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Published: January 7th 2014
Standing in front of float I worked on.
The parade was as fabulous as I had imagined it would be. The weather was picture perfect. We had bleacher seats about half-way up and about half-way along the parade route. I noticed that the ticket (it was part of the package I bought) sold for $55.
The event started in 1890 when a bunch of stodgy businessmen wanted to prove that they could grow roses in winter. Today it is a non-profit, volunteer-run event that will consume the lives of hundreds of people for the next year. There are 245 core volunteer members. They must live within fifteen miles of Pasadena. Each year there is a turnover of about 20%. They are chosen by group interviews. These are the people you see during the parade on TV: distinctive in their white suits, bought at their own expense.
Floats must meet a number of requirements. There are 24 awards, but no actual trophy and no money--just bragging rights. The most points are given for best floral use and display. However, clever use of materials is also noted, for example, the dragon skin that was made from halved brussel sprouts. Use of animation is also rewarded and
we saw a dog catcher running, raccoons popping out of garbage cans and flying horses with flapping wings. Float building is a multi-million dollar business. The theme for this year is "Dreams Come True." It starts with a specially built chassis and then a frame of steel and chicken wire is constructed. It is sprayed with a polyvinyl material, and then painted to indicate the colour of flowers that are to be attached. Sometime in May, when the chassis is finished, they take it out for a road test to make sure it functions the way it should. Parts of the chassis may be used in subsequent years.
Every square inch of the float must be covered in plant material--natural plant material. For example, coffee beans are okay, but not roasted coffee beans. The attaching of flowers starts the day after Christmas. Thousands of volunteers are involved and they work in shifts 24 hours a day until all the floats are coated. They call them "petal pushers." Being a petal pusher was part of my adventure. I spent the morning gluing eucalyptus and silver leaf on a column on the China Air float. In the afternoon, I clipped statis
flowers. These would be put in a blender and reduced to a powdery substance. Then glue is painted on the surface and the ground up statis is sprinkled on the glue to look like the ocean on the Polynesian float. Later, I clipped long stem roses to a uniform four inches. They were part of the 2,675 roses needed for Stanford University float.
It was great to be a part of this thing.
Some floats are over 80 feet long and need to be hinged to go around corners. Other floats have trees and high features that need to lie down to go under bridges. Floats must be equally decorated on both sides of the float--no pandering to the television cameras. They must also be interesting from the front and the back. We were assigned to a warehouse where five of the floats were constructed: 25 miles from the start of the parade route. The morning before the parade, they start moving the floats. They travel at 5 mph and it takes about fifteen hours to get them closer to the route. Some of these floats are over fifty feet in length. Each has two people: the driver
Amount of detail was amazing
in the back and an observer in the front who radioes instructions to the driver. The committee people spend the night fixing, tightening and getting the floats a final once over.
The cost? I had to ask. $50,000. to $400,000. per float!
And so I joined the estimated two million other people who lined the street to watch the 45 floats, 20 bands and numerous horse groups.
It was wonderful! Guess that's one more thing I can check off my bucket list.
Enjoy the pictures. Captions aren't always necessary!
PS. Number of roses flown in? One million!
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