces and no one, and I mean NO. ONE. ever dropped out. There was a waiting list a mile long to get your float entered. The waiting list for bands and equestrian units was something like 20 years.

Sadly, like so much else, the Pasadena Tournament of Roses Committee, which is made up of hundreds of men (and now, finally, women) dressed up in white suits of varying degrees of transparency (the thinner your suit is the lower down on the committee you are) has caved to hard economic times. Floats are no longer disqualified from judging because they ignored the size requirements, if you can make the corner you're eligible. If your robot, or Frankenstein's monster or Statue of Liberty can fold down flat enough to clear the overpass at Sierra Madre Blvd, you're in. Gone is the charming early California miss, sponsored by the Pasadena Huntington Sheridan hotel, it never occurred to the hotel that it would EVER win anything and she never did. But they participated, each and every year in what was, essentially their neighborhood pot luck.

But no more. She was too small, too modest, the float needed to be brought up the size and standards. And one year, she was gone. Gone too is the Dr. Pepper float, the float that battled, year after year for the Princess Trophy (best use of animation) with the kids of Cal Poly. And float after float will roll out of the barn of Raoul Rodriguez, professional float designer and builder and on one of those floats Raoul will ensconce himself, and his bird, and survey the commercial kingdom he too, has created.

And yet, tomorrow morning thousands and thousands of us will stagger out of our bedrooms in our jammies, drape ourselves over the coffee maker until we get our eyes open and plunk our fannies down in front the the TV for the 8am start of the Rose Parade. Because west of the Rockies it is NOT a lunchtime start people. And we here in the Urban Village, will join with the fine people of Downey, Glendale, Sierra Madre, La Canada (which is NOT pronounced like the country btw)-Flintridge, South Pasadena and the kids of Cal Poly as the last hold-outs in this era of "let's buy a float from a catalog this year" and either whoop with joy or groan with a "that was LAME" comment and vow to win it next year. And for the rest of the year, when we pop over to Pasadena to the Apple Store or The Hat (pastrami to DIE for, probably literally, that stuff is BAD for you) we will drive down Colorado Blvd. and watch the pink lines on the street that the float drivers use to steer their monoliths straight fade until suddenly, towards the end of December they emerge again, bright pink and blue and green and we know...they're almost ready.

It's a spirit of community that doesn't show here in the Los Angeles the rest of the country sees on the news. But come. Come to the Rose Parade. Come early to the float barns, because even the big professional builders use volunteers the week between Christmas and New Years. Walk in and say "I'm here to help." Come to the park after the Parade and walk through the floats and say "LOOK! I put that patch of pampas grass on."

And you'll feel it too.

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