Tuesday, July 05, 2005

4th of July, Part 2: The Holiday

As I mentioned in my previous post, Celebration residents got to double-dip this holiday weekend. We had the premiere of "Tugger" on July 2nd and then our usual festivities on the 4th.

I was a bit worried that the actual holiday would be sort of a letdown after all the Tugger fun. How can you top a movie premiere and celebrity concert, not to mention a dazzling fireworks show? But heck, I'm not one to turn down two days of partying, so I was looking forward to the "rerun."

Fourth of July was decidedly different than the Tugger event. It was more of a "traditional" small town festivity, complete with hokey parade in the morning, right down to fireworks over the lake to cap off the night. In between, it was much more low-key than Tugger, with the usual downtown booths and entertainment that are omnipresent at Celebration events. No giant movie screens, no concert roadies. Even the Shell oil tanker was missing, although Shell reps. were still taking Tugger photos and handing out fans/fireworks "enhancers" (like the angel glasses at Disney MGM for the Osborne Light Spectacular). Here's our picture:

You can tell that I am having a great time, but my husband looks less than thrilled. He must know that he's going to end up in a car trunk on the 4th...but that's getting ahead of the story.

Our Fourth of July was slated to start quite early, as I'd entered us in the parade. I was originally planning to drive Canyonero (my Aztek), but my husband won a free Jaguar rental for a week. He entered a trivia contest at work, hoping to win a $20 Starbucks gift card, and he ended up with the Jag. We're not really car buffs (come on, we drive a 'TEK!), so we didn't really know what we'd do with it. Then, brainstorm...why not use the Jaguar for the parade? Canyonero can always wait until next year, unless some crazed tourist or speeding Celebration Hummer destroys it in the meantime.

The theme of the parade was "The Fabulous 50s," so I borrowed a CD of 1950s sitcom theme songs and set to work on related decor. I made three panels for each side of the car, decorated with a scene from each of 10 shows, such as Howdy Doody and Donna Reed. Then, I topped the whole thing off with pink, white, and blue balloons (yes, I know, but Wal-Mart was out of red ones; my husband said we could pretend they had faded in the Florida sun).

This was my first time driving in a parade, but I've been in many on horseback. My horse, Cochise, is nearing 30 now, but when he was a youngster, I used to ride in several parades in the suburban Chicago area. I swear that horse knew exactly what he was doing and played to the audience. One year, as we were riding along, he suddenly reared up as we passed the judges' stand and did some sort of quasi-Lippizzan rear/buck. They seemed to like it, so I nudged him with my heels while putting pressure on the reins, and he did it again...and again. We ended up winning "Best Performance" (I didn't even know there was such a thing), and that became his parade trick.

Only problem was, every now and then he'd rear up a bit too high, and I'd have visions of him crashing over backwards and squashing me like a bug in front of hundreds of people (it can happen; a friend of mine had a horse fall backwards on her, although thankfully she escaped with minor bruises). Even in my terror, I would maintain a happy, everything's-under-control face because someone was inevitably nearby with a camera. Fortunately, Cochise never lost his balance. These days, he's too old to buck or rear very high, although he tries every now and then.

The Jaguar was much easier to control than a horse, although it tended to rocket forward with even the tiniest touch of the accelerator. After a bit of practice, I learned to keep it at a steady idle speed.

The 3rd was mostly a day of rest; we attended church in the morning, then went to Bennigan's for lunch with friends. On the monitor in church, there was a large blow-up of Mel Gibson in "The Patriot." Last time I attended, they showed a movie clip from "What Women Want," starring Mel. No wonder I love Community Presbyterian...any church that gives me a weekly dose of Mel Gibson is tops in my book! Now, if they'll just start showing Johnny Depp clips...

Afterwards, I worked on blowing up endless amounts of ballons and pasting photos on my panels. The cats were trying their darndest to assist, but claws and balloons are not a good mix. I tried locking them out of my work area, but that was a pointless exercise in futility. They scratched frantically at the door, and my limited workspace was soon too cluttered anyway, so finally I relented and just worked around them.

Then we headed over to a friend's house for a NEV (Neighborhood Electric Vehicle) decorating party. Her vehicle was being featured as the Democrats of Celebration entry, so we all descended on it with a mound of streams and banners and patrioctic garland. Soon it was transformed from an ordinary little red and white NEV to a gaudy, parade-ready patriotic bandwagon.

After we returned home, I finished up the Jag decor and stashed it out of reach of the cats. My husband and I decided to wait until morning to put the decorations on the car. We didn't know just how motion-worthy they would be, so the smartest course of action seemed to be plastering them on in the staging area.

We were up bright and early the next morning, learning the complexities of stashing 36 inflated balloons into a car. We decided that Canyonero would be the "roadie vehicle," since the panels wouldn't fit inside the Jag without being folded. We headed to the Sycamore parking lot, where the parade was slated to begin, and settled into slot 23 to transform the Jag into a rolling monstrosity of balloons and black-and-white sitcoms.

We were among the first to arrive, but the other participants slowly trickled in. As they arrived, I quickly realized that 90 percent of them either a) hadn't bothered to keep to the theme; or b) didn't even know there was a theme. Red, white, and blue banners, flags, and streamers were the order of the day, with very little Fabulous 50s worked in.

Among those who did go with the theme, see if you can guess the obvious choice. Now remember, Celebration is known as the "Disney Town." 1950s...Disney...Fabulous 50s...Mickey Mouse. If you said, "Mickey Mouse Club," you've earned a pair of ears. My Jag was surrounded by two dueling "Mickey Mouse Club" factions: the Celebrators (a retiree group) and Gaw Realty. The Gaw gaggle had festooned a floatilla of NEVs with giant mouse ears. Not to be outdone, the Celebrators had hoola hoop performers and a roller skater (yes, rollerskates, not blades).

Apparently, Celebration has a parade entry contest, but unlike most parades, it isn't broken down into categories (i.e. marching bands, floats, cars, bicycles, etc.). Everything is against everything else, and both Gaw and the Celebrators were determined to win. In the end, the old-timers triumphed (how can you compete with people who actually lived the 50s?), while the Gaw entry came in third. I never did figure out who/what won second place; by that time, I was holed up in the car with the stereo blasting. My hyperacusis makes fireworks-viewing difficult, and it also causes ear pain with certain pitches like backfiring cars and loud motorcycles. Since both of those items were entered in the parade, and were therefore nearby in the staging area, the music helped offset their painful pitch.

Of course, people might have though my Jag was backfiring, too. I'd insisted on inflating the balloon as much as possible, not realizing that they'd expand in the vicious Florida July sunshine. Every now and then, one would explode with a jolting POP!

My poor husband, who had won the Jaguar rental in the first place, was relegated to the trunk. When I was originally going to drive Canyonero, I thought it would be cool to have him sit on the tailgate, waving a giant flag. Now that we had switched vehicles, I clung to my original idea, but the Jag's trunk was decidedly less user-friendly. Still, he was a good sport and balanced himself in the back, fulfilling my artistic vision:

Oddly enough, there were a number of exotic cars in the parade that were not decorated at all. In the parades of my youth in the Chicago 'burbs, if you wanted to be in the parade, you had to stap on streamers and banners and stars and stripes, no matter what you were driving. In Celebration, I wondered if I had committed a travesty by sullying a Jag with common ballons and posterboard.

Another odd thing about the parade is that there are no "real" floats. I'm used to lots of big, fancy entries, even from community groups, as that's what we always had in Illinois on the Fourth, even in small suburbs. I guess that wouldn't be too practical in Celebration; there's no way a full-sized float could have made the turn out of the parking lot. The Celebration parade is definitely very "small town." The closest thing I ever saw was in a little town called Ward, in Colorado. It's a bastion of ex-hippies, where the classic VWs are plentiful and the children and dogs run free. One year, we were vacationing in Estes Park and were on a drive to Boulder. Our driver decided to take us through the Ward time warp, but apparently it was the day of their annual Fourth of July parade. The town is so small that they hadn't even blocked off the streets too well. Thus, we somehow found ourselves in the parade! Since most of it just seemed to be people walking down the street, we fit right in (well, almost...we weren't in a Beetle).

Celebration's parade has more entries and more decor than Ward's, but the number of spectators was much more sparse than I had expected. Still, even though it looks impressive to have hundreds of people jostling for space in a wall-to-wall crowd, it was rather cool to head down our hometown streets and actually recognize so many of the people as friends and neighbors. With the 50s tunes blasting, I couldn't hear a thing, but my husband got lots of good-natured ribbing about his perch in the trunk. He played social butterfly, waving to the spectators, while I concentrated on not punching the accelerator too hard and destroying the vehicle in front of me.

We learned the futility of sticking with the theme when my husband found himself continually fielding the question, "What's up with the 50s shows?" Also, from the younger generation, "What are those shows?" Next year, I'll be driving Canyonero and going with a Simpsons theme, no matter that the "official" theme is (for those who aren't fans, Canyonero is the name of a big, obnoxious SUV in two Simpsons episodes).

Overall, the parade was great fun. Even though I'm used to fancier floats and a bigger turnout, I liked the whole retro feel...a small-town gathering of townsfolk. Goodness knows we have plenty of big, crowded events; even the Fourth of July turns into a madhouse of tourists as the day wears on. It's cool to have a hometown Celebration event in the morning.

The rest of the day went by quickly. We planned to head downtown around 6 p.m., as we were attending a barbeque at Celebration Hotel. Meanwhile, we had a late breakfast at Cracker Barrel and went home to slip in a few hours of work (neither of our jobs pause for the holidays).

We usually walk downtown when there is some big hoopla rather than fighting for a parking spot, but this time we decided to drive so we wouldn't be all hot and sweaty when we got to the restaurant. Amazingly, parking was not too crazy yet. We didn't even stress ourselves with trying to find something unreasonably close. We just parked near the 851 building, facing towards East Village for an easy getaway. I prefer being on the street rather than in a parking lot because the lots are a madhouse after the fireworks.

The hotel was holding a ticketed barbeque buffet, which included being able to view the fireworks from their pool area. The Rotary Club of Celebration was holding a concurrent event; they had reserved the Plantation Room as their dining area (a nice respite from the muggy weather). The food was bountiful and delicious...everything from ribs, brats, and burgers to pulled pork, chicken wings and grilled mahi. Th honey barbeque wings had a bite to them, but they were addictive. There was also a variety of traditional salads with a twist (my favorite was the potato salad, which had a different hue and a delicious flavor that I couldn't quite identify). There were many temptations at the dessert bar, but I opted for a huge white chocolate-coated candy apple. Heaven! The price included an open bar; I stuck to iced tea, but my husband downed three glasses of wine.

After dinner, we had some time before the fireworks, so we went wandering among the booths. I paused for a 10 minute massage at the Celebration Day Spa area, and we headed down to the church to see Celebration's new theater group performing patriotic songs. We missed the first part, but from what we saw, they did a wonderful job. Then we headed back out into the crowd, which had swollen a thousandfold from the morning. We figured that by the time we managed to work our way back to the hotel, fireworks time would be nigh.

We scoped out a spot near the pool and waited; a big, black thundercloud was threatening, but I think the people of Celebration kept it away by a combined act of will. This time, I had remembered my shooters' headphones, so I was able to watch the show without clamping my hands over my ears. The Tugger fireworks had been quite a sight to behold, so I was wondering if the second show could measure up. It most certainly did! The hotel deck is a perfect viewing spot, and the show was absolutely dazzling. This year, I've been spoiled rotten with two shows. Usually I'm happy enough with just one, but if that's all we get next year, it will be quite a letdown! I hope that Tugger is successful,and I have to admit that part of my reason is selfish...I'd love to have another premiere every year.

Unlike the Tugger fireworks, the crowd on the 4th was massive. My husband and I worked our way through the mass of humanity to our vehicle, which we'd left in a relatively uncrowded area. But while we were gone, the cars had come out of the woodwork to plaster the parking areas solid all the way down to Eastlawn. We quite literally would have gotten home more quickly by walking, but we'd known that when we chose to drive. Lightning was flashing overhead, so I was glad we were in the car just in case a downpour started. Fortunately, the monsoon held off until most people had probably made it home.

All in all, it was probably one of my best Fourth of July weekends ever. The only memory that comes close is a childhood 4th at the Beecher fair. Now, it's time to return to the work week and look forward to Founders Day in November (the next big Celebration bash).

Learn more about Celebration on my website: www.celebrationinfo.com

No comments: