January 04, 2020

Photo Essay: Ushering In a Hopeful New Decade, Rose Parade Style

I first helped decorate a Rose Parade float in 2013, in advance of the New Year's Day tradition in 2014. Since then, I've attended some Tournament of Roses-related event or another—whether the parade itself or a pre- or post-parade activity—every year.

And every year has been different—this time viewing the parade from where the TV cameras capture it, in the thick of the crowd at the starting line, before any of the floats break down or burst into flames (or have to pivot their tallest features to fit under the freeway overpass towards the end of the route).

I finally got a good view of the B-2 stealth bomber that flies over Pasadena every year, but I somehow seem to miss every year—this time piloted for the first time by a woman.

This is the spot where the floats turn from Orange Grove Boulevard (where they line up overnight, near the Tournament of Roses headquarters) and onto Colorado Boulevard, where they spend most of the parade route.

For some, it's the best location to watch the parade and then walk over to the Rose Bowl for the annual bowl game.

For me, it was a chance to finally get an unobstructed view—out of the shadows, and into full sunlight—so I could fully admire all the details, even if from afar (like how the Cal Poly Universities letters were dancing along the side of their "Aquatic Aspirations" float, which won the Director Award for most artistic design).

It felt like the passengers on the General Society of Mayflower Descendants' float—in celebration of the 400th anniversary of the Mayflower voyage in 2020—were waving directly at me.

This is an experience you don't get by watching the parade on TV.

And while you do get closer to the floats at the Post-Parade viewing area, you don't always get to see the animatronics and other animations—like how phoenix rising from the flames of the Burbank float turned its heads to both sides, giving spectators on both sides a good view.

There's just nothing like seeing these masterpieces in person, in action—each bringing their own unique take on the parade's overall theme (which, this year, was "The Power of Hope," executed by the Rotary Club in its "Hope Connects the World" float, above).

Sure, every year there are familiar characters who return in slightly new scenarios—like the zoological cast of the Underground Service Alert Of Southern California (a.k.a. DigAlert) floats, which have been participating since 2014.

Then sometimes, there's a welcome new twist to returning float sponsors... how Chipotle turned its second Rose Parade appearance into a fundraising opportunity to support farmers.

The Chinese American Heritage Foundation returned in 2020, too—this time honoring World War II veterans of color and managing to not catch on fire (unlike last year's float commemorating the Transcontinental Railroad and Golden Spike ceremony).

This year, a marching band in the formation of an anchor helped usher through the Lutheran Hour Ministries float "Anchored in Jesus," featuring the same Jesus actor as the last few years, waving like a beauty queen. (This year, it was the only Christian-themed float in the parade, though plenty of zealots and proselytizers littered the route before and after the floats sailed on by.)

The Rose Court—that is, the Rose Queen and her princesses—may change every year, but their rehearsed waves are always the same.

Each marching band is allowed to participate in the Rose Parade only every four years...

...which means the music gets switched up quite a bit every year... do the uniforms and the marching routines.

There are always surprises—like when purple and gold streamers came shooting out of the back of the "Years of Hope. Years of Courage" float in honor of the 19th Amendment's centennial...

...and the suffragettes that fought for women's voting rights 100 years ago, once again donning the colors of the American women's suffrage movement.

Lest we not forget the "bowl game" aspect of the Tournament of Roses, each college football team gets its own float every year.

In 2020, it was the University of Oregon's Ducks (whose mascot is literally Donald Duck)...

...and the Wisconsin Badgers (who lost the Rose Bowl game to Oregon by one point).

This was the first year that a Latinx occupied the role of Tournament of Roses President—and probably not coincidentally, the performances showed off a particularly Latin vibe (in addition to Rita Moreno as the parade's Grand Marshal).

Two hours—the annual duration of the parade—is a long time to keep audiences captive. But one participant after another managed to "wow" the audience with showmanship, originality, cuteness, and floral design.

In the best case scenarios,  it's all of the above (as with Wescom's "Better Together: Hope Creates Community" float, upon the 85th anniversary of its first-ever Rose Parade entry).

You can always count on the Trader Joe's "Fearless Flyer" floats to deliver on those promises, too.

And there are always adorable critters—clad in petals, beans, and seeds—to delight and amaze (like this year's giraffe from Kiwanis International).

This year's standout was "Dodo Bird Flight School" from La Cañada Flintridge Tournament of Roses Association...

...perhaps the ultimate depiction of hope (delivering on the theme of this year's parade)...

...that these flightless (and extinct) birds might actually take to the skies, in a zeppelin, no less.

While some human participants ride the floats themselves, others ride horses or carriages... with the annual appearance of the Wells Fargo stagecoach or the Budweiser wagon...

...drawn, of course, by a team of Budweiser Clydesdales.

Snoopy even hitched a ride with one of the Knott's Berry Farm carriages for his return to the Rose Parade this year.

Perhaps the most spectacular float display this year, however, came from The Cowboy Channel, which shot fireworks from its miniature New York City skyline... a cowboy rode a mechanical bull on top of a mini Madison Square Garden...

...all in celebration of paraplegic rodeo star Amberley Snyder, and the adversity she's faced on her journey to Rodeo New York in June 2020.

After it rounded the corner onto Colorado Boulevard and approached Norton Simon Museum, it gave us yet another pyrotechnics display for good measure. And everybody gasped.

I'm a sucker for a gimmick. And I need more than roses.

But every year, the float committees, marching bands, and equestrians all seem to "bring it"—at least, enough to keep me coming back.

What will the 2021 edition have in store for us? I can't even imagine.

Dare we hope for a good year in the meantime?

I'm desperate for a good decade.

Related Posts:
Photo Essay: Ringing In 2018 at the Rose Parade
Photo Essay: The Rose Parade, Never on a Sunday Edition
Photo Essay: New Year's Day at the Rose Parade

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