In its 125th year, the Rose Parade detoured into debates over same-sex marriage and captive killer whales. Otherwise, the parade stayed largely on script, delivering its traditional mix of small-town wholesomeness, Hollywood-style entertainment and corporate sponsorship.
Treated to clear skies and warm air, thousands crammed street curbs and bleachers along the parade's 5 1/2-mile route through Pasadena on Wednesday for the annual procession of marching bands, equestrian groups and elaborate floats crafted of roses, flowers and all manners of produce. Many had braved chilly temperatures, camping out overnight to secure good views of the two-hour morning spectacle.
The marriage of Danny Leclair and Aubrey Loots on a float sponsored by the AIDS Healthcare Foundation and a thwarted animal-rights protest of a SeaWorld float added dashes of commotion to an event not known for controversy.
Standing high above the crowd and playing the part of wedding cake figurines, Leclair and Loots exchanged their vows and shared a kiss in front of television cameras. Onlookers cheered and snapped photos of the float, festooned with white and dark red roses. Pasadena resident Monica Kibbee and her 8-year-old daughter Eva handed a branch of purple orchids to two women riding with the grooms.
"I think it's wonderful," Kibbee said. "I'm really happy to see there's no one here protesting."
Word of the wedding had spurred heated arguments between gay marriage supporters and protesters in the days leading up to the parade. A Facebook page calling on people to boycott the event garnered thousands of followers. One comment on the page read, "I can't think of many things LESS appropriate for families and especially children. It's completely the wrong venue for a stunt like this."
In a statement, the Pasadena Tournament of Roses Assn. said it was "pleased" to have the foundation participate.
"It is the organization's third entry in three years, tied to their mission of delivering medical services and advocacy in fighting AIDS worldwide," the statement said.
Foundation spokesman Ged Kenslea said the organization chose to use its float for a wedding in hopes of encouraging more same-sex marriages. More stable relationships between men will diminish the spread of HIV, Kenslea said.
"We believe that marriage saves lives," he said.
As the parade went on, a minor kerfuffle played out just off the route. Los Angeles County Sheriff's deputies shadowed two men and a woman from People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals, a group known for confrontational tactics. The three were carrying a small dirigible with "SeaWorld Tortures Orcas" printed on the side. The entertainment park, which entered a float in the parade, has come under scrutiny in recent months after a documentary film raised questions about SeaWorld's treatment of the killer whales it relies on as a major attraction.
As the heavily guarded SeaWorld float passed the intersection of Colorado Boulevard and St. John Avenue, the three protesters held the blimp aloft. Several deputies emerged from the crowd and one grabbed and bent the craft's small propeller. The blade whirred to life, cutting the deputy's finger. After threatening the three with arrest, the deputies allowed them to leave with the blimp, which had been damaged and could not fly.
"Take your balloon and go away," one deputy said.
Earlier in the morning, police arrested 16 people who walked onto the parade route in front of the Orca-themed float. Tuesday evening and during the night, 17 people were arrested, primarily for public intoxication.
For most of the other spectators, pageantry carried the day. People clapped as mounted cowboys from the Hermanos Bañuelos Charro Team swirled lassos over their heads. Their reception paled in comparison, however, to the one given to singers on the float for the popular TV competition "The Voice." Teens in marching bands from Japan, Panama and several area schools were interspersed with rolling, fragrant advertisements for a grocery chain, insurance company and various civic groups.
Helen Hernandez, 31, made the drive from San Francisco with her brother, 10-year-old daughter and mother, who had said wanted she to see the parade.
A small heater and blankets kept the family warm during their overnight camp out.
"I don't know if I'd do this again. I like a little more comfortable of a setting," Hernandez said. "I need my bed tonight."
Irving Garcia, 22, had come from West Covina with about 30 family members. The clan commandeered a swath of prime terrain along Colorado Boulevard, laying out mattresses and blankets and setting up a small fire pit. They failed, however, to pace themselves, and stayed up all night. When the parade began at 8 a.m., Garcia was asleep. "I was too tired to even blink as the floats passed by," he said. "I saw maybe two at the end."
Jasmin Mora, 23, who was with Garcia, also missed the show. "I thought I was just going to get a minute of shut eye, then someone woke us up and said, 'It's over!' We can go home and watch it on television all week anyway. We'll come with a better plan next year," she said.
Residents along the route handled the onslaught of parade-watchers in various ways. Many erected rented fences to mark off their lawns. Others opted for caution tape. A few gave up their front yard to the public.
Jimmy Lei, 76, had no qualms about the 20-plus strangers on the grass in front of his house. "Everybody's happy; it's the new year. [This space] is for everyone," he said while stopping to take pictures of a "Thank a teacher" float passing by.
Engineering students from the state's two polytechnic universities delivered a dose of irony to the day when the float they built broke down. As tow trucks rushed to clear the vehicle, people quickly flooded onto the route. Kids tossed footballs. Sheriff's deputies gave up trying to keep the crowd at bay.
Long after the last float had gone by his spot on Colorado, Darrell Miller, 51, from Cypress, was still reclined in a collapsing chair, nursing a mixed drink in a red plastic cup. Near him was a pile of sleeping bags, pillows and bedding, and two gas-powered heating lamps. As he waited for a friend with a car to take him home, Miller reflected on what he estimated were the 30 or so parades he's seen. Over the years, restrictions on tents and other parade accessories have cut into the fun. His friend couldn't even bring a pingpong table, a long-standing tradition, he said. And yet Miller faithfully returns each year.
"I love it and it's worth it," he said.
Times staff writers Alicia Banks, James Barragan, Saba Hamedy, Seema Mehta, Joel Rubin, Catherine Saillant and Jon Schleuss contributed to this report.