(pics of the parade line up: http://picasaweb.google.com/flyinghobogirl/4thOfJulyBlog
I’ve always thrived on overwhelming last-minute ventures and so entering a float in Ashland’s 4th of July parade on a whim was like a big happy shot of adrenaline for me and my collection of free form friends who were up to the task late afternoon on July 3rd. Our flakiness even got us some publicity. The local newspaper broadcasted our lack of preparedness across the front page. http://www.dailytidings.com/2008/0702/stories/0702_parade.php
The float was to represent the Eagle Mill Farm Education Project (www.eaglemillfarm.org) so we needed to create a farmy ambiance. It would be a lot of work, but we had a jump start since the core of our float was already built. We would use the Moonshine Luv Shack, the art car I lived on at Burning Man last year. Rustic and whimsical, it proved to be the perfect canvass to showcase our vision (or lack of).
We parked the shack at the farm, opened a few beers, and started wandering the acreage in search of good junk. Decorations were everywhere: fencing wire, rusty tiller tines, shovels, flowers, dried peppers, old gourds. We pooled our odds and ends in a heap and got to work. Garth tinkered with the motor while I artfully positioned farm tools on the shack’s porch. Amanda hung signs, arranged flowers, and had ideas. Everyone cheered as Allison skillfully stapled pea vines along perimeter of the shack while holding a beer in one hand. By early evening, us slackers had a masterpiece on our hands.
The parade started at 10 a.m. the next morning and, by then, our friend Benny had set up a PA system for our float band, a trio comprised of myself and Chris Fowler on our guitars, Gary Schrodt on mandolin and blues harp. The plan was to sing John Prine’s Homegrown Tomatoes, definitely in tune and hopefully in harmony.
With the upper deck of the float filled with children, the lower decks with dogs and friends, we lurched forward and started the procession. A huge cheer erupted from the jammed sidewalks. It’s true that we are just a small nowhere town, but people in the Rogue Valley take the Ashland parade very seriously, placing blankets out to mark their spot several days before the 4th. The day is anticipated and debated: will the family-vibe be ruined with nudity? Will the entries be too political? Not political enough?
We crept down the street with a troupe of dancers ahead of us and the Animal Shelter entry behind us with their barking dogs straining from leashes and triggering a commotion among our float dogs. Chris, Gary, and I kicked off Homegrown Tomatoes. We hadn’t practiced, but our good musical chemistry pulled us along and Gary’s well-placed harmonica solos were a crowd pleaser. Friends Selene and Richard trailed behind the shack with a wheel barrow full of ice and carrots, which they tossed into the candy-filled crowd.
By the end of the 8 blocks, we had sung 30 rounds of Homegrown Tomatoes. Though I’ve played that song a hundred different times in my life, singing it back-to-back like that imprinted it onto my consciousness in a whole new way, causing it to take on all sorts of overblown meanings that I am sure John Prine never intended. I realized the lyrics were surprisingly political and apropo (‘cuz I know what this country needs, it’s homegrown tomatoes in every yard you see…”)
When we reached the end of the line, Garth cut the engine. My fingers were spent, my voice was hoarse, and I was dizzy. The children, arms weary from waving, climbed down the latter from the upper deck and I bid them farewell from my sprawling place, the shack couch.
After a few moments rest, Garth drove our tired bodies the back way through town to return us to our morning meeting spot. Gary plucked a lazy tune on his mando and the shack squeaked and rumbled underneath us. Above where Allison sat humming into the sky, the pea vines swayed from the upper deck, limp like the rest of us from too much sun. After all the commotion, the moment felt inordinately calm, like in that space of time after a great party ends an the clean up begins. And though it was only 11:00 am, it felt like the very end of the day.
But it wasn’t. Allison and I would end the 4th of July far away from the crowds: camped out atop Woodrat Mountain, with two folding chairs set in perfect view of the sliver moon, which would slide its way down through clouds and sink beautifully behind a ridge. Then to be traditional, we would observe a few firework displays before falling asleep with great happiness. Afterall, we had our own version of independence to anticipate which, at that moment, assumed the form of two paragliding wings, one green and one red, neatly folded and waiting under the night sky for us to wake.