Rose Parade shows its galactic appeal

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Let 2007 go down as the year that the stormtroopers claimed downtown Pasadena for the Galactic Empire and the notaries were on hand to make sure the deal went down smoothly. As hundreds of thousands of Rose Parade spectators cheered wildly, some 200 armor-clad volunteers of the 501st Legion -- a.k.a. Vader's Fist -- marched grimly down Colorado Boulevard, paying tribute to the Tournament of Roses' grand marshal, "Star Wars" creator George Lucas.

Meanwhile, a float put together by the National Notary Assn. depicted a family of squirrels excitedly moving into their new home -- a 35-foot-tall treehouse -- as a giant notary rabbit checked out all the paperwork for the move.

"It's a way to have 50 million viewers around the world all thinking about notaries at the same time," said Melinda Barrett, a spokeswoman for the association.

All this amid a swirl of Silly String and baton twirlers and tuba players and, of course, dozens of obsessively decorated floats hauling enough gorgeous plant matter to clothe, feed and adorn Planet Vegan for the next millennium or so.

In other words, the 118th eye-popping edition of the Rose Parade was a typical Southern California kickoff to the new year, right down to the balmy temperatures that last year went so dramatically AWOL.

Last year, onlookers at the pageant that was started as an elaborate advertisement for sunny Southern California were pelted by icy rain for the first time in a half-century. Flag twirlers ended up spinning what amounted to clumps of sodden laundry. Cheerleaders gamely strutted their stuff through flowing mascara.

But this year the problems weren't nearly so moist. Mobbed with cellphone-toting celebrators taking pictures of him in his 11-pound Imperial Stormtrooper ensemble, Richard Woloski was wondering whether the Force would be with his tootsies along the 5.5-mile parade route.

"I once walked from Mann's Chinese to the ArcLight," he recalled ruefully, realizing that the distance between the two Los Angeles theaters was less than one-fifth the length of the parade route.

With an estimated 1 million spectators, finding a spot to view the festivities was as tough as ever.

Two Marine corporals based at Camp Pendleton bivouacked overnight on a stretch of sidewalk they'd furnished with camp stoves, rations, a heat lamp, air mattresses and enough Silly String to jam the treads of an oncoming tank. But one of their fiancees, Elizabeth Martinez, 24, was feeling less than secure.

"It's really scary sleeping on the side of the street," she said. "You have to trust that some drunk won't run you over."

For 15 years, Fred Theurkauf, 65, of Pasadena has tried to place himself and his family far above the madding crowd, perched on four 6-foot ladders at their favorite corner. Police sometimes move them along -- the ladders are illegal -- but sometimes a small infraction is worth it.

"It's the best view of all," said Theurkauf, "and it feels like you're much more part of the crowd."

Lulled by the sunshine, the aroma of grilling hot dogs and the occasional scent of crushed blossoms wafting from the floats, the crowd was "quiet and well-behaved," said Janet Pope Givens, a Pasadena police spokeswoman.

The relative tranquillity of the event reflected an observation made by The Times 100 years ago. While festivals in other cities encouraged "license, a slackening of ideals, and riotous merry-making," the Rose Parade was above that sort of thing, the newspaper noted proudly: "Pasadena's skirts are clean," it boasted.

On Monday, police logged 18 arrests overnight, mostly for drunk and disorderly conduct. Red Cross officials said they had treated 44 medical problems -- fewer than half the usual number. However, a 52-year-old man suffered a heart attack at the Rose Bowl game and later died, according to Pasadena Police Lt. John Dewar.

The parade ordinarily is a vast municipal swoon over the miracle of flowers in January, a good-natured in-your-face to relatives who are slowly freezing in the less temperate zones. But this year, despite the parade's "Our Good Nature" theme, it was more notably an ode to "Star Wars," the Space Age parable that marks its 30th anniversary this year.

"The movies may be over, but 'Star Wars' fandom will never end," said 21-year-old Bryan Lee of Burbank. The Cal State Northridge senior kept his violin propped on his left shoulder, playing riffs from the "Star Wars" films as well as from Lucas' " Indiana Jones" epics.

Carrying a Jedi robe for warmth, Lee had pitched camp on a sidewalk at 4 p.m. Sunday -- easy duty for someone who occupied a patch of pavement for 6 1/2 weeks to secure entry to a "Star Wars" showing two years ago. To pass the night, he popped the Muppets' rendition of "Star Wars" into his laptop, a treat for himself and his friends.

Though Lucas and the Vader's Fist volunteers were clearly the morning's crowd-pleasers, the parade as a whole was the usual sensory smorgasbord, with millions of flowers, seeds, cuttings, leaves and roots encasing virtually every part of the 45 floats.

Here was American Honda, with a 50-foot dragon whose mouth belched smoke and flame; there was the entry from the city of Sierra Madre, which not only paid tribute to its trademark plant but actually spelled it with historical accuracy as "wistaria."

As the floats rumbled by, a number of visitors identified their hometowns to strangers by pointing to a hand, a universal gesture in the Great Lakes state to denote a Michigan map.

Accompanied by his wife and two stepsons, Michigan alumnus Keith Sikora, 41, let a visitor know that his town of Alma -- in the hand's center -- had about 10,000 residents and was a whole lot colder than the flower-strewn streets around him.

"If you're coming from the north, this is a break from the temperature, the weather and the routine," he said.

"I've never even crossed the Mississippi -- until now."

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steve.chawkins@latimes.com

Contributing to this report were staff writers Tami Abdollah, Tony Barboza, Angie Green, Steve Hymon, Charles Proctor, Ashley Surdin, Adrian Uribarri and Francisco Vara-Orta.

Copyright © 2014, Los Angeles Times
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