Rain Dampens Everything but Spirit

Times Staff Writer

With magic as the theme of the 117th Rose Parade, organizers pulled one big, bedraggled, chilled, soggy rabbit out of their hat Monday -- only the 10th time in the event's history that rain dumped on huddled masses yearning to be dry.

Even so, hundreds of thousands of sturdy, poncho-clad souls lined Pasadena streets to cheer the 25 marching bands, gape at the 48 immense, flower-bedecked, computer-animated floats, and wave at Supreme Court Justice Sandra Day O'Connor, the parade's grand marshal.

O'Connor was only the second Supreme Court justice to ride in the parade, with Chief Justice Earl Warren doing the honors in 1955. That was also the last time rain visited, though by comparison with Monday's downpour, it was a mere moistening or, as The Times described it, "distilled sunshine."

On Monday morning, the sun was every one of its 93 million miles away, but true believers in the parade's magic were warmed anyway.

John Poole, 72, of Pasadena shouted "Thank you!" whenever a marching band passed his spot near the end of the parade's 5 1/2 -mile route. To the squadrons of Boy Scouts and Girl Scouts who ushered each float, he yelled: "Yay, Scouts!"

"These kids need all the cheers and applause they can get," said Poole, who sends his relatives in Maine a program before every parade so they can follow along on TV.

Ordinarily, the Rose Parade is a kind of infomercial for citrus-sweet, sun-drenched Southern California. This year, it would have been tough to inspire jealousy in even the weariest, most sun-starved, slush-bound Easterner.

The cheerleaders they saw on TV were peppy and beautiful, but had to keep a game face through cascades of running mascara. The flag twirlers had to deal with sodden pennants that bunched up like wet laundry. And hundreds upon hundreds of marching band members were soaked down to their arpeggios.

"For the record, ponchos don't keep you dry," said Tracy Wilson, a USC trombonist who was trying to warm up after the band did one last spirited round of "Fight On!" at the end of the parade.

"It was rough at first," Wilson said, recalling the sheets of rain that for a time pounded the crowd like some biblical curse. "But after a while, it was like -- whatever!"

That was also the philosophy of the hardy folks who camped out on Pasadena streets for as long as 24 hours before the deluge. With gaps among even the coveted grandstand seats, there were fewer spectators than the 750,000 who thronged the city last year, but parade officials Monday had no attendance estimates.

On Sunday night, Dave Marriner, 50, and his wife, Nancy, 49, huddled with friends around a Coleman lantern set atop a cardboard box brimming with cookies. With their son David, 21, playing in the USC band, Dave, of Incline Village, Nev., has attended every USC home game for four years.

"This is a culmination of everything we've done," he said, peeking out from under a large blue poncho.

Sunday was also the couple's 28th wedding anniversary. Earlier, they ran into Pomona resident Gustavo Ramirez, 34, who was carrying a bouquet of red roses. When Nancy asked about them, Ramirez, a peace activist, offered her one, explaining that they were in memory of a friend who died in Iraq on Christmas Eve.

"I was touched because it was their 28th anniversary," said Ramirez, who joined the group again later that night. "Afterward, we walked together and talked about our families and they offered me food. Wouldn't it be great if the world was always like this?"

Pasadena wasn't quite utopia Monday, but it was still pretty good. Police reported 12 arrests -- about half the average for Rose Parade weekend. All but one of them were misdemeanors. Seventeen people, including some band members flirting with hypothermia, were treated for minor injuries during the parade.

Calling the event "near-perfect," Tournament of Roses officials were enthusiastic over the efficiency of the parade, which, as usual, was helped along by more than 900 white-suited volunteers.

"We are literally amazed at how smoothly the parade operated with such challenging conditions," said Bill Flinn, chief operating officer of the Pasadena Tournament of Roses Assn., the nonprofit group that produces the event. Flinn said the horse bringing up the parade's rear crossed the finish line 15 minutes ahead of schedule.

Waving at the crowd from a 1934 Packard, O'Connor expressed amazement at the persistence of the "die-hard, enthusiastic Rose Paraders" who stuck around through rain and biting winds.

She told parade officials she was looking forward to doing the ritual coin toss to start the Rose Bowl game, joking that she would sometimes like to use the same technique on the bench.

Jokes aside, there were a few parade glitches.

Four floats -- from Burbank and Sierra Madre, the Disney Co., and Trader Joe's -- broke down, probably because of wet conditions.

Before an estimated 50 million TV viewers in the U.S. and untold millions in 122 other countries, Burbank's entry -- "The Pachyderm Parade" -- fizzled out at the starting line. It was hauled along the route by one of 42 strategically positioned tow trucks.

"It's frustrating!" said Ryan Babroff, 19, who spent the better part of a year helping to build three huge elephants out of irises, orchids and other flowers. "Our engine restarted!"

However, strictly observed parade rules offer no second chance to floats that break down even once.

Despite the breakdowns, none of the floats devolved into floral goulash.

Officials said that for the most part, the rain didn't weaken the glue used to affix countless seeds, leaves, grasses, chunks of bark and flowers of every variety. On some floats, tens of thousands of flowers had each been inserted into individual vials.

The floats will be on display today from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. at Pasadena sites on Sierra Madre Boulevard between Washington Boulevard and Sierra Madre Villa Avenue, and on Washington Boulevard between Sierra Madre Boulevard and Woodlyn Road. Admission is $7 per person.

The parade's Sweepstakes Trophy for "most beautiful entry with outstanding floral presentation and design" went to Florists' Transworld Delivery Inc.

The entry featured a 30-foot-tall genie observing a magic carpet taking off above rose gardens consisting of 15 varieties with "magic" in -- or implied in -- their names: Black Magic, Hocus Pocus, Abracadabra and others.

But rose cultivation was not the top item for revelers at a bar called Moose McGillycuddy's, temporary headquarters for "the Texas Ex's" -- a University of Texas alumni group eager to see their Longhorns whip USC in Wednesday's Rose Bowl game.

When the Texas band marched by, the bar emptied, with patrons enthusiastically whistling, elevating their pinkies and index fingers, and yelling "Hook 'em, Horns!"

Later, there was a similar surge not just by the Texans, but by nearly everyone, when the U.S. Marine Band came by, clad in desert khakis and playing "Battle Hymn of the Republic."

"You've got to appreciate these guys for what they do," said Carol Trinidad, 46, who works for a mortgage firm in Austin, Texas.

The music, the floats, the dancing floral hippopotamuses and undulating mermaids, the endless crowds, the ardent football fans pelting one another with marshmallows and Silly String: It all would have been a typical Rose Parade if it were held on New Year's Day instead of a day later.

But according to parade custom, there are to be no parades on Sunday; once upon a time, the crowds spooked the horses waiting outside church for their owners.

A few people longed for the extended revelry, but to some, like 22-year-old Xavier Karikitan, it didn't much matter.

On leave from the Army until today, he was stoking charcoals in a small bucket.

He had grown up in Pasadena, is stationed at an Army post in Georgia, and wouldn't miss a Rose Parade, whether it's New Year's Day or three weeks from last Tuesday.

"I come just because," he said. "It's a tradition, I guess."

Times staff writers Jonathan Abrams, Tanya Caldwell, Cynthia Cho, Juliet Chung, Stephen Clark, Amanda Covarrubias, Arin Gencer, Michelle Keller, Caitlin Liu, Hemmy So and Kelly-Anne Suarez contributed to this report.

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