One of the highlights of my Los Angeles Christmas season is working on the Rose Parade float for the Burbank Tournament of Roses. Six floats in the parade are "self-built," meaning completely community funded and community built, with no corporate sponsorship or professional assistance. Burbank is one of the six, and competes for a special award within this category. 2017 marks my fifth time volunteering during "Deco Week," the intense final preparations in the days immediately proceeding the parade where the flowers are applied.
The best part of working on the float is working with friends, both old and new. Each year I seem to take one more friend with me who has never done it before. This year it was my friend Molly and her mom, who was in town from out of state for the holidays. We went down a few days before Christmas, when the team was in paint mode and most volunteers hadn't started yet, and were able to get a personal tour of the float and barn, including the areas where the driver and observer sits. Molly and her mom were so impressed they came back the next week to volunteer.
Our wonderful host gave us lots of float history, and I learned that the driver has no vision of the road in front of him. There's actually a line painted in the middle of the road especially for the parade. The float drivers look down at the open road below their feet, and steer so as to stay on the path of this painted line, thus keeping the float in the middle of the parade route. The observer rides towards the front of the float, and has their own brake which they can operate in the event of an emergency, such as a parade viewer falling into the road.
I was lucky enough to work with my friends Wendy and my neighbor Cleo this year, and made new friends along the way, both locals and folks who came into town from hundreds of miles away just to work on a Rose Parade float as a lifelong "bucket list" goal.
The Burbank float is designed each year by a community member and selected through a rigorous competition voted on by association members. This year's float design centered on a group of birds collaboratively building a new home for their fledgling family. It's one of my favorite float designs but by its nature much of the work on the actual float had to be done on ladders or platforms, limiting the amount of people working on the float itself. Many volunteers were working on pieces of the float on the ground before they were attached to the float itself. This also limited the "assembly line" nature of some float designs, which slowed the process somewhat.
I was able to volunteer three or four days during deco week this year, including about seven hours on New Years Eve. I left a few minutes after eleven p.m. New Year's Eve, arriving home just in time to ring in the new year with my pups. I took a few pics each day I was there, and enjoyed seeing the progress as the float changed each day I helped. My first job was to apply salmon lentils to petals that formed details on the house. I didn't even know where these parts were to be used until I saw the final float!
The next time I went down, I worked to outline the letters on the weather vane. The vane had been completed and assembled but it was decided it needed more contrast to make it stand out, so I had to apply white rice to the edges of the black letters in a vertical plane, as the assembled weather vane couldn't be laid down. This type of painstaking attention to detail happens every year. The "E" and the "S" took me about three hours.
I also got to "mumm" the bodies of the birds, in particular a green bird with a white circle on his belly (in the first picture of this post). One side of the float is known as the "camera side" as this is the side exposed to the media as it passes along the parade route. Unfortunately my little green buddy was not on the camera side, but he received careful attention nonetheless.
By the last time I went down to the float on New Years Eve, we were down to petaling the bird's wings with individual rose petals. I worked underneath a bird to do the underside of his tail from a seated position on the ground, and did two or three more bird's wings with a team of volunteers.
It's so much fun to see the float come together as a sum of all its individual parts. I missed the final judging on Sunday, where all the parts are animated, as I had to babysit this year, so I didn't get my own photos or video. But I can see each piece that has my handiwork and admire how much was put into the float by all the volunteers.
I watched the parade comfortably from my living room, snuggled with my pups and enjoying a special breakfast. It's fun to cheer as I see a float I know intimately come down the street! The parade was held on Jan 2nd this year, as the first fell on a Sunday. Pasadena has a prohibition against parades on Sundays dating back to the days of horses, so this provided everyone in the parade with an extra day to decorate. Sadly, this year was the first since 2009 that Burbank did not receive an award. Still, our float was whimsical and fun as it traveled down the boulevard.
I kept my tradition of buying a sweatshirt from each year I've volunteered. I get stopped with questions all the time when I wear them and have fun educating people that they too can be involved.