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Missing the Rose Parade, right down to the pool of spit

The Japan Honor Green Band dance their way down Colorado Blvd during the 2020 Rose Parade.
(Mark Boster / For The Times)

It’s a tradition, as familiar to Los Angeles’ top high school marching band as the opening notes of “Spanish Skies” or the eight-hour practice marches around Dodger Stadium: The moment they finish the six-mile Rose Parade, members of the band’s massive brass section empty their spit traps, a single, triumphant stream of relief.

“It’s really disgusting, but at the end of the parade it’s a satisfying feeling,” said 17-year-old trombone player Alvin Pleitez, the youngest of four brothers to have played with the Los Angeles Unified School District’s All City Honor Band at the annual New Year’s Day event. “Throughout the whole parade, we’re really enthusiastic and energetic. Everyone’s enjoying it, they’re happy, and then all the spit comes out from the instruments. It’s kind of like a puddle of spit coming out.”

The spit puddle is just one of approximately 700,000 reasons the Rose Parade was canceled this year, marking the first time since World War II that the iconic floral floats would not grace Colorado Boulevard. Los Angeles County is now the epicenter of the COVID-19 pandemic, with more than 14,000 new cases a day and hospitals forced to convert hallways and even gift shops into makeshift COVID wards.

The Pasadena Tournament of Roses Assn. announced the cancellation back when cases first surged in July. Then, in October, plans were unveiled for a two-hour television event to mark what would have been the 131st Rose Parade. Yet for many, it’s only now sinking in that the streets will be empty Jan. 1.

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“People only think about the New Year’s celebrations just for the few days leading up to New Year’s,” said Neel Sodha, who runs Pasadena Walking Tours. “I think this is when people really realize, ‘Oh, my God. We’re not going to have a Rose Parade in the city of Pasadena this year.’”

For Jerry Rodriguez, periodicals buyer at Vroman’s Bookstore near the heart of the parade route on Colorado Boulevard, the cancellation came as a relief. Any other year, the thoroughfare would already be packed with tourists, trailers and tents. Instead, a small handful of shoppers browsed the racks on an otherwise empty block.

“There’s no regret about it — it’s just something that had to be done,” he said. “It’s a very chill vibe right now, which is unusual for this time.”

Others said they missed the hustle and bustle of the season.

“If you’ve ever been here New Year’s Eve, it’s wall-to-wall people,” said Kenn Phillips, who was working behind the counter at Canterbury Records on Wednesday afternoon. “I go to see the floats or the marching band contest. On New Year’s Eve day there’s a constant parade of classic cars up and down Colorado Boulevard — I miss those things more than the parade itself.”

But not everyone was ready to let go.

“There are so many people that were so upset with the cancellation,” said Richard Ur, 80, of Bradbury. “To me, it showed a lack of American spirit.”

So he decided to start a parade of his own. Shortly after the cancellation was announced in July, he started calling car clubs across Southern California, hoping to organize a cruise along the parade route.

“He reached out to a bunch of different clubs,” said Brandon Riddle, president of the Sultans Car Club in Long Beach, which will be part of the New Year’s Day cruise. “Normally I’m asleep still when the Rose Parade’s going. But it’s a tradition, and we’re trying to keep it alive for people who would normally enjoy it.”

Alvin, the All City Honor Band trombone player, said he understood why the parade couldn’t happen this year. Unlike most seniors in the band, he’d already marched for four years, having joined the band in eighth grade. He’d even helped tape a song he hoped might make it into the program. But neither the telecast nor the unofficial New Year’s Day cruise could replace what was meant to be the command performance of his high school career.

2020 Rose Parade
A scene from the start of the 2020 Rose Parade in Pasadena.
(Mark Boster / For The Times)

“It’s a highlight for our kids, who come from the four corners of L.A. Unified School District,” said band director Tony White, who has been at every Rose Parade since he was a student in 1985. The band “was created specifically to march in the Tournament of Roses Parade — we look forward to it every year. Those kids give up their winter holidays to be involved.”

The group would normally have played at Disneyland and the Tournament of Roses Bandfest this week, having spent the prior week marching around Dodger Stadium to prepare for the six-mile showstopper on New Year’s Day.

“You’re marching and playing at the same time, so your air is constantly getting used,” Alvin said. “But then you hear the crowd shouting and saying ‘Go All City,’ and that kind of boosts your adrenaline. It’s a really good feeling.”

Playing the Rose Parade was a dream for the Francisco Bravo Medical Magnet High School senior from the time he first saw his eldest brother march in 2012. This would have been his last year in the band, the end of an era for his family. Instead, for the first time in more than half his life, they won’t be there.

“Usually at Sierra Madre Avenue, under the bridge, we play ‘Spanish Skies.’ When we go under that tunnel, it’s a huge sound, and everyone gets so energetic. That’s the mile I’m gonna miss the most,” Alvin said. “I should have shouted more, I should have played my heart out more — but I always thought I was gonna have one more year.”


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