One of the things I regret not doing while I lived in New York is going to see the Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade (or even visiting the staging area for the balloon inflation the night before). I never saw the Rockefeller Center treelighting, walked the Halloween Parade, or watched the ball drop in Times Square, either.
Maybe those are things for tourists to do. But I kind of wish I had those experiences in my coffer.
Never mind that I get claustrophobic and panicky in crowds. The biggest reason I never went to the Thanksgiving Day Parade is because I just couldn't get up that early.
It's the same thing that's kept me from going to the annual Rose Parade on New Year's Day, though I've helped decorate a float and viewed the floats after the parade; I've met the horses and seen the marching bands play. I've always prioritized going out on New Year's Eve above getting up on New Year's morning.
But last year, when I saw the finished floats up close, I realized that seeing them parked after-the-fact gave me only a sliver of the experience. These floats don't just roll down Orange Grove and Colorado Boulevards. Some of them are full-on animatronic extravaganzas, accompanied by music, smoke, celebrities, or all of the above.
It was then that I started to think I should really just go to the Rose Parade to get the full experience.
Of course, I had an entire year to think about it and plan, but I still wasn't sure until the very last minute. I hoped for a magical invitation to something spectacular on New Year's Eve night. I wished for a reason to stay up all night.
Neither one of those things ever came. And, in fact, I'd become convinced that I actually could get up that early, since I've been getting up and starting my workday on East Coast hours every day for weeks now.
And this morning, with my daily alarm again going off at 6:30 a.m., I proved myself right: I got up and dragged myself to Pasadena to watch the Rose Parade.
Incredibly, there are many people who camp out all night to secure a good spot along the parade route, but I took the easy way out and bought a ticket to a brunch party on the second floor, right above the action, with the dome of Pasadena City Hall in view in the distance.
Having fully done my research over the past couple of years, I knew to expect certain appearances in the parade: the Queen and her court...
...the Budweiser Clydesdales...
...the Norco cowgirls...
...and the marching bands for the college teams competing in the Rose Bowl, which this year were Iowa...
I was not, however, expecting this weird tree to accompany the Stanford band...
...nor the Laker Girls to dance alongside a float ridden by Kareem Abdul Jabbar and Paula Abdul.
Since familiarity is important to tradition, and since the Rose Parade is more about Pasadena than about LA, plenty of small town local heroes were out in full force...
...like the PCC Tournament of Roses Honor Band.
And then there are, of course, the floats.
Some of the floats are purely vehicles for advertising, like this year's Marco Polo-themed dragon float for Pasadena real estate company Singpoli...
...or the India Punjab-themed float to raise awareness of the Sikh faith (entertainingly through bhangra dancing).
Lots of these corporate floats have their own agenda—whether it's promoting heart health on the American Heart Association float...
...or peddling Frozen on the Disney float...
...trailed by Star Wars' storm troopers, C3PO, and Chewy.
But usually, the real highlights of the parade are the volunteer-decorated floats from the surrounding municipalities and unincorporated areas of LA County that stick to the parade's theme, like Sierra Madre's "Rollin' on the River" (whose spinning pink flamingos earned it the award for best animation).
In commemoration of the centennial celebration of our National Park Service, this year's theme was "Find Your Adventure"—and so La Canada Flintridge took their "Up a Creek..." float on a wild water adventure.
Kaiser Permanente's "Helping Mother Nature Thrive" float won the Grand Marshal's prize, appropriately in the year that the Grand Marshal was documentarian Ken Burns (of The National Parks: America's Best Idea fame).
"The Beauty of Adventure" float by Kiehl's paid tribute to at least one U.S. national park (Death Valley), as well as other adventurous destinations like Mount Everest and Alaska.
Northwestern Mutual's Swan Lake-themed "Dancing Into Adventure" float may seem as though it doesn't quite fit the theme, but adventure can be found in all kinds of different places and experiences—not just in national parks.
This is something I know, and am discovering more every day.
So now that I've decorated a float, watched the parade, viewed the floats the day after, and attended Equestfest and Bandfest, what is there left for me to do?
View the floats at 2:30 a.m. the night before, when their flowers are the freshest?
Ride a float? Drive a float?
Here's to more adventure in 2016.
Photo Essay: The Marching Bands of the Rose Parade, 2016
Photo Essay: The Horses of the Rose Parade
Photo Essay: The Floats of the Rose Parade, 2015
Photo Essay: The House of Chewing Gum and Roses
Photo Essay: Pasadena Doo Dah Parade 2014