Last Sunday morning (11/24) I found myself a block off the east side of Colorado Blvd at my first Doo Dah Parade. What is the Doo Dah Parade, you might ask? I will try to answer that with this art and these words. Technically, I didn’t actually watch the parade, but instead I watched the various groups and individuals who were going to be in the parade arrive and set up. I didn’t see any of my fellow sketchers when I got there at 9, but I didn’t wait. I rolled out my sheet of bubble wrap on the NW curb corner of Nina and Vinedo, sat down and started sketching the Rock and Roll Preservation Society truck. They seemed to be decorating the truck with balloons and providing rock and roll music for all of us. Every now and then someone stepped up to the mic on the truck and performed a sound check. I think this could be described as a good introduction of what was to come as most paraders were enjoying the music and greeting others as they began to show up for the 11:00 event. Soon, I was joined by a few of my artist friends and we all scattered to capture on paper the 2019 Doo Dah Parade. I decided rock and roll would definitely be part of this, but still wasn’t really sure about the thread that held all of these people together for a common purpose. But even though I wasn’t sure what I was looking at, it seemed that most people who were wandering around met up with many people they knew. And most were really happy to see each other and you could tell it was just the beginning of a big street party. And judging by the sign on the truck, inviting people to “Follow us to the pub,” they were probably a welcome and expected end of the parade as well.
Believe it or not, it got warm sitting on my little bit of that curb, so I moved across the street to another curb in the shade. Here I saw this rather quaint and hand decorated float. And sitting in a chair next to this float was woman playing the “Baby Shark” song on her harmonica. As you may have guessed, I am still wondering what this parade will look like, or if it will happen at all. A parader came and sat next to me on the curb and he said that the parade was originally meant for floats, or entries, that were not powered by gasoline engines. Hence this particular “Dah Doo” entry must have been from that vintage time. Soon Uncle Fester came walking along, pulling a wagon behind him. (Google “Uncle Fester, Doo Dah Parade” and you will see what he looked like.) Again, lots of people came up to say hello and a few took “selfies” with him. Just before 11, he cranked up a bubble maker he had attached to a wagon and placed a large mug of what appeared to be liquid nitrogen smoke on his head. (There is a picture of him with this cup on his head as well on Google.) So, I guess he has been doing this for a number of parades. Next, I saw a couple guys on stilts and again, they seemed to know lots of people there. Finally, a guy with a vintage turquoise corvette zoomed up, got out of the car and wove his way into the gathering crowd.
I kept thinking I should walk through the parade entries as they were lining up, but convinced myself that there was plenty to see right from my little spot. I was still trying to figure what I was looking at and decided that maybe this is a typical story of the kind of extremes you can find in CA—from old hippies to Uncle Fester with his bubble machine with the very posh Pasadena downtown as a backdrop. You sure don’t get a sense of Pasadena’s “old money” with these sketches, but that’s what seems to be the point—affluent Pasadena, bagpipes and a live rock and roll band on the back of a truck.
It was getting close to parade time when I finished this sketch. I packed my bag and walked the length of parade. There were aliens, people on motor scooters, a guy with his Jack Russel terriers in a remote control car, Bernie supporters, and a whole bunch of people in costumes I can’t even describe. But what surprised me most was the sight of one of my sketching buddies, sitting on her collapsible chair in the middle of this mayhem, sketching away. It was quite a sensory overload—something for all your senses. Oh yeah, I forgot to mention that there was quite a smell of weed in the air as well.
Growing up in Northern CA I had heard of the Doo Dah Parade and remember seeing a video of the Synchronized Briefcase Drill Team. (Sadly, they weren’t there that day.) Still wondering if I completely understood this party parade I Googled the Doo Dah Parade when I got home. (If you want a better picture of what I’m talking about you can do the same. I think there is a picture of the Briefcase Drill Team.) I guess it was started in 1978, as a way to “thumb your nose” at the traditional Rose Parade (that started in 1893) that is held in Pasadena every January 1. It seems that the Rose Parade always takes place on New Year’s Day morning, unless that day falls on a Sunday. Then the parade happens the next day, or Monday. This tradition of no Rose Parade marching on Sundays began early on when the parade organizers did not wish to disturb horses hitched outside churches along the route during Sunday Church Services. (There don’t seem to be many churches along the parade route anymore, just a couple huge ones—Pasadena Presbyterian and First United Methodist. No body’s probably worried about disturbing the horses anymore, just the Teslas…) So, that first Sunday in 1978, was the first Doo Dah Parade and they have been presenting that parade in Pasadena ever since. Of course it’s not exactly on a specific day in January anymore, but somehow a varying date for such a parade seems somehow fitting to such an irreverent group of people.
So, is this story about the contrasts of traditions, lack of traditions or just the wackiness we have come to associate with CA, especially SoCal? As a second generation native of this hilarious state of frequent displays of irreverence and nonconformity it puts me in mind of my dad. He was quite a fan of Groucho Marx and often quoted him. And one of his favorite Groucho quotes went something like, “I wouldn’t belong to an organization that would have me as a member.” And that about sums up the Doo Dah Parade, I think. It sure sums up this CA girl.