“Let’s all go to the parade,” my wife said. There was a 4th of July parade in a nearby small town.
I have a history with small-town parades. I grew up in Morris, Illinois surrounded by corn, soy, and nuclear power. They have the Grundy County Corn Festival. There is a Corn Queen. There is a parade. People bring lawn chairs out the night before. They duct tape them together and rope them off and make small signs. There is drama, about the chairs.
It had been ten years since my last sweltering small-town parade, so I agreed to go. Our son was excited. He is only two, and was captivated from the moment we crested a hill, half a mile from our parked car, to discover the first set of parading tractors and a group of teenage boys revving dirt bikes. We hurried down, hoping for a good view. Unfortunately, lawn chairs had spent the night. Tape, you understand. Ropes.
From behind lawn chairs, giant hats, and umbrellas, I learned the main qualification for entering this parade was the ability to throw candy at the first three rows of parade goers. You could throw candy from a wagon. You could throw candy from the undecorated trailer of an unremarkable truck. You could throw candy from the window of a Volkswagen Jetta.
People screamed and clapped. A young girl bloodied her knee diving for Laffy Taffy. Her mother told her this was her last parade.
The parade entered hour two. If you had no candy to throw, you could still join the parade if your vehicle was unusually loud or slow-moving. Sirens were a plus. Outside the 8-block stretch of the parade route, Lane County’s rural communities would be hard-pressed to handle a fire, death in the family, or field in desperate need of tilling. During a short break in sirens and farm machinery, a mob of white men advanced, wielding signs for a local Republican congressional candidate. They held the signs as if in protest. This particular candidate believes all public schools should be abolished.
“About time for some common sense,” the man next to me said.
I felt sick at that point. It may have been the 90 degree weather, or the ringing in my ears. At hour two and a half, it was if the entire parade had been one giant, unsuccessful emergency response effort, with all parties still circling to find the source of the trauma.
Eventually, we made it back over the hill to our car. The drive home was like a faster parade of the things we’d just seen. People standing on the side of the street. Tractors running in fields. Emergency vehicles, likely traveling to or from other small-town parades. It became even more like the parade as we entered our own neighborhood. Traffic thickened – beeping bulldozers, flashing lights.
This is because they are doing major construction on the road directly in front of our house. There are three signs on the way to the torn-up road. ROAD CLOSED AHEAD, is the first sign. ROAD CLOSED is the second sign. The third sign is the same as the second, but is punctuated by a two foot vertical edge which drops onto a bed of gravel.
All day, people drive past the first two signs and stop at the vertical edge beside our house. They lean out their windows. They throw up their hands. They get out, stare down at the gravel, and shake their heads at the complexity of it all. Two cars have gone over the edge. When this happens, a line of emergency vehicles rumbles down toward our house. All the while, everyone makes U-turns in our driveway. A new U-turn every five or so minutes. Moving vans. Trucks with trailers. Classic cars. Sometimes, the people wave.
Yesterday, I went outside with a lawn chair. “Come on out, baby,” I called into the house. “Come watch the parade.” But I was the only one watching.
I blame the heat.