I’ve arrived at the Flower Cage and my sinuses beg me to turn around and get back in the car. They’re quickly appeased, however: The covered area behind the Burbank Water and Power Auxiliary Warehouse is more like a tent than a standing structure, and though many volunteers pack the space on this warm Friday afternoon, the air is comfortable and relaxed.
I’m told that’s usually the case when volunteers get to work on flowers for Burbank’s Tournament of Roses Parade float.
“As long as they’re around the flowers they’re happy; they’re not around the fumes of the glue,” said Philippe Eskandar, the floral prep supervisor.
I’ve shown up ready to volunteer, but organizers are facing a good problem — the great weather has encouraged many volunteers to aid in the float’s construction, so there’s not much work at the moment.
But that doesn’t damper the mood — the spirit of the effort to bring this yearlong masterpiece to vibrant, Technicolor life is palpable in the many families reporting for duty. I met two families who wrap their float work into their annual holiday traditions.
Between the four of them, the Gross family contributes hundreds of work hours to the cause. Son Adam, 13, who alone estimated working about 80 hours in the week leading up to the parade, is a perennial volunteer for several school groups and service agencies in Burbank. His constant work on the behalf of others earned him the city’s Austin Cook Award for Outstanding Youth last year.
Today he has just one job: Ensure that the flowers get where they need to be before the judges come to view the float over the weekend.
“There are a lot of fun jobs, and you get to help the community make something the whole world sees,” Adam said.
Another fun job is held by a man who is introduced to me as “Pyro.” In 1996, Rick “Pyro” Penunuri helped Burbank’s Rose Parade float become the first to incorporate pyrotechnics “and get away with it.”
This year, he is overseeing the orange fog that will billow from smokestacks at the back of “The Dream Machine,” a giant petal-powered device that converts a boy’s dreams into reality.
I’m shown inside the float by Jeff Helgager, the site safety and manpower supervisor for the float. Crammed inside a tiny space next to its wheel well is where Penunuri will operate the fog controls. On the other side of the float, another worker will control the audio. And in a claustrophobic space toward the front are the submarine-like dials and switches of master control, where a driver will guide the float along its route by following the line in the road as it passes under his feet.
High above the cockpit, workers hang from scaffolding and lean over platforms as they glue the thousands and thousands of tiny flowers to the float, under the direction of construction head Bob Symons. Even the smallest jobs require painstaking patience.
Janet Kennedy and Monrene Malmstrom have just finished gluing white beans to the outer edge of “The Dream Machine” words that will be placed at the front of the float.
“This is the first thing people will see,” they said. So, no pressure or anything.
Back in the flower cage, business has picked up. Eskandar teaches the volunteers how to properly trim some flower stems so they will survive the next few days until the parade begins. One of the volunteers is Camille Westwood from Idaho, who said working on this float is one of the things on her bucket list.
She and her husband, Gene, were visiting family in Burbank and Los Angeles.
“This is one of the most world-renowned things you can do here,” Gene said.
Monday morning, the fruit of these volunteers’ work cut an impressive figure along Colorado Boulevard. As its many moving parts huffed and chuffed, and its trail of orange fog filled the street, the city of Burbank’s 2012 Rose Parade float deftly demonstrated why it didn’t just win the Mayor’s Trophy for Most Outstanding City Entry — it earned it.
Can’t get enough of the Tournament of Roses Parade? The Burbank Historical Society will present a program with guest speaker David McAlexander, a parade volunteer who will take a historical look at the Tournament of Roses Parade and the Rose Bowl games over the years.
The event takes place at 2 p.m. Jan. 14 at the Gordon R. Howard Museum, 115 N. Lomita St., Burbank. The program is free. More information may be found at www.burbankhistoricalsoc.com.
BRYAN MAHONEY is a recent transplant from the East Coast. When he’s not learning the finer points of float construction, he can be reached at 818NewGuy@gmail.com and on Twitter @818NewGuy.