Reflections of a Rider in the 2007 Rose Parade: or perspectives from a float from behind a bulldog made of flowers.  By Bill Huntley, otherwise a professor in the Religious Studies Department, University of Redlands.



(Photo by Catherine Walker)


 Yesterday when I climbed up to my assigned place on the University of Redlands Float to celebrate our 100th anniversary in the Rose Parade, I did not know anybody who had ever ridden on such a mission; but now I know eleven other people and a bulldog, all veterans of the 5 mile ride on Jan 1, 2007 down the streets of Pasadena, California.  As a child interested in horses, I must have seen Gene Autrey and Roy Rogers, my boyhood heroes, in the Rose Parade; but they were neither friends nor students.




To ride a float is not like watching a parade.  To be a rider in a parade brings a special insight.  This year in particular while our nation seems involved in a futile and misguided war, the Rose Parade seemed a moment of joy, a time to shout, an expression of unity against the grim prospect of our nation’s lack of respect abroad.  This year’s Rose parade to be followed by a Rose Bowl game seemed to be an antidote to the otherwise bad news that was shown on television about what was happening elsewhere on the planet. I also know that all parades are not like this one.  I remembered during the Rose Parade that I remembered I had walked in parades in San Francisco and Missouri against the continuation of the war in Vietnam.  But this was a different moment in my life.  It was a joyful one!


 A few humans actually ride on the floats.   Some climbed aboard theirs to sing, and all of us needed to wave.  Forty unseen drivers were hidden away under roses or an artificial animals navigate the streets at two miles per hour, but they cannot see out, nor be seen, as they follow a temporary line drawn in the streets or take orders from someone else disguised also somewhere on the float.  Yet, few of those drivers are likely to write about following that line down the streets.


The riders on our float had been selected by a process that still remains a mystery, at least to me.  One might expect to find our new University President, Dr. Stuart Dorsey, and his beautiful and energetic wife, Michelle, on board.   Representing our Division III championship football team, Brian Ziska, our quarterback appeared in uniform on the float.  Four others of us--Chris Concepcion, ‘07 student body president; Denise Davis, honors graduate in 2006; Dr. Elaine Brubacher, Professor of Biology; and I-- were dressed in academic costumes as if we were to demonstrate the goal “to educate hearts and minds.”   Wearing University of Redlands maroon sweatshirts were two students--Emily Sernaker, ‘09 leader in “Invisible Children’s Fund” for Uganda relief; Crista Hatfield, ‘08 chairperson of Centennial Committee; two alums, Kathryn Talbert Weller ’71 - former Vice President of Daytime Programming and Writer Development for NBC, Casting Director of numerous feature films and Kathy Burton Martinez ’64, who grew up with float designer Raul Rodriguez and rode on his first float for the Santa Fe Union High School District.

 But on the front of the float stood mathematics teacher Beth Doolittle disguised as handler of Duke, the mascot bulldog, an exceedingly photogenic twosome.


The first time we all met was on the eve of the Parade, under a tent near the Rose Bowl.  Our float had been under construction for several month; it was then under a tent about fifty feet high, as if  protecting it from possible rains that had drenched the floats in the 2006 Rose Parade. This year no rain was forecasted.  I did not see the actual float until it was to be presented to the judges, and I must confess a skepticism about a long float which had a flower covered fake, mostly white, bulldog peering down from the front and a chapel only twice the size of the bulldog. I tried to imagine what other faculty might have thought about the construction that absorbed two such different and perhaps contradictory icons.  I doubt if half the faculty know the name of the present mascot bulldog or had ever stopped to pet his furrowed head. Also most faculty probably only go into the chapel for events like the inauguration of or new president or the visit to campus of a speaker such as Al Gore back in November.


So, clearly, the float had not been designed by faculty members.  Indeed had my august colleagues in the faculty been charged to make a decision about which iconographic images should be put onto the float we might still be debating the topic?  If given the chance, our Science Division might have chosen to have our brilliant astronomer with his Renaissance hat be looking through a telescope and have the moons of Jupiter be demonstrated as if in a moving hologram across the morning sky.  Or, should my colleagues in the Department of Business or the School of Business have been consulted, their discussion might have led to a protracted cost analysis, let’s say a quarter of a million dollars to be spent on a float, as against the result in new revenue.  No, most likely they would have voted to put the funds into faculty salaries. In this case, then, it was wise that someone else other than faculty members was given the decision as to what message the float would carry.  Otherwise we might still be debating the topic, with no float at all “to float.”


The real float would feature the huge icon of Duke, the bulldog mascot, who generates great appeal to students, and a chapel, a place where all alums went twice a week until the protests during the Vietnam War ended the days of required chapel attendance.  But most alumni could rejoice that the symbol of a chapel remains, even if they thought they were suffering in the hours spent there in bygone times.


 In my case, I personally liked the small copy of the chapel, even with some hints of stained glass windows and the two small plaques with inscriptions from the real 1927 Memorial Chapel.   “I am the vine” and “Ye are the branches.”  Today a million people on the streets of Pasadena might see those words from John 15:5 were they were to look.  Then I pondered how many students or faculty had noticed the same words on the real Chapel back in Redlands.


As for the ceremony of judging, the most exciting moment was NOT the arrival of the judges.   Instead, while a team of workers were still putting on the final flowers; two attempts were made to raise the folding top of the chapel with its tower on the rear of the float.  Many floats had a method for raising and lowering parts of the construction in order to go under the #210 Freeway at the end of the Parade.  Our chapel tower ascended on the second try, just before the judges arrived; and all our supporters shouted a cry of triumph.  The judges themselves were a jovial group, one approached Denise and asked, “Are you really a student and are those two people by the chapel really faculty members?”  I was somewhat surprised to hear the question, for I wondered, “Who else might we be?  Actors from a Hollywood studio’s central casting?”



All of us float riders were advised NOT to celebrate the coming of the New Year at midnight but to get good nights sleep for we would be awakened at 4:00 a.m. in the hotel where we were lodged and loaded into a van at 4:30.  We were given a bag with an apple, a bottle of water, and two muffins which were to sustain us until “about noon” when we could climb off the float and go for brunch.  All of us, including Duke the mascot, seemed a little sleepy at 4:30 as we boarded the van and rode through the quiet streets toward Pasadena, through four different checkpoints where policemen and parade officials in their spotless white suits asked for our passes and then directed us to our where all the floats had been moved during the night.   Thereby, all twelve humans and Duke were delivered in the eerie darkness to our waiting float at 5:00 in the morning, but this gave us an opportunity to see all the other forty floats, which later would be moving down the streets before and after our float, but which we would not see because we were the riders and not just the watchers.


Crista Hatfield captured a view all of us held that we did not really know what to expect when we got off our van.  But we had two hours to spend, and some of us walked northward to see what would later become the front of the Parade.  Suddenly a blast of flame seared the night sky!  Something must have gone wrong!  Was one float on fire?  Might our float also burst into flame in a great conflagration?  Think of all the efforts which would have been lost!  But alas, I noticed that the flames appeared to come from the mouth of what appeared a gigantic Jurassic Age reptile spitting forth flames at another creature equally frightening.   As I tried to get out my camera tucked away under my robe, the fire ceased, and someone on the float shouted, “No more flames, until we get our float up to the street where we turn the corner.”  Only then did we notice that the flames had come from the Honda Float.  Honda must have no fear that its products like the Ford Pinto, I once bought, would burst into flame.




Walking on, we encountered the smiling riders of another float were were as happy as we were, and these had hats the color of mine. Other floats, like ours, had huge animals on the front.  The City of Palmdale had a huge tortoise leading her babies through what appeared a blooming desert; and the Rotary International Float had a big duck about the size of our bulldog leading several little ducks through what looked like a garden.  So decided that having a bulldog was a brilliant idea, one which fit in quite well with the theme of the Rose Parade for 2007—“Our Good Nature.” 


Real animals started to appear on side streets, mostly horses, but then I came upon the first llama that I had ever met face to face.  She/he looked at me with great curiosity and graciously did not spit at me, which I remembered hearing that llamas like to do at some people. She looked so alert that I asked the handler, “Why is your llama so alert and the other llamas seem so bored?”  She answered, “Perhaps it is because this is her first parade.”  I said to her, “It is mine, too!” She smiled.


Then I noted many people were still wrapped in their sleeping bags, and a woman was cooking breakfast on a grill.  She commented that her family was lucky in that they had found a concrete sidewalk for the night, and they did not have to sleep on the ground.  The smell reminded me that my own brunch was still many hours later, and I moved quickly away from the scent of bacon frying.


I moved back toward our float and noticed just ahead of ours was one with a huge icon of a cowboy on a horse, rearing back on in a precarious fashion.  Soon something animated the float, and the cowboy starting trying to lasso one of the branches of a tree just ahead of our float.  Either the horse might fall backward onto our bulldog or the lasso break off and hit our bulldog.  I was even beginning to feel protective of our float


By then many viewers were passing by and several of them asked if we would pose for cameras by our float; of course, we agreed.  But once we started posing, it was hard to stop, for many more passers-by got out their cameras and took close up shots.  I began to have inflated feelings of my own importance.  Such morning of notoriety gave me a feeling movie stars get on the red carpet during Academy of Awards in their fancy costumes for their moments in glory.  “Be careful!” I thought to myself.


At last some of us escaped to see the floats which would follow ours down Colorado Boulevard.  We saw what appeared to be a big frog, standing up about 30 feet in the air and trying to get water from a facet.  Later I learned that water would flow from the facet and the frog would get “clean water” from it.  I realized I still had the bottle water given to me at 4:30 a.m. so I hurried back to our float and hid my water bottle in some of the flowers that would be easily in reach when I had ridden for an hour or so and could sneak a drink.  I thought to myself, \” Thanks, Mr. Frog, for reminding me I would be thirsty, sooner than you would.”  


Next would come the Santa Fe Springs City Float which celebrated its 50th Anniversary, but the Gazebo and Main Building seemed to reflect a time in American history somewhat than 50 years ago, but they were quite beautiful.  I made a note that I should visit Santa Fe Springs and see a town I have not yet visited. Next in line was the Anaheim Float which on the border of Orange County tried to capture a stage of history when there were still Orange trees in the town, but also one could easily see the icon of the monorail of Disneyland, the most visited plot of land in all of California, perhaps in all of the United States of America.


We were surprised to find a float with the big letters O-K-L-A-H-O-M-A spelled out across the front and a 100th anniversary birthday cake right behind it.  It was not hard to guess, that they like we were celebrating our 100th.  I remembered California got settled and granted statehood in 1850, fifty-seven years before Oklahoma, because so many gold miners rushed across the Midwest or around the Cape Horn to get here.  Then I realized that one could use this Rose Parade for a course in American history as anniversaries were celebrated as states were settled, cities incorporated, and universities founded.



A huge tree house on a float stood next in line which had well dressed rabbits handing squirrels papers.  At first I thought it must be a float of a delivery service with the slogan "Signed, Sealed and Delivered.”  It turned out to be a creation of the National Notary Association.  Clever indeed, I thought, with a remembrance of visiting a notary three times in last year.  Next came a float with a social message with the title Giving from the Heart,” with a huge red heart as if a valentine shape and celebrating the gift of life sustained by those who donate blood or tissue to contribute to sustain the lives of others.




In my costume, walking along Orange Grove Avenue until we mounted for the ride at 7:30, I came upon a few people, one asked, “Is there a graduation somewhere near here?”  And another said, “Did you wear that to a party somewhere last night?  This is New Year’s not Halloween.”  I realized that those of us in caps and gowns would probably have been more normal in Paris, France 800 years ago, when such costumes would have been worn by medieval people than in Pasadena on Jan. 1, 2007.

It did not bother me, I knew our mission!  In fact I was quite proud for I was wearing a brand new academic robe with my new and beautiful hood, decorated with the “Blue and White” of my alma mater, Duke University.  My old robe and hood, some forty years old now, had been rejected by the staff planning the float-event as “not spiffy enough for the Rose Parade.”  I was not insulted; in fact, I then realized that I was not chosen based on the fact that my robe and hood were the most beautiful of our faculty members.




 I took a picture of the China Airline Float which celebrated the beauty of nature in Taiwan, where both our daughters are teaching English, and I wished that they were able to see something of the beauty in the land where they have taught Chinese children words like "blossom," "flower," "butterfly," and "seashell."  I guessed the float would win the International Award, and it did!  After all the theme of the Rose Parade this year was "Our Good Nature." Those Chinese flowers, butterflies and seashells caught it quite well.



A few more floats to come, I found one entitled “Ride of a Lifetime” which on reflection seemed to capture just what I experienced that day on our float.  I must confess, however; .  I have  liked “woody” Fords from my teen age years, and to find one captured in the Rose Parade was a delight.  I discovered it was constructed for the Odd Fellows and Rebekahs, three of the whom posed for a picture.  Their 19th Century costumes made them appear as if they might be waiting for Charles Dickens to ride with them.





One memorable float was that of the City of West Covina entitled “Love in Bloom” also designed by Raul Rodriquez and constructed by “our” builder Charisma Floats.  On it would ride a young couple who had recently married on television and this was to be part of their nuptial celebration.

 Here are  the groom who said he was Jewish and the bride who said that she was Christian, and in an essay contest they wrote that  they would celebrate holidays in both faiths.  As they posed it seemed clear that their love showing on their faces.


Then I noticed a problem.  Two floats looked a lot like ours. Can there be plagiarism on floats that are copies of others? The Lutheran Layman’s League float had a chapel taller than ours. Also the Optimist International Float had a huge bulldog on the front, but thankfully their message was different; their bulldog was expressing his friendship with a cat, who smiled back at him, with the theme “It’s Love.”  I thought perhaps the use of two such different images as bulldog and chapel on our float showed the world the masterful combination of two different icons juxtaposed in a special fashion. I was beginning to feel a sense of identity with our float and the Rose Parade had not begun to move yet. 




I continued to see many people who had camped on the grass on Orange Grove Street, as later we would see them still on their sleeping bags or beds on Colorado Boulevard, and after a conversation with a father and his son, I heard the little boy turn to his father and say, "I'm glad we didn't have to sleep on the street tonight to see these float this morning."  I agreed!


Then back to check on our float, I felt for the first time the strength of the huge 15 foot tall bulldog with his hat the color of mine and then I saw our real, live Duke who reminded me several times of the face of Winston Churchill and the absence of anything like a smile, yet nearly every child walking by seemed to want to pet his head.  I knew if we won an award it would not be because of academic costumes we were wearing but the attractive power of a real animal, Duke, who clearly represented the theme of the year.


By then it was two hours into our walking, a profound longing for coffee grew and grew.   But jut beyond the 10 feet high temporary fencing which protected the lawns in front of the huge houses on that street some folks drinking coffee could be seen.  I literally begged one coffee drinker for a cup and was given a huge cup from the generosity of Johnny Mountain, the Weatherman on Channel 2. who posed for a picture.   Then back at our float, some seemed shocked that I was breaking the rule of not drinking any coffee for 24 hours before the ride, and yet when one learned where I had received the coffee, she asked, “Would you introduce me to Johnny Mountain, so I could use his bathroom?”


Suddenly it was 7:30 a.m., and we were told to take our places.  At that moment the designer of our float, Raul Rodriguez, walked by with his blue macaw, Sebastian.  I learned that he had designed 14 floats this year, and by the end of my walk, I could almost guess which ones bore his distinctive talent.  Sebastian’s big black left eye focused on me and seemed to ponder, "Have I known you somewhere in a previous life?"  I did not remember the time or place.


            (Photo by Allen R. Pellymounter)

The first movement of the University of Redlands Float was at precisely 8:22 a.m., more than three hours after our arrival on the street and three more hours before we would climb off at the other end of the run.  From that moment, none of us would have any view of any other float.  Soon the horses and riders, llamas and trainers would file in ahead of us down the street.  Various bands would move in front of the appropriate floats, and within the hour the celebrated University of Michigan Band pranced just ahead of us, and we were on our way. That band would play the wonderful victory sounds all morning on Colorado and again in the afternoon as the Michigan football team took on mighty University of Southern California.


Moving at two miles per hour, with only one row of people in the first blocks of the ride, we could look into every face, seeking someone we knew.  At first we could also respond to every wave as we passed by the Hunt Club House, which I learned had started the Rose Parade in l890 to encourage people and animals to move to California.  One could say that they had succeeded beyond their imagination!


Our own music started up with one piece of two minutes in duration; the second was three... Thereby twelve times the cycle continued each hour for four hours, so we heard the same notes in the same compositions almost fifty times. 


Then came the most amazing moment in the ride, indeed, in retrospect it was the best moment for us all on the float, for we experienced a profound sense of triumph.   Suddenly the float veered to the right and proceeded Eastward on Colorado Avenue.  The Norton Simon Museum appeared on the left, and we began to see (and hear) the huge crowds in bleachers and the multitudes on both sides of the street Emily Sernaker, (class of 2009 and activist organizer on campus) who was riding on the front of the float on my side, observed she had never seen so many people crammed into so small a space except in Uganda. 


We did not know at that moment but we were at the spot where at least three channels of national television cameras were pointed at us.  Alas,   ABC (Channel 7) decided to take a commercial break as our float passed before their camera.  Therefore our moment in glory on national television would have been eliminated, if left to ABC alone.  But thankfully KTLA (Channel 5) did not take a commercial break and through the voices of Bob Eubanks and Michaela Pereira, we were given recognition after a century of waiting and months of ardent decorating.  So thanks to them in retrospect, back at my house I could watch a re-run of how our looked to a national audience. Here is a shot back at the crowd.


Eubanks, with an almost excited tone in his voice, proclaimed, “Here comes Duke the official mascot of the University of Redlands.  He is heading the way on their float under the slogan ‘Educating Hearts and Minds’….just past him is a replica of the fountain at the Lincoln Shrine Memorial in the city of Redlands.  By the way, Redlands is located about 70 miles east of Los Angeles…. (look, now) standing thirty feel tall is a ...replica of the on-campus chapel...”   Pereira replied, “You know, right at the front of the float is the real-life mascot of the University of Redlands, Duke,  likes to sit at the foot of his handler, Beth Doolittle, right on her feet.”






Photo from U. of R. website




Bob Eubanks then thanked Larry Crane of Charisma for a “really nice float.”  Then Michaela Pereira stated with affirmation, “The University of Redlands is a private liberal arts and science college and it’s consistently among the highest-rate universities in the United States.  If you’re considering sending your kid away to college, you might want to think about that school.”  Perhaps now I might ask the Business Department if that sentence was worth the cost of the float.


  A million or more faces would peer from their pillows, motel windows, from on top of RV's, from crowded sidewalks, blocked off intersections or wheelchairs.  There was an energy I had not imagined bubbling up from every direction and down from every window.  There was joyfulness on the faces, faces I had never seen before or would see again. 


 But the best single moment, lasting no more than three or four minutes of the whole ride, came when we passed the bleachers rented by the University of Redlands for students, alums, trustees, and friends,  about five hundred people in that one place.  Suddenly that assembled multitude let out a huge shout.  It seemed that those collected voices roared together, as one voice, “Och, Tamale gezolly, gezump..." It would be a shout I shall never forget.


Indeed, I must confess until January 1, 2007 the school cheer had sounded like nonsense or “gibberish.” But forever, hereafter that chant will be remembered as if it had been written for this very moment as a meaningful communication between crowd and float that had never happened before in 100 years.  I think even “Duke” our mascot must have realized this a very special moment to him as well, a familiar shout, cheer, chant or collection of phonemes.  “Och, Tamale…” will be forever in his consciousness and mine!


Alas, as I turned to see the faces from which the sounds of "Och, Tamale...." emerged, I was suddenly blinded by a ray of light; and I was unable to recognize a single soul, save for one gigantic male on the front row with his camera flashing.  I reached for my sunglasses, but they became entangled in my camera, and I almost dropped my Salzburg walking stick with which I was waving with my left hand.  And then the moment was passed.  All this preparation, and I almost missed the faces who cheered us the loudest, I thought.



From time to time the whole parade seemed to stop, as if somewhere ahead there might be a traffic light.  Then for two or three minutes we parked in the midst of a crowd which at first waved, but then stopped, and we just looked at one another across the empty space between us.  I tried to keep smiling and waving, but with no motion of the float, the waving stopped as well.  I thought to myself, “I guess waving means “hello” or “good-bye”.  It does not seem to continue if one is not moving.


As we passed the row of churches, Presbyterian, Methodist, Baptist and the All Saints Episcopal Church, just a block further to the North, I wondered how those impressive old churches were doing these days.  I wondered if the any of the million people on the street had attended any of those old churches the Sunday before. I wondered if All Saints was still under indictment by the IRS for having anti-Bush preachers.



 I was amazed at the number of red and yellow bedecked USC shirts, hats, trousers, perhaps even shoes to denote a fan.  None seemed to know our chant, but they seemed relieved to see us and waved.  Perhaps they cheered us because we followed the University of Michigan Band, who played with such vigor that the USC group grew fearful they would loose the football game in the afternoon.


I thought to myself, that so many people could not have graduated from USC.  That many people could not have ever gone to USC.  There would not be room on campus for so many people, even over the century of USC’s existence.  Perhaps, I thought to myself, “Many of these people now at the parade must be just fans.  Most had never even been on campus; instead they are people who like to follow success on the gridiron.”  One USC fan in her red and yellow sweater called out to me, “After the parade, I will give you $100 for that hat you are wearing.”  Until that moment I had not realized my hat was indeed bearing the same colors of the USC Trojans!  However, I did not see her again or want to sell my hat.


At last the float turned northward to go under the 210 Freeway, and the band ahead of us could be seen again as well as heard appearing to hike up the hill. A poster on the right side of the street indicated “One more block to go” and the crowds began to diminish again into two or three rows of people, and we float riders could look once more into every face.  Again there was wonderful diversity, but the size and shapes of the houses at this end of the parade were much smaller than those at the beginning of our ride, but the people seemed to be having more fun.  They were now eating lunch, instead of breakfast.  The sun was behind our backs and all of us felt something special had happened to us in the six hours of waiting, watching, and riding.  We had shared a privileged moment in time with a perspective of a float rider out onto a waving world. 


But perhaps it is not about the floats at all, as President. Dorsey wrote recently, “I  remember thinking how great it was that everyone who walked

by all the floats was full of amazing good will to each other, regardless of class of race, and there was great patience in the long lines to the portable toilets, and such a positive attitude among all of the Rose Parade volunteers.  Clearly, the Rose Parade brings much more than just beautiful pictures to television.  It's not about the floats, it's about people.”





 Quarterback Ziska and President Dorsey


My reflections are of joy at thousands of people I saw of so many ages, sizes, colors, beds, smiles and forms of waving. I remember the smells of those cooking along the way with seasoning from every continent on the planet, and  I rejoice in  profound sense of the diversity of America, brought together by their sharing the event of a parade, at a time when our nation seems divided in purpose.  I am glad that there are some things like this parade that unite in a time of great division in our land.


Denise Davis, accepted for the fall semester at the London School of Economics, wrote, “Riding on the float through the streets of Pasadena and seeing the thousands of people who lined the sides was more energizing than I could have ever imagined.  The enthusiasm and joy that the parade fans demonstrated was absolutely exhilarating.  The appreciation for such beauty (of the rose floats) and the looks of awe in their eyes was more than enough to make everyone there happy.  This parade was a wonderful commonality that brought together people from all walks of life to enjoy the newness and creativity of this old American tradition.” 


Denise Davis, Bill Huntley and Chris Concepcion.



The day after the parade a recently arrived ‘Redlander’ who had watched the parade on television but did not realize our University of Redlands float was the first ever in 100 years, asked me, “Was it fun, would you want to do it again next year?”  I replied briefly, “Yes, it was fun …” and then I hesitated to say then as I can now, “I felt I was riding on a float which was the product of hundreds of students, faculty, alums, friends and workers who had made the event possible, but along with them, I felt thankful for the thousands of donors, former students, and supporters of the University, who for a hundred years now have given of their energy, money, and support for this ‘great little University’ now represented by our first float.  Who knows who will ride the second?”