The ostriches and their riders were poised at the gate, ready for the race. The buzzer sounded, and the three bouncing birds, obviously upset about having 135-pound football fans on their backs, were off.
It was just another event Thursday at Fanfest, the extravaganza of popcorn, float building, buffalo soldiers and kiddie rides held on the Rose Bowl parking lot in the days leading up to the annual Tournament of Roses.
Although activity in Pasadena was brisk Thursday, it is going to get a lot brisker. Hundreds of thousands of people of all ages will flood the city for Saturday’s Rose Parade, not to mention the Rose Bowl game pitting Stanford against the University of Wisconsin.
But the celebration began Thursday for many--from the die-hard parade watchers who were already camping out along the route, to tourists from Wisconsin, to local Girl Scouts helping to build floats.
“I think we know what to expect. We were here last year,” said Tiffany Madigan, 20, a junior at Wisconsin and a member of the university’s dance team, who was touring a tent where floats were being built near the stadium.
Just ahead of her, Catherine Yim of Holy Trinity Church near Los Feliz had brought three Korean nuns from her parish to see the floats.
As the nuns maneuvered cameras under the hoods of their black habits to take pictures, Yim explained that the sisters will be at church services today and Saturday but wanted to see some of the Rose Bowl celebrations.
Above the nuns on scaffolding, 12-year-old Kayla Miller, her hands full of cranberry seeds and parsley flakes, said she had volunteered to get up at 6 a.m. to catch a piece of the action by helping build a float.
She and a friend, along with several troops of Girl Scouts from the San Gabriel Valley, had all volunteered to work on the Legoland entry.
But they won’t be able to ride on it.
“It will be neat to watch what we built on TV,” Kayla said.
A few miles away, Austin O’Kane, her hands buried in the mammoth white hooves of a Clydesdale horse she was washing, said she won’t be a spectator, but in fact will be riding on a float.
Every year, she and her cousins, all members of the extended Busch clan (as in Anheuser-Busch), ride on a float pulled by a team of the massive horses.
Inside the Fanfest area, members of the Stanford band turned their attention to another type of animal--the ostrich.
Despite the fact that Wisconsin band members had spurned their challenge to a pregame ostrich race, Chris Henderson and Paul Kalanthi, a tenor sax and trumpet player, respectively, in Stanford’s marching band, were beside themselves with excitement at the prospect of watching the competition.
For a few moments, it looked as if Stanford musician Cinta Baux, 22, was going to win.
But then she was thrown from her bird. The other two racers were soon tossed as well, and the birds’ handlers grabbed the ostriches by their ruffled feathers and pushed them back into their trailer.
The action over, Stanford band members headed back toward the stadium for a practice.
Many were stopped at several intervals by football fans anxious to have their pictures taken with them. The band is notorious for outrageous antics, such as the time members pretended to sacrifice a live goat during halftime. “We didn’t actually kill it. The goat was already dead,” protested Kalanthi.
Nevertheless, in light of these and other high jinks, the student-run band agreed that only a few members would be allowed to talk to the public and the media. Henderson, however, who spent one wild year cavorting around the field dressed as the school’s mascot--a tree--was allowed to speak of his experience.
But no one could discuss this year’s halftime show, though Kalanthi couldn’t help joking that “there’s going to be fire. And ice.”
Meanwhile, Yvonne Cagle, 40, one of NASA’s newest astronauts, spent Thursday preparing for the parade by working on the Edison International float, which will celebrate the space program.
Cagle, who will soon be deployed to a space station 300 miles above Earth, said she plans to take a rose from the float up into space with her.
“I’ve dreamed of both [going into] space and [riding in] the Rose Parade since I was a young child,” she said.
GUIDE TO THE ROSES: The Rose Parade lineup, route, helpful tips for viewing and more about Pasadena’s big day. B2