SOUTH PASADENA — Children will be blowing up red, white and blue balloons, decorating their bikes and riding down the center of town in their Yankee-Doodle finest today. After all, it's Independence Day.
Pasadena may boast the mammoth Tournament of Roses Parade and its irreverent cousin, the Doo Dah Parade. But its neighbor to the south is the home of a time-honored American tradition: the local Fourth of July parade.
Open to anyone with some patriotic spirit, the parade features fire engines, dogs, junior high marching bands and soccer players. Just about every youngster in town rides, walks or pedals down the Mission Street parade route to Garfield Park.
"What the parade lacks in professionalism, it makes up for in enthusiasm," said Kathleen August, whose children will be riding a pedal-powered surrey for the second year in a row.
Organized nine years ago, the parade, called the Festival of Balloons, is an all-volunteer effort with a committee of one, Barbara Shepherd, handling details.
It is Shepherd who must coordinate the entries, make last-minute decisions on timing and parade lineup and find judges to hand out awards in five categories.
"This is a uniquely friendly small town, where you run into your neighbors everywhere you go," said Shepherd, who has lived three years in this town of 24,000. "An old-fashioned Fourth of July parade really expresses the spirit of South Pasadena best," she added. "There are usually more South Pasadena residents in the parade than are left over to watch them."
The 65 entries may not be the kind to attract international attention, but they do keep the locals entertained for an hour and a half. Past parades have included entries from City Council and PTA members, church groups, day care centers, the Rotary Club, a square-dancing club and a neighborhood association.
The grand marshals are always from South Pasadena. This year, reflecting the theme "International Celebration of Freedom," South Pasadena High School's four foreign exchange students will share the honor of being grand marshals.
Peg Sperling, named Senior Citizen of the Year by the South Pasadena Review newspaper, will ride down Mission Street in an antique car.
David Margrave figures that he will float down the street in style. With the relentless heat pouring down on him last week, Margrave put the finishing touches on his entry, a replica of the Civil War battleship USS Monitor.
A former city councilman and owner of a South Pasadena plumbing repair shop, Margrave was one of the organizers of the city's first Fourth of July parade.
"Nothing was happening in town on the Fourth of July so we got together and decided we ought to have a parade," said Margrave, taking a wrench to one of his float's gun turrets. His 39-foot-long entry this year will shoot water and confetti on the crowd and belch balloons from its smokestack.
For a month before the parade, Margrave has worked full-time on his entry, which he built from scraps he salvaged from his business. It will travel down Mission Street on the back of one of his company pickup trucks. The work has been "good for business, and it's fun for me," Margrave said.
His past floats, including a giant outhouse and an elephant, have been top award-winners. This year, he plans to enter the battleship in a San Marino Fourth of July parade as well.
"The idea is to get as many kids involved as possible," he said. His three children, their friends and the children of some of his 12 employees will be riding on the battleship float.
Also riding in the parade will be Ricky and Brooke August, 8 and 4, who will pedal down Mission Street in a surrey with fringe on top that belonged to their mother when she was a child.
"They get a lot out of it because they're participating in something, not just watching," said their mother, Kathleen August. "What makes the parade so much fun is that it's so innocent."
Ricky, who pedals and steers the surrey while Brooke sits in the front, is trying to get in shape for the parade. "I got tired last year, but I drove it the whole way," Ricky said. "I even surprised myself."
About 100 children from the Holy Family Catholic Church's vacation Bible school will be dressed as angels for the parade, pulling the youngest children in little red wagons festooned with blue and silver balloons in the shapes of clouds, stars and suns.
"We've won some kind of award five years in a row now," said Julie Smith, the church's director of pastoral ministry.
The city's Recreation Department is taking a less pastoral approach to the parade, with its 55 day campers dressed as Medflies, said Margaret Carreiro, South Pasadena recreation director.
"Our theme will be freedom from the Medfly," she said, explaining that camp counselors dressed as helicopters will march behind the buzzing flies and carry spray cans to blast them with water on cue.
"Our bus driver thought up the idea," Carreiro said.
This will be the first year that the South Pasadena Chinese American Club will participate in the parade, said member Ines Lee. "This is a local community activity, and it is important for us to show that we are part of the city and that we celebrate along with everybody else," she said.
The group, formed in 1988 to facilitate dialogue between Chinese parents and the South Pasadena school district, has about 200 members, Lee said. About 30 will ride on a truck wrapped in red, white and blue bunting, and their children will walk alongside, handing out flowers to mothers standing along the route.
Of course, it would not be a South Pasadena parade without some mention of the nearby New Year's Day extravaganza. The South Pasadena Tournament of Roses Assn. each year trundles out the bare chassis it uses to construct the city's Rose Parade entry, Shepherd said.
"On Fourth of July it's an ugly duckling, but it becomes a swan on New Year's Day," she said.