The annual Pasadena Rose Parade has been promoting tourism and local business interests since its first trip down Colorado Boulevard in 1890. Intended to highlight the City’s mild (and typically sunny) winter weather and other charms, while generating eyeballs for television advertisers, the Rose Parade managed to survive World Wars I, II, the Great Depression, Vietnam, and civil strife, but came face-to-face with an existential threat with the arrival of COVID-19 and was cancelled in 2021.
By Deborah Dentler
Excited to learn the parade would take place in 2022, two relatives from the Bay Area who had never experienced the parade came to town, vaxed, boosted, tested and masked. We ventured out the night before the parade to check out the vibe.
The scene was eerily quiet at 9:00 pm in Old Pasadena. Low-rider cars and motorcycles cruised by showing off custom paint jobs, but there weren’t many. A hip hop artist busked for quarters. On many blocks there were only a handful of overnighters setting up camp. And those traditional tortillas filled with shaving cream, a night-before-the-parade tradition? Nowhere in sight.
A corner pawnshop had swapped out its usual motley collection of old saxophones for parade-themed tees and swag. Many storefronts were boarded up, but at Flemings Steakhouse and Mi Piace, indoor dining was in full swing. My phone pinged a line from the L.A. Times: infection rates had reached a new high.
Morning of Parade
Morning dawned bright. Perhaps sensing the longing of Pasadenans to experience a bit of normalcy, Mother Nature ended days of deluge just in time. We strolled eagerly toward Colorado Blvd., passing scary-looking steel barriers erected at the end of our block. (These were deployed all along the parade route this year, a first. Designed to withstand car bombings in Afghanistan, they were built by Meridian Rapid Defense Group, a Pasadena-based firm. They came in handy for parade seating.)
The crowds were so thin there was no need for step stools and ladders. Kids didn’t need to be hoisted onto shoulders. It was immediately obvious that the Rose Parade of 2022, though it was by no means defeated by the existential threat of a global pandemic, was not your grandparent’s parade. We easily found a curbside spot so close to the action I could have reached out to pat a pony.
Mask or no mask
Many had stayed home, it seemed, no doubt heeding the advice of Barbara Ferrer, L.A. County’s health director, who had urged those at high risk of becoming severely ill to enjoy the Parade on TV.
Most people around me—but by no means all—were masked. By contrast, most float riders were not. Though masks were required in bleacher seats for ticket-holders, hundreds of thousands of others lined the streets unmasked and –given the many who traveled from hard-hit Ohio—many of them were likely unvaccinated.
Pasadena’s health department had asked parade-goers not only to mask up but to upgrade to N95 masks. The City’s official dignitaries, however, rode the route unmasked, smiling, waving, and resolving that 2022 will be a better year for Pasadena. Time will soon tell us whether the Parade, and the Rose Bowl Game, were super spreader events.
Parade highlights for this viewer
Floats by the AIDS Foundation and Kaiser Permanente promoting public health and vaccination, Sierra Madre’s float depicting schoolkids on a field trip to study the Amazon Rainforest, and the huge polar bear astride the float entered by Odd Fellows and Rebekahs, calling attention to the challenges posed by climate warming.
Note to self: ask around to get the story behind that enormous Planet Earth balloon that brought up the rear of the parade, bearing messages by environmental activists.
My favorite marching band this year: the nearly 300 music educators who came together as the Band Directors’ Band (they also had a float, featuring a huge band director sporting a red coat). Worthy of note is PUSD’s All Star Band, featuring 47 band members, 12 color guard and 12 dancers from four high schools, making its debut for the first time in 16 years.
One last good thing: wheelchairs abounded this year. I spotted at least a half-dozen musicians and flag bearers rolling along in chairs, and floral-covered wheelchairs were incorporated into two float designs.
I asked my visiting relative, Joan Dentler, for her take on Rose Parade 2022. She texted me this: “From our sunny (masked-up) corner of Colorado Blvd., we welcomed 2022 with a perfect mix of bands, floats, horses and riders, an explosion of color and creativity, football rivalry and good cheer. Thank you, Pasadena—we’ll be back! PS: let in that climate change balloon next time!”
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