In September, 2016 I started a year-long personal challenge of doing something each week that I’d never done before then writing about it. This is week 39.
I was in elementary school the last time I went to a parade, the tiniest July 4th event in Boulder City, Nevada where my grandmother lived. I think there were clowns and Shriners. I think it was July 4th. I think it was a parade.
When I first moved to Portland, I was confused by locals who sang the praises of the Starlight Parade. I rolled my eyes at the beach chairs and taped off quadrants for people inexplicably devoted to the Grand Floral Parade. Not once have I been even remotely curious.
If there was ever a chance of me enjoying a parade, it would be Pride. Better outfits. Better music. Fewer children. No clowns. But my best friend was specifically escaping Pride festivities with a hike out of town with his boyfriend, so I contacted a friend that I hadn’t seen in ages. She had plans to walk in the parade with She Bop, a local female-friendly sex toy store and asked if I wanted to join. I figured if I was going to subject myself to downtown crowds, it would probably be better to do it in motion, so I picked up some generously donated t-shirts and met her in the rainbow-thick, drum-corp drenched throngs.
We watched the Dykes on Bikes get the show on the road then hopped in behind the She Bop banner with a small handful of others. A rainbow flag was pushed into my hand. And we were off.
We walked. We people watched. We caught up on our lives since the last time we’d seen each other. We waved our flags. We hooted. We danced, just a tiny bit.
And when it was all over we sat on the curb to watch the rest of the parade roll by. Nike, Intel, New Seasons, Lyft. On and on and on. I get why corporations are there and why the people who work at these places want to be in on the parade. But this is why parades bore me. People like me, bopping along in matching t-shirts provide virtually no entertainment for those on the sidelines. I couldn’t muster enough enthusiasm to make it through the rest of the lineup.
I’ve always assumed that the point of a parade was to entertain. It finally dawned on me that fun isn’t necessarily the main point. I don’t know what the Starlight Parade is about (shiny things?) but Pride is about celebrating communities that need to be celebrated. They need to be celebrated loudly in cute unicorn outfits, hot leather ensembles and gold sequins. They also need to be celebrated in boring t-shirts and baggy jeans. It brings together communities that often exist in places less conspicuous than mid-afternoon on a Sunday in downtown Portland with people from the bank, the airlines, and the grocery store. Everyone gets to be seen and applauded. Everyone gets to see and applaud. Other than the usual haters, who doesn’t want that?
I realize most people probably know this. I’ve been so anti-parade that I never stopped to think about it until today.I’m sorry I didn’t stay to applaud everyone. After my friend and I parted ways, I walked over the Burnside Bridge listening to my favorite disco music. Half way across, I stuck my rainbow flag into the post of a construction sign so someone else headed toward the parade could pluck it and carry on.