The dirty little secret of parades is that being in one consists of 95% waiting, and when the wind kicks in, you wonder why you ever came. I first learned this a couple of years ago when I shadowed Ohio State’s marching band for a book I’m writing. I reported with the drummers, the trumpet players, the trombones high in the air, holding my notebook as they stood in flashy clumps at the marshaling point. When the crowd, the outsiders, saw them, they’d be in shining rows and straight lines, not a note or a pointed toe without purpose. But in the beginning, for quite a long time, we waited, for there was purpose in the waiting: You had to be early to make sure you there wasn’t a chance you’d miss the big show, the payoff for all the practice and patience.
I learned this again a few weeks ago, when I walked the route of the Findlay Market Opening Day Parade with the USO. Last year was the first time I’d seen the parade at all, with three nephews buzzing around me, one briefly on my husband’s shoulders. The man I married grew up in Africa and we were going to by-gosh see an Opening Day Parade. When, about two hours into the grand event, cold and boredom set in, the little ones left, but out of a sense of obligation I parked at the corner of Race and 7th for a good three and a half hours. This year I was full-on in it, there once again for the duration. There would be even more waiting. And I am not good at waiting.
The USO was one of the last entries, and it felt odd, when we finally set off behind the Knights of Columbus and a fire truck but ahead of a giant rolling Grippos bag. I had the uncomfortable sensation that I was stealing applause as I waved alongside a plywood cutout of the Iwo Jima Memorial. The people of Cincinnati were expressing appreciation for the American flag that fluttered from the top of the artist’s rendition, their applause rippling out ahead of us. They were cheering not us, but what we represented– the sacrifice and service of the military– and I wondered if the float representing a barbecue restaurant several blocks ahead of us was receiving any hospitality at all. They, too, were part of the day.
Along the route I saw bundled babies and an entire family with tee shirts reading “OPENING DAY 2016– REDS VS. PHILLIES–RACE TO THE BOTTOM.” They held beers and waved as I bounced past in my saddle shoes and victory rolls. The streets were closed and very air was stamped with festival, and for what?
Here are two things Marty Brennaman said during an extra-innings game which should have been polished off, thanks to multiple errors from the Pirates, by about the fifth inning:
“This club just cannot seem to get out of its own way.”
“Can anybody play this game?”
If they can, and they wear a Reds uniform, they largely seem to have departed before this day. What, I wondered, was all this pageantry for? Witness Johnny Cueto, one of ours until last year’s All Star break, then Kansas City’s for half a season, and then, World Series ring on his finger, San Francisco’s before Christmas Midnight Mass rolled around. If “we’re actually rooting for the clothes,” then why invest? And if they do stick around, if the Reds look good, if they are the envy of Major League Baseball, aren’t we leaning our heads into the frame of applause which we haven’t earned?
What was the point?
As we walked past the Phoenix, a row of fans sat on folding chairs, hemmed in by velvet ropes. And far above them, from a third-floor window, came a stream of bubbles, catching what there was of the weak March sun, some flurrying down to the street, some smashing against the bricks, some racing off on a current too high for any of us to see clearly. They were there, and then they left. They belonged to no one, really.
That was the point.
As we came to a halt a few blocks later, I pulled out my phone to see that in Cleveland, Opening Day festivities had been cancelled due to snow. In true Indians fashion, they’d somehow managed something worse than an Opening Day loss: They’d not had Opening Day at all. They’d lost that flash of the March sun, the burst of fly-by hope, no matter how weak.
The Reds won that extra innings game today. Driving back from my day job, when I man a steam mop and a washing machine, I punched a fist in the air.
And that was the point.