down woodward avenue, it comes without fail, thanksgiving day morning, rain or shine, freezing temps or mild weather, the hung-over clowns, patched up balloons, and paper machete floats on cars with dirty wheels over the rotting litter in the street. watching the parade on tv is one thing. second-hand living, everything with a bit of extra shine to it, the floats in perfect sync with each other moving along the throngs of cheering people, celebrating the bounty of the harvest. with a bit of tv editing, the dingy parts are hidden from view, the whole thing looking like some magical oasis in the city. watching the parade in person is another thing.
as we drove to the bank on thursday morning, i asked greg if he really wanted to do it, or if we should just drive to his parents’ and watch the thing with mugs of hot coffee, ruth playing in the background, our feet up. he said, no. we can be pretty gung ho if we set our minds to something. the first leg was parking. that’s what we needed the cash for. the lots downtown don’t take credit, just bills, if you please. we weaved our way through the side streets of downtown, looking for something under 15 dollars, and finally found a place, a good five blocks or more from woodward.
the second leg was walking to the parade. i about yanked ruth’s arm out of the socket trying to get her to keep up with us as we went, passing people tailgating in lots, drinking, and various turkey trotters still heading back out to their cars, or trying to find where they had left them. the city looks different at ten than it does at seven. as we neared the parade, the crowds became thicker, and louder, with people smells mingled with the smell of the city, and then, we were in the thick of it.
there is something thrilling about being amongst a celebrating crowd. an energy that’s contagious. we emerged right at campus martius where the crowd was five deep and almost nothing of the parade was visible, so we began to weave our way backwards through the parade-watchers, down the parade route, to look for a place to see better and set up our chairs.
after a good twenty minutes of walking, we found a little inlet in front of an abandoned building that we could set up our chairs in and called it good enough. greg tried to hoist ruth up on his shoulders to see the floats and bands passing by, but she would have none of it and preferred to sit on my lap, snacking on frosted mini wheats. from that vantage point, the tops of the passing scene barely visible to us, the parade we watched was a parade of a different sort. a cultural parade.
the black girls standing next to us would have done well in a sir mix-a-lot video and were dropping it like it was hot to the christmas music spewing from the floats, and the drum line of the passing school bands. i have to say, it was a bit awkward as, my head, while sitting, was about at the level of their booties. it was understood by all of the smokers, we found, that our little inlet was the token smoking section, and people, looking tired and a bit boozy, would stop in for a few drags on a cigarette before heading back out into the crowd, leaving us sitting in a constant fog of smoke from various brands. marlboro and newports were the most popular cigarette of choice for thanksgiving morning, i discovered. i counted the butts.
there were people walking by with signs made of cardboard that said, “veteran please help”. there were people walking by with large yellow signs that said, “jesus loves you”. there were people walking by with combs stuck into their afros, people walking by with pit bulls on thick chains that looked nervous and ready to run or to bite the nearest person, they hadn’t yet decided which. there were small children dressed in holiday sweaters drinking hot chocolate and weaving through the crowds, there were people drinking liquor from crumpled brown bags, just weaving. there were people eating discarded doughnuts from trash cans, people calling out to each other, and embracing, and the seasoned parade-watchers sat perched upon ladders, hovering above the whole scene.
the sky was blue and the sun was bright, all the better to see the peeling paint on the captain underpants balloon as it was dragged past us, like a corpse with makeup on, the various patches that were just slightly the wrong shade from the original coloration. the turkey balloon passed in a similar fashion and suddenly, the crowd gave a collective gasp a little further down the parade route as it took a dive towards one of the nearby buildings. “that tukey’s goin’ down!” the drop it like it’s hot girl next to me said. then she started cackling in a crazed sort of way with her friend. it was that sort of a crowd, the kind you get caught up in and start to cackle with at odd things. know what i mean? i didn’t cackle, but i could have.
the parade ended with santa waving to us all, buried under his beard, barely visible. someone ordered the wrong size beard for that guy, i thought, then i waved like a fool with the rest of the crowd, like it was really santa, the one from my childhood who brought so many toys and took bites of our cookies and was magic and everything. then, it was over and the crowd took a single breath before it dispersed quickly in every direction, everyone suddenly remembering that they had to cook dinner and get ready for company in just a couple hours, damn it. we were carried out back to our car upon a sea of people.
as i buckled ruth into her car seat back in our lot, we were all pretty tired and silent. when you have been in a relationship with someone for ten years, there is a lot left unspoken at times like that, that no one has to say, because we’ve already said them so many times before in so many other situations. thanks for keeping your cool back there, i might have said to greg as i had begun to panic and lose it in the crowd for a second like my mom always used to do in any kind of stressful situation and especially at holidays. sorry we nearly missed the whole thing, greg could have said, we should have left earlier, parked further down. but, like i said, it all goes without saying, is understood between us already. and, there is always next year to do it all better.
i say this very sincerely as i have come to regard thanksgiving as one of the more down to earth holidays, happy thanksgiving. a holiday about eating and being thankful. what’s more real than that?