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Dec 28-Jan 2 - The 2009 Rose Parade Rally!

Every New Years when we watch the Pasadena Rose Parade on TV, we say "Someday we need to go to that parade". Our someday has arrived. Back in March 2008 we signed up for a Rose Parade Rally, which included all sorts of neat activities culminating in the viewing of the Rose Parade.

Our home for these six days was the parking lot at Santa Anita Race Track at Arcadia, CA - just up the interstate from Pasadena. There were about 65 other rigs in the encampment, for almost a week of activities, hosted by Fantasy RV Tours, who put together things like this. Many of the folks, like us, were Rose Parade virgins.

This was our first experience with a fully programmed, scheduled, catered and organized event. We were promised that we'd leave well fed and slightly tired. Both promises were over-kept.

Day 1 - Sunday - was move-in and meet and greet day. We had a mixer and orientation followed by a very nice dinner. The rally had been conceived for up to 400 people (200 rigs). There were about 65 rigs, and about 130 people. We thought the size of the group was just about perfect. Presumably, the rally organizers would have preferred more folks (more profits).

Day 2 - Monday - was our busiest day of the rally. Following breakfast, we boarded buses for the "barn" where the city of Sierra Madre builds its float. Sierra Madre is a relatively small city - under 12,000 people - and the building of their Rose Parade float is a very ambitious undertaking for an all-volunteer organization. After a tour of the float, our group was put to work pruning roses for the float - more than 20,000 of them. Got them done, too. It's amazing how just a couple hours work made that float "our" float. We were now all personally invested in the parade.

Back to the encampment for lunch, then back on the buses to "The Huntington" - a charming library, art museum and gardens complex in San Marino. We were all assigned a docent who led us about and explained things, and we had some free time to roam. We were particularly taken with the new Chinese Garden - and our guide was of Chinese descent, able to translate many of the Chinese inscriptions. In the art museum, we were drawn to the gallery housing Gainesborough's famed Blue Boy, displayed in counterpoint to Pinkie by Lawrence.

Back to the encampment for dinner, then back on the buses to the Crystal Cathedral in Garden Grove, where we attended a performance of The Glory of Christmas, a theatrical telling of the Christmas story in music, drama and dance (it says here). Our seats were in the very front of the auditorium - "close enough to smell all the animals", our hosts said. Too close to fully appreciate the production, though, as most of the flying angels (yes, flying angels) were actually behind us. While one could quibble over some of the theology or history expressed in the play, it was quite well done, with a cast of literally hundreds of people and dozens of animals. We were home again, totally exhausted, around 11pm.

Day 3 - Tuesday - we skipped breakfast (too much food already) and boarded the buses again for a ride to the Rose Festival Grounds, which is where many of the professional float builders set up shop. We toured two of the float barns and saw several floats under construction. Watching the parade on TV you get the impression that the whole Rose Parade operation is a well-oiled precision machine. Watching the floats actually being built, you get the impression that getting even one of these things on the road would take a minor miracle. Based on what we saw, we have concluded there must be elves and gnomes who come out in the dark of night and magically transform all that stuff into parade floats. There's no other reasonable explanation.

After lunch back at the encampment, we were bused to the Pasadena City College for one of the three "Bandfest" sessions. All of the marching bands that appear in the parade participate in Bandfest, which gives them an opportunity to show off for the other bands, and to perform some things that just wouldn't work in the parade. Highlight of our session had to be the US Marine Corps Band, complete with an Iwo Jima flag raising. There are some very talented kids in those bands, and being able to perform in Pasadena is a very big deal for them. After dinner we were given the night off. We greatly appreciated that.

Day 4 - Wednesday - was New Years Eve, and we had a fairly easy day. Around 11:30, we were escorted to the clubhouse level of Santa Anita Race Track for a really good lunch and a "Day at the Races". Many of the group patronized the wagering windows, and some of them claimed to win. We invested $4, which remained safely in the hands of the race track when the race was over. Around midafternoon, we were shuttled back to the encampment to rest up for the gala New Years Eve Party.

We're not much for "parties", but this one was pretty good. The entertainment was a Dixieland band that's been performing on New Years Eve for this rally for 17 years. And they were good. The auxiliary entertainment was the annual Crazy Hat Contest, which was enjoyed by most, especially the winners. The new year was ushered in on New York time (we are old folks, after all), although the avowed reason was because we were due on the buses at 6AM the next day to go to the parade. Whatever the reason, we appreciated the early call.

Day 5 - Thursday - At 5:30am, folks were thumping on RV doors to get everybody roused, and by 6 we were all on the buses. 10 minutes later we were snarled in traffic. It took about an hour to drive the 6 miles to our designated parking lot and then walk the 2 blocks to our grandstand seats. The seats were very good, just about 3 blocks from the parade start, and we personally managed to get into the top row of the bleachers (about 10 rows up), so we could stand without blocking anybody. The parade started pretty well on time at 8am (TV coverage requires that kind of punctuality), and the pooper scoopers brought up the rear just a few minutes after 10.

The Rose Parade was everything we hoped for. It's over the top, it's small-town on a grand scale, it's kitch, it's old fashioned and completely unsophisticated and it's fun. We took almost 1000 pictures. Our slideshows (yes, plural) subject you to just a fraction of those. The parade is best told in those pictures.

After lunch, back on the buses for the post-parade float display, where you get to walk around and see the floats close-up. By then we were completely exhausted, so we didn't actually walk around all of them. But we did see lots of them again. More pictures, of course. Back to the encampment for an ice cream social, and our scheduled activities were finished. Phew.

Day 6 - Friday - was move-out day. For some reason, the encampment electricity died about 7am instead of the scheduled 9am, so our move-out was somewhat less organized than it could have been. We'd expected to be on the road around 9:30am, thus avoiding rush hour traffic. We actually hit the road around 8am - our destination the 1000 Trails Pio Pico preserve, south-east of San Diego, right near the Mexican border. And there was no rush hour traffic. Apparently, nobody in the area was rushing anywhere on the day after New Years. The only sour note moving out was when Judy tripped over a tree root while gathering pine needles for baskets. She said folks clear across the parking lot heard her ankle pop. She limped back to the motorhome. We think it's a sprain. More about that in our next report.

There are two slideshows for this report. The first (here) contains about 140 images and covers the entire rally. The second (here) has about 150 pictures, and covers just the parade itself. View what you will.


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