Monday, June 27, 2016

Rose Petals

I live in Portland, Oregon, and every year the city throws a month-long celebration called the Rose Festival. We like roses here, and we also like parties. Parties with boats and balloons and ice cream. Ever year it's the same. May through June -- roses and festivities galore.

For the last ten years, I'd been ignoring the celebrations. I live far enough away from the insanity that I can easily avoid it. But for some reason, this year, I didn't want to. This year, I wanted to be a part of it. Experience it, take pictures, and, of course, write about it. Maybe it's all another subconscious and sorry attempt to reconnect with my childhood. I can't really say. All I know is I went to a parade and I had an awesome time.

The Rose Festival includes a bunch of different events. I'll talk about a few of them so that you can get a taste of what the festival is all about. Then, next June, you can come visit! It's the 100th anniversary next year... and who'd want to miss out on that? Not you! So read on. Get excited. Book plane tickets. Or just read, I don't care.

To snag a decent seat at the Grand Floral Parade (the granddaddy of all Oregon parades), you need two things -- stamina and luck. Luck will allow you to find an unclaimed patch of sidewalk at 4am on parade day, 6 hours before the parade is to begin. Stamina will prevent you from falling asleep during that six-hour wait, tipping over in your patio chair, hitting your head on the cement, and being rushed to the hospital for a minor concussion.

A sense of adventure isn't totally necessary, but it's a plus.

I've heard of Portlanders getting pretty vicious when it comes to sidewalk-spot-claiming...

Some people chain their lawn chairs to fence posts days in advance. Heaven forbid you lay a finger on them, should you be passing by. And don't even THINK about bothering someone who's sleeping out there on parade night like a freaking homeless person. Yo, this sleeping bag is touching THESE three sidewalk squares, got that? These are MINE, people. Touch... and DIE. You'd think these folks were waiting to audition for American Idol, or camped out in front of Wal-Mart on Thanksgiving night, hoping to be the first psycho to shove themselves through the front door the next morning so they can claw their way to the electronics department and buy a DVD player for some wacky Wal-Mart price, i.e. $16.68 & a half.

But no... they just really want to see a parade.

It may be only a parade, but it truly is the best show in town. Which makes a sidewalk patch the best seat in town. When else can you see a live show with hundreds of acts for free? All you have to do is sit there, and sights and sounds and crazy entertainers pass you by.

All the floats in the Grand Floral Parade are decorated with only organic materials. This can include flowers, vegetables... even seeds, meticulously arranged. Some floats are meant to be attractive, some are meant to entertain. And then there are marching bands and baton twirlers and horses and all sorts of other stuff.

There is a sort of carnival atmosphere surrounding the parade route. Local businesses and fast-food restaurants run specials and give out freebies -- food samples, coupons, balloons. One year, I remember someone had set up a bungee-trampoline a few blocks from where we were sitting. Vendors make their way down the streets before and during the parade to offer up cotton candy and inflatable toys. Ice cream truck drivers seize opportunities. The Entertainergets stuck in thousands of heads.

All in all, the Grand Floral Parade is probably THE biggest event of the Rose Festival.

I couldn't find any information on the medallion hunt this year. I wonder if it is now a thing of the past? Maybe so, but it can't hurt to talk about a tradition from the days of yore. (And by yore, I mean... before 2005. Such serious yore.)

The medallion hunt used to start near the end of May. Each weekday, Oregon's largest newspaper, The Oregonian, would print one clue to the little medallion's whereabouts. The clues were always rhymes, and they were insanely cryptic. To decipher them, one would need to be familiar with Oregon's history and geography -- or at least have a couple of reference books handy. The first few clues were always fairly broad, but with each passing day, the clues would further pinpoint the exact location of the prize. Whoever found the medallion first would win up to $1500. The treasure hunt aspect was the real thrill, even if you never found the prize.

My parents got into the hunt one year, and took my brother and me along for the ride. They even went so far as to buy an evening newspaper (which contained the next day's clue) to get even closer. We wound up at a park in Oregon City, searching amongst ferns and rocks for the elusive medallion. A bunch of other searchers were there too. We didn't find the medallion. Later we learned that it had been found just a few hours before we got to the park. It always made me happy that at least my parents had gotten us to the right spot. A year or two later, while in middle school, I tried deciphering the clues on my own. I failed miserably.

Arguably one of the wackiest Rose Festival traditions, the Queen's Coronation is a big pile of lamery, yet it fascinates me in a weird sort of way. Each spring, high schools in the Portland area select a Rose Festival Princess to represent their school. It's usually a girl who is pretty, smart, and who does a bunch of extra-curricular crap. Then these princesses get to go on TV and one is crowned the Rose Festival Queen. During the parade, the princesses and the queen sit on a float and wave til their arms fall off. Gee, I wish I'd gotten to be a Rose Festival princess!

Random fact: The high school I attended is the ONLY one which has never seen one of its princesses become a queen. Never. Every other high school has, and my poor pathetic high school hasn't. What the hell is that about? Each year, the school continues to send a poor girl to the competition... and she has no hope. None. It's so sad. All of it.

Please select one of the following advertisements, whichever is best suited to YOU:

Meet the Fleet: How exciting! Each year, great big boats sail to Portland and dock for the Rose Festival. All the super cool sailors smile and wave at you as you come to visit their ships! And it's free! Come one, come all! Bring the kiddies!


Meet the Fleet: A bunch of horny sailors who haven't gotten any in lord knows how long are hungerin' for some action. The women of Portland know it, and so they go to the ships to show the sailors a good time. And by "good time," I mean -- well... you know.

Which is it, really? To be honest... I think it may be a little of both.

So it's this carnival and... yeah. I wish I could say more, but I haven't been to it in... ten years? Fifteen? Ever? All I know is that they have rides, games, shows, and greasy food. For a good time, head on down to the carnival, hand them $5 and pay per ride to have yourself a jolly good time. And whatever you do, don't eat any hot dogs, lest you come down with Nephritus.

Kidding... maybe.

Imagine thousands of kids, from babies to middle schoolers, tromping (or rolling) down a 3-mile stretch in the middle of suburbia.

It's a children's parade.

And it's enormous.

The parade features kids in every costume imaginable, riding on bikes and trikes, in wagons and on home-made floats, skipping rope, juggling, marching, dancing, unicycling.

When I was young, we lived just a few blocks off the parade route. Our street acted as one of the staging areas. While you couldn't see the whole parade from our front porch, we still got a pretty decent show. And I didn't know any better. I just thought -- hey, we have a front-row seat to some very cool entertainment! I remember wandering onto the sidewalk, admiring the colors and the people and being scared by a girl in a bear costume. She took her bear head off to reassure me that she was only human, but this only frightened me more.

By the time I was five, we'd moved across town, but my mom pulled me out of school to take me to the parade anyway. We sat on the sidelines, and I tried to catch candy the marchers threw. The bigger kids snatched it all up, and I was left with a gravel-covered piece of unwrapped, unwanted candy, which I ate anyway -- but not before attempting to clean it by wiping it on my jeans and getting blue fuzz all over it. Mmm, delicious.

My parents surprised me the next year by announcing that they were going to let my brother and me be in the parade. they dressed us up as animals. I rode a bicycle; my brother pedaled his tricycle. We both came home with ribbons and T-shirts.

And so it went for the next several years. In 1988, my brother was a cowboy and I was Goldilocks. My mom bought me a blonde wig that was more a nuisance than anything else. Three of my stuffed bears rode in the basket of my bicycle. I was a leprechaun in '89, a pot of gold stuck fast to the handlebars of my bike. In 1990, my family constructed a miniature float depicting the Japanese gardens. We won first place, but then we only had one competitor and their float was lame. It rained that year. Our float got waterlogged. But we have the ribbon to show for it!

What I love most about the Junior Parade is that anyone can participate. With the Grand Floral Parade, you have to be special... or be invited... but not so with the Junior Parade. Anyone can march or ride; anyone can feel special for forty-five minutes.

That's not all the Rose Festival has to offer, but seeing as how my experience with the other events = minimal, and by minimal I mean... well, nonexistent... I guess I'll spare you some pointless babble about dragon boat races and things I've never witnessed. But before I end this, let me just say... there is something wonderful about the Rose Festival, no matter how goofy it all seems sometimes.

It's tradition, it's Portland... and I love it. 

This article was originally published on my old website on June 13, 2006.

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