Michael Ward, looking snappy in his white suit and red tie, put on his sun glasses, strode to the center of Orange Grove Boulevard, rechecked his watch and with a flick of his wrist put into action thousands of marching feet, 250 dancing horses and 58 floats that bellowed, bobbed and bedazzled.
The 50-year-old Ward seemed so unruffled and his hand movements looked so understated as he began directing the entries onto the parade route that only those volunteers who had been with him the past 16 hours in the cramped, hectic Tournament of Roses parade command post headquarters actually knew what a shell shocker job it is to hold the fate of the parade in your hands. For the chairman of parade operations, who must line 'em up and move 'em out, beating the clock is the name of the game.
Said Tournament committee member Gary Dorn as the parade finally made its first shuffling struts forward: "Is Mike Ward calm? On the outside, yes; the inside, no."
Race Against Time
Ward, who in 25 years as a Tournament volunteer has climbed from float guard to the parade operation's chairman post, had to race to get the entries in line by 3 a.m. when the judges take their final look. If a float isn't in its starting place on Orange Grove Boulevard by then, there's no hope of a coveted award, no matter how pretty, cute or surprising it is. The second race was to get the 5-m.p.h. floats and the 2 1/2-m.p.h. people and animals down the 5 1/2-mile parade route in two hours flat to avoid national television cutting any of the entries off in mid-stride. At 10 p.m. Wednesday not one of the 58 floats were lined up. In the parade operations trailer, half a dozen amateur radio volunteers were monitoring the floats' excruciatingly slow progress from the outlying float barns in Azusa, La Canada, Burbank and Temple City:
"They were still looking for more chrysanthemums," grouses one volunteer who has just returned from surveying one of the float builders' hangars.
"Security Pacific is down with a broken wheel and the convoy has gone on without it," a radio operator calls out.
"Giorgio's has steering problems," another reports.
"We've got a sheriff's deputy down there who won't let three floats in his area because they didn't have credentials," another monitor adds. "A float needs credentials?"
One worker reminds Ward that last year 12 floats were in place before 10 p.m. So far, none has glided in. To make matters worse, a radio operator reports that there has been a hair-raising incident at the California Polytechnic University hangar, where a child fell under the moving float. (Later they learn that the youngster suffered only bruises.)
Then at 11:45 p.m., a convoy of nearly a dozen floats become clogged making a tricky turn at Huntington and Fair Oaks, jamming other floats creeping toward the same spot.
As the haze of cigarette smoke grows thicker in the trailer and the night shorter, Ward gazes intently at the formation map that is still sadly lacking in the red push pins that represent floats in place.
But he calmly tackles the headaches one by one, dispatching a tow truck here, a mechanic there and a horde of committee members on 126 donated red motor scooters all over the route to trouble-shoot. He quietly but forcefully gives orders on the phone, then on the radio.
A man in black leather riding chaps enters the trailer. "Where do I find the horses?" he asks. Ward points him in the right direction. Another woman straggles mistakenly into the trailer. "Where's the stupid toilet?" she mumbles. "That way," Ward says, pointing across the street.
Amazingly, at 3 a.m., as a spotlight truck rolls slowly down Orange Grove with the three judges following, all the floats are in place.
"We're to bed," one of Ward's workers says with a grin.
"This is like running a war, and this was the invasion," another volunteer says, nodding admiringly toward Ward.
But the battle is only half won. Ward, who runs a local tow truck firm, relishes the challenge and attributes his fascination with the parade to his own father, who was a volunteer for 35 years.
Ward waves the parade into motion at 8:20 a.m. He is ready for trouble. This year, undercover deputies are accompanying the politically sensitive Royal Jordanian Armed Forces Band. And the command post has received word that animal rights advocates have threatened to take the flowers off a bullfighting float.
Nothing materializes in those cases. Instead, the San Bernardino float heats up and breaks down. The Singapore pole balancer's antics wows the bystanders, but slows down the pace of one section of the parade. The 48-foot-high Loch Ness Monster can't quite cut the first turn, and has to be helped by tow trucks and volunteers.
Through it all Ward continues to carefully pace the entries as best he can, often striding into the street to slow or beckon entries like a traffic cop. He consults his nine-page timetable.