Letter from California

An archive of the weekly "Letter from Calfornia", written by Jim McCarthy.

Wednesday, January 05, 2005

Letter from California-January 3, 2005

Many Americans spend the morning of January 1st sleeping off the results of their New Years Rockin’ Eve watching Dick Clark drop the crystal ball over Times Square. If you’re like them, when you do wake up, you find that New Year’s Day doesn’t offer much in the way of festivities. All the good Christmas dinner leftovers have vanished. The Christmas tree just sits there and mocks you with its useless twinkling. The gift from the always-late relative has arrived and been revealed to be decorative snowman coasters. Even the Christmas Mischief I talked about last week has worn off, as the sad reality of going back to school lulls the kids into a stupor. You might see them frozen in place halfway down the hall to their rooms. They’re staring at the wall as though the computer in their brains crashed. That’s because it takes all their processing power to remain in denial that school’s really going to start less than 48 hours.

Sure, you can watch Bowl Games on TV, but so what? Ever since the number of Bowls increased from a dozen big games to the current level of about 90, getting to a Bowl game doesn’t say much about a school’s football program. Almost everyone goes. All these Bowls need new names, too. How about the We-Had-Enough-Money-To-Fly-The-Team-To-Florida Bowl or the Slightly Better Than Average Bowl? Anyway, I’d appreciate the honesty of that. The Poulan Weed Eater Bowl (I didn’t make that up) doesn’t tell me anything, except that there’s absolutely no reason to watch the game.

So by late morning, many people resort to rearranging the snowman coasters and morosely watching the clock until the Holidays come to an unceremonious end. Here in Pasadena, California, however, we have this little parade every year to delay the end of the fun for a few hours more. New York may have a great party on New Year’s Eve, but New Year’s Day belongs to us. The Rose Parade started more than a hundred years ago, as Pasadena’s best-respected and snootiest residents draped their horse-drawn wagons in roses as they visited neighbors on the first of the New Year. Eventually, that turned into 60 foot motorized carts carrying gigantic seed and flower covered Animatronic pandas. It’s quite a spectacle.

More than half a million people come out to see it, including about half that number who sleep on the streets of Pasadena overnight. This army of the temporarily homeless starts gathering at about noon on New Year’s Eve with their sleeping bags, hibachis and rain ponchos. As the day goes on, it turns into a festive street party for the very, very dirty. By about three in the morning, it’s like a scene from some science fiction movie where the earth is so overcrowded that rich people hire poor people to be furniture.

It all pays off for these miserable wretches, though, when at 8 o’clock the next morning, they find themselves with a front row seat to the parade. They can laugh at the showered and well-rested chumps who paid $50 for a ticket. After laughing at the chumps, they can go back to looking for a Port-A-Potty that hasn’t overflowed. It’s a great time for the whole family.

Most people, of course, won’t actually attend the parade, but almost everyone has seen it on TV at one time or another. That brings me to what I believe to be the real reason that we hold it: envy. The people who founded Pasadena in the 19th century came from the Midwest. This time of year in Michigan or Illinois, sleeping on the streets overnight isn’t the laughing party it is here. It’s a lot more-there’s a word on the tip of my tongue-cold. On a typical January 1st, it’s about 116 degrees warmer on Pasadena’s Orange Grove Boulevard (where the parade starts) than, for example, on Ann Arbor, Michigan’s Thermal Underwear Avenue. I think the Rose Parade was those earlier settlers’ way of sending a “postcard” of sorts to their friends back home. On the front of that postcard, you’ll see a flower-covered float against a picturesque mountain backdrop. On the back of that postcard, you’ll find a handwritten message saying, “Enjoying the snow, suckers?”

It’s not cold everywhere in America on New Year’s Day of course. But where it’s not cold, it’s probably Florida, and unless you’ve got tickets to the Poulan Weed Eater Bowl, you’re faced with precious few options. Inevitably, you’ll turn on the TV, stumble across the Rose Parade and stew about how much fun we all look like we’re having. Yes, it’s true. For fun, the Rose Parade tops anything on New Year’s Day.

After all, nothing beats a night on the sidewalk in a sleeping bag and sharing portable toilets with a quarter million people too cheap to buy a ticket.

To take a serious moment, lots of people in South Asia are going through something much worse than a night on a Pasadena sidewalk, so if you haven’t already, find a way to spare what you can, even if it’s just a little, to help. One easy way is just to go to www.amazon.com. They’ve made it super easy to do, so please help out.


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