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Trial Run Keeps Parade Hopes Afloat

In pre-New Year's Day test drive, Rose Parade floats must meet requirements on a 150- to 200-point checklist.

October 05, 2003|Stephanie Chavez | Times Staff Writer

It's one thing to have to pass a test drive, proving that your 76-foot-long Rose Parade float can make a right turn, stop, go and retract from 28 feet to 17 feet in seconds. That's all about mechanics. Problems can be solved in the shop.

It's another thing to get 30 excited Cerritos high school musicians, with their trombones and flutes in tow, to sit still on it and pretend they are playing their instruments. That's all about behavior. Problems? Well, everyone has pledged to be good.

No throwing flowers from the float on parade day. No picture taking. No screaming, "Hi Mom!"

It's not even Halloween yet, but the floats are already rolling and flexing their rebar in anticipation of the New Year's morning parade. The fall ritual of the Tournament of Roses' official float test drive unfolded on a Duarte street like some ramshackle parade. A big, naked float with exposed plywood and Styrofoam demonstrated its maneuverability and safety-worthiness to carry riders before a team of inspectors.

By the end of the month, all 52 float entries will have been inspected by the tournament's team of seven professional mechanics, who have expertise in structural engineering, metallurgy, propulsion and engine functions.

"We have a 150- to 200-point checklist and every item must meet compliance," said chief mechanic Chris Link, who, like the other mechanics, wore a white tournament jumpsuit with his name embroidered on the front.

The city of Cerritos float will glide in a class all its own as the longest entry in the parade. It also presented safety considerations Saturday because of the sheer number of float riders it will carry. There will be 40 people aboard, including an orchestra, a conductor and an assortment of Cerritos denizens dressed as theatergoers, simulating opening night at a grandiose concert hall.

Could two retractable chandeliers, which will be hoisted 28 feet in the air, clobber a teen musician seated below, asked an inspector? No, said float builder Tim Estes of Fiesta Parade Floats. Besides, the chandeliers are made of foam.

Other inspectors asked why the orchestra riders didn't have seat belts. This is the first time the riders have been properly positioned, Estes said. Seat belts for everyone to come. But what about the percussion guys standing in the back? They'll get a lean bar with belts.

John Delgatto, chairman of the tournament's float construction committee, turned over a checklist to Estes for the fixes -- "Nothing out of the ordinary," he said.

For the city of Cerritos, which is spending $200,000 of its general fund money to pay for their float, Saturday's test drive offered officials the first live glimpse of their investment, designed by Raul Rodriguez. Mayor Gloria Kappe said that the hoopla surrounding the float brings together more than 1,200 volunteers who will decorate the float during city-sponsored trips to its Duarte barn.

"It's necessary to find ways to bring a community together," Kappe said. "And this is one way. Plus, the city will get nationwide recognition."

While float entries are primarily about generating publicity, float riders are primarily concerned with not falling off -- especially the first time they strap themselves into positions.

"Well, this is going to be kinda cool," said Mayor Kappe, as she took her standing position at the head of the float, balancing herself on a plywood platform about 16 inches by 16 inches.

"I'm thinking right now about what kind of shoes I'm going to wear," she said, analyzing her limited foot-space. "Nothing too high -- something spongy."

Isaac Wayne, a Whitney High School piano player, took his seat at a faux grand piano, which will rotate in the center of the float. His friends and float inspectors watched him go round and round for the half-hour test and became worried when he seemed a bit green.

"You OK?" one float inspector asked. Wayne tilted his hand back and forth, signaling that he was feeling queasy.

"It would be great if it wasn't going so fast," Wayne said. "After a while I got used to it. I think it will be doable."

Although a float inspector suggested slowing down the rotating piano, Estes said it needs to turn at the current speed to maximize its effect on television.

"This is a problem that can be solved with Dramamine," he said.

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