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,
(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
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
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
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
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
At last some of us escaped to see the floats which would follow
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
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
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,
I took a picture of the China Airline Float which celebrated
the beauty of nature in
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
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
Suddenly it was , 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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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?”