Christopher tm Herdt (cherdt) wrote,
Christopher tm Herdt

The Mummers Parade is best seen on TV

One of the reasons I decided to stay in Philadelphia over the holidays was to see the Mummers Parade on New Year's Day. With ornate costumes, bands, and performances, it sounded like something not-to-miss in my first year here.

I couldn't much miss it, either. The parade went up Broad Street, a block away from my apartment. I'm not sure what time the noisemakers started, but it was a bit too early for my tastes. When well_lahdidah and I found our way out of the apartment (after she scolded me for playing too much Katamari Damacy), we weaved our way through drunks and their debris to get to a food cart, which had jacked up their prices for the day by covering the regular prices with masking tape and writing over the tape with a permanent marker. Whatever, the kielbasa was delicious.

We saw a throng of purple-and-green satin jesters making lots of homophobic jokes in their South Philly accents. I assume that, once they had left the parade route, they were afraid someone might find their costumes a little fruity. One of them tried to make off with a bike that was unlocked in front of a coffee shop. The owner came out and retrieved it with harsh words for the fellow, although I mentally scolded the bike owner for being a moron. The drunken jesters proceeded down an alley to the Gold Coast, a "gentlemen's club."

Open container laws are apparently overlooked on New Year's Day. Beer cans and beer cups were everywhere. As if I needed reinforcement for the idea that these traditions were borrowed from another holiday, among the party hats I saw a plastic green St. Patty's Day hat. Most of the rest were foam Liberty Crowns given away by an insurance company, although some other revellers had fancier, more permanent party hats. Noisemakers were also in fashion, including a long plastic horn that produced a loud and relatively deep sound that I recognized as the very sound that had waken me earlier in the day.

It turns out that we had already missed the first two segments of the parade, the comics and the fancies. Based on what I've read, the comics are small groups with comedic antics, and the fancies have elaborate costumes. Next came the string bands, which also had elaborate costumes, but had bands (with banjos and double-basses even) and mobile backdrops/sets that they would put into place for their periodic performances. Later I found out there is another segment, the fancy brigades, but that these perform indoors, inside the convention center.

At this point we returned to our apartment, where I had a shot of whiskey and well_lahdidah mixed up a travel-mug full of hot-buttered rum. We figured, if you can't beat 'em, join 'em. I also picked up my camera before we returned to the streets.

The camera was more or less useless, though, as most of the photos I got were from far away and include the backs of people's heads. Although this is where a digital camera or even an auto-focus camera would be handy—I saw many people raising digital cameras above their heads to take pictures—I also laughed at a fellow next to me taking photos with his Treo. I've got a Treo, and the picture quality is crummy. I am most disappointed that I couldn't get a good shot of the cheap police uniforms that look more like something one would wear to a fetish ball than to enforce the law.

The parade route was crowded. The best seats in the house were in the hotels lining Broad Street, or in nearby parking garages. In spite of our alcoholic preparations, the drunks around us proved to be too much. It's kind of like when you show up, late and sober, to a wild party. Drunks aren't fun when you're not one of them, they're just annoying. We returned to the relative safety of our apartment, though we had to dodge a screaming religious kook. I called my family to wish them a happy new year, and my mom said she was watching the Mummers Parade on TV! It was televised nationally. One of the bands had a robot-theme and performed a medley that included an arrangement of Styx's "Mr. Roboto." I turned on the TV and watched the rest of the string bands from there, which I found much more satisfying: a great view, better sound, no crowds, no beer cans littering the ground.

One of the things that impressed me, upon seeing some of the participants outside of the parade, both on the street and on television, is that some of these folks that are a part of making these outlandish performances and elaborate costumes happen are just plain loutish. These are thick-necked oafs, but they have the creativity, ingenuity, and energy to make this whole event happen. Anyone can do this, but few actually are. What does this mean?

I feel a little odd for saying this: It may have been a mere block away, but it was better experienced on TV. The Burning Man ethos of "participants-not-spectators" makes me feel a little guilty for saying that, but it wasn't my event. I would never say that about a rock concert, where the atmosphere and experience is as important as the music or the view. But here I was just a spectator, and as a spectator, the better view was on the 13" screen in my living room.

Next time, I plan to at least get there earlier and drunker, with a fancy party hat. Either that, or buy the DVD.
Tags: mummers parade, philadelphia

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