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Rain Dampens Everything but Spirit

For the first time in 51 years, the Rose Parade is drenched, but plucky participants roll along.

January 03, 2006|Steve Chawkins | Times Staff Writer

With magic as the theme of the 117th Rose Parade, organizers pulled one big, bedraggled, chilled, soggy rabbit out of their hat Monday -- only the 10th time in the event's history that rain dumped on huddled masses yearning to be dry.

Even so, hundreds of thousands of sturdy, poncho-clad souls lined Pasadena streets to cheer the 25 marching bands, gape at the 48 immense, flower-bedecked, computer-animated floats, and wave at Supreme Court Justice Sandra Day O'Connor, the parade's grand marshal.

O'Connor was only the second Supreme Court justice to ride in the parade, with Chief Justice Earl Warren doing the honors in 1955. That was also the last time rain visited, though by comparison with Monday's downpour, it was a mere moistening or, as The Times described it, "distilled sunshine."

On Monday morning, the sun was every one of its 93 million miles away, but true believers in the parade's magic were warmed anyway.

John Poole, 72, of Pasadena shouted "Thank you!" whenever a marching band passed his spot near the end of the parade's 5 1/2 -mile route. To the squadrons of Boy Scouts and Girl Scouts who ushered each float, he yelled: "Yay, Scouts!"

"These kids need all the cheers and applause they can get," said Poole, who sends his relatives in Maine a program before every parade so they can follow along on TV.

Ordinarily, the Rose Parade is a kind of infomercial for citrus-sweet, sun-drenched Southern California. This year, it would have been tough to inspire jealousy in even the weariest, most sun-starved, slush-bound Easterner.

The cheerleaders they saw on TV were peppy and beautiful, but had to keep a game face through cascades of running mascara. The flag twirlers had to deal with sodden pennants that bunched up like wet laundry. And hundreds upon hundreds of marching band members were soaked down to their arpeggios.

"For the record, ponchos don't keep you dry," said Tracy Wilson, a USC trombonist who was trying to warm up after the band did one last spirited round of "Fight On!" at the end of the parade.

"It was rough at first," Wilson said, recalling the sheets of rain that for a time pounded the crowd like some biblical curse. "But after a while, it was like -- whatever!"

That was also the philosophy of the hardy folks who camped out on Pasadena streets for as long as 24 hours before the deluge. With gaps among even the coveted grandstand seats, there were fewer spectators than the 750,000 who thronged the city last year, but parade officials Monday had no attendance estimates.

On Sunday night, Dave Marriner, 50, and his wife, Nancy, 49, huddled with friends around a Coleman lantern set atop a cardboard box brimming with cookies. With their son David, 21, playing in the USC band, Dave, of Incline Village, Nev., has attended every USC home game for four years.

"This is a culmination of everything we've done," he said, peeking out from under a large blue poncho.

Sunday was also the couple's 28th wedding anniversary. Earlier, they ran into Pomona resident Gustavo Ramirez, 34, who was carrying a bouquet of red roses. When Nancy asked about them, Ramirez, a peace activist, offered her one, explaining that they were in memory of a friend who died in Iraq on Christmas Eve.

"I was touched because it was their 28th anniversary," said Ramirez, who joined the group again later that night. "Afterward, we walked together and talked about our families and they offered me food. Wouldn't it be great if the world was always like this?"

Pasadena wasn't quite utopia Monday, but it was still pretty good. Police reported 12 arrests -- about half the average for Rose Parade weekend. All but one of them were misdemeanors. Seventeen people, including some band members flirting with hypothermia, were treated for minor injuries during the parade.

Calling the event "near-perfect," Tournament of Roses officials were enthusiastic over the efficiency of the parade, which, as usual, was helped along by more than 900 white-suited volunteers.

"We are literally amazed at how smoothly the parade operated with such challenging conditions," said Bill Flinn, chief operating officer of the Pasadena Tournament of Roses Assn., the nonprofit group that produces the event. Flinn said the horse bringing up the parade's rear crossed the finish line 15 minutes ahead of schedule.

Waving at the crowd from a 1934 Packard, O'Connor expressed amazement at the persistence of the "die-hard, enthusiastic Rose Paraders" who stuck around through rain and biting winds.

She told parade officials she was looking forward to doing the ritual coin toss to start the Rose Bowl game, joking that she would sometimes like to use the same technique on the bench.

Jokes aside, there were a few parade glitches.

Four floats -- from Burbank and Sierra Madre, the Disney Co., and Trader Joe's -- broke down, probably because of wet conditions.

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