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Before Pasadena’s Parade of Roses Comes a Procession of RVs

SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

They descend on Pasadena each year like giant mechanical locusts.

In the days before the Rose Parade, nearly a thousand of these houses on wheels swarm the parade route, residential side streets, even school tennis courts.

Their owners jokingly call it the Tournament of Recreational Vehicles Parade. In the world of RVs, the Rose Parade is an event not to be missed.

Along Colorado and Sierra Madre boulevards, the sweet tones of an Alabama accent mix with the smells of Louisiana crawfish cooking on a sidewalk grill. The arriving travelers often are as colorful as Friday’s parade.

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“We’ve got everything, including the kitchen sink and the cat,” said Susan Graben, who rolled into town Monday with her husband, David, and mother, Ethel, after traveling five days and 2,700 miles from Decatur, Ala.

David Graben, 61, who owns a pipe supply company, said a “lot of folks here this year drove through the ice storm. Our satellite dish and steps froze, it was so cold. But it’s real nice here,” he said, pointing in his short-sleeved shirt to the satellite dish atop his new, 36-foot RV parked at Pasadena High School.

The Grabens are newcomers to the RV lifestyle and have never been to California or the Rose Parade before. But many at the parade are veterans with lifelong friendships formed on Pasadena’s sidewalks.

“This is an annual meeting of friends,” said George Evans, 63, a Baton Rouge native who has parked his converted 1971 Greyhound bus, with more than a million miles on it, on the same Sierra Madre spot for the past five years.

They arrive as early as Christmas Day to snatch the best places on the route, where they can watch the parade from folding chairs on their roofs. Some are full-timers, retirees who have sold their homes and hit the road.

Their vehicles cost from $30,000 for basic models to as much as $400,000 for the kind of sleek coaches rock bands use to tour. But even the more modest of these are not your father’s motor home. Today’s RV comes standard with satellite dish, refrigerator, toilet, built-in microwave and air conditioning.

Some owners, such as Johnny and Nancy Cramer, from Placerville, Calif., even bring their own grass--albeit plastic.

“They say you can always tell a Californian because of the grass,” jested Johnny Cramer, who is attending his fifth parade.

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A short walk up Sierra Madre Boulevard is Cramer’s friend, Russ Silliman, a retired painting contractor who arrived Christmas Day.

“How many people would love to be in here with a queen-size bed and warm coffee come New Year’s Eve instead of out on that cold sidewalk sleeping?” said Silliman, who spends his summers in Idaho among the bears and wanders south as the weather worsens. After the parade, he’ll head to Texas and Mexico for fishing. An owner of multiple Southern California properties, he runs his life via voice mail.

“The RV lifestyle is not about driving but stopping. I go where I want, whenever I want,” said Silliman, sipping a beer, seated in front of a big television inside his rig.

On Wednesday, RVs rolled down the freeway offramps like one giant convoy. By New Year’s Day, between 900 and 1,000 of them will have taken up berths along the parade route, in the Rose Bowl parking lot and at a local high school.

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More than 150 of their owners will attend the annual Rose Parade Samboree, a rally at Pasadena High School for members of the Good Sam Club, a national RV organization with nearly a million members. Each rig pays $899 to park at the school from Dec. 28 to Jan. 2 and for five-star treatment including a New Year’s Eve party at the Pasadena Hilton, tours of the sights and front-row parade seats. Good Sam’s spokeswoman Lorisa Lysaker said six couples are coming more than 3,000 miles for the event.

RV owners, many of whom are snowbirds migrating to warm climates for the winter, love to stop in Pasadena for the parade in part because the city greets them with open arms. “The Pasadena police have a great attitude toward the RVs,” Silliman said.

Recreation vehicles are allowed to stop overnight in the week before the parade on streets where parking is allowed. RVs can be towed, however, if drivers park on streets with permanent or temporary no-parking signs, police said.

“We try to be lenient,” said Janet Pope, Pasadena police spokeswoman.

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For RVers, the welcome mat, the annual pilgrimage and the parade itself are part of the reasons they live as they do.

“There are some advantages to having a home on wheels,” said retiree Ed Moellinger, 69, of Las Vegas. “And this is one of them.”


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