Have the Sirens Stopped Screaming, Clarice? The Stow 4th of July Parade, Sponsored by Beltone

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76 street sweepers followed the Big Parade.

Submitted: July 21, 2018

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Submitted: July 21, 2018

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HAVE THE SIRENS STOPPED SCREAMING, CLARICE? The Stow 4th of July Parade, Sponsored by Beltone.

The Victorians essentially perfected the Christmas holiday season, and the Puritans put a clear thumbprint on the celebration we now call Thanksgiving. However, the city of Stow OWNED the 4th of July; the competition was and still is for second place. Other cities may think they can assemble an acceptable bevy of Shriner midget cars, high school bands, beauty queens and themed floats, but when I was a child in the early 1970s, the Stow, Ohio Fourth of July parade operated on a completely different plane of existence. Route 59 through town became the epicenter of a 3 hour tribute to the civic duty gods.

The parade started assembling at the Stow-Kent Shopping Center, which was really the only location on that end of the street capable of supporting so many parade entrants. The parade route was one street running east to west, terminating at a review stand several miles away in the so-called downtown section of Stow. The mayor and other dignitaries would congregate at that review stand, but most of us regular folk would find a spot along Kent Road, pull out an old-school lawn chair and wait for clear signs of an impending parade. We usually didn't have to wait long. A few police officers on motorcycles would clear the stragglers off the street just before the largest peace time armada of emergency vehicles ever assembled started the festivities.

In the annals of historically bad ideas, one immediately springs to mind: Assembling a collection of fire trucks and ambulances from a three county area and having them drive single-file down the same stretch of densely populated highway. The CONCEPT of seeing a fleet of shiny fire trucks driving down our street sounded promising indeed to a 6 year old. However, the execution was a completely different story. As part of the parade ritual, all of these emergency vehicles decided to turn on their lights and sirens at the same time and for the same duration, which is to say, forever. The cumulative effect of all of those outside voices was a mind-numbing deafness, which lingered for the rest of the now-silent parade. To add audio insult to sonic injury, some of those fire engines also blew their diesel horns, which entered our bodies at the ear canal and exited out of places we forgot we had.

After the Beltone-sponsored parade of emergency vehicles passed by, life along the sidelines got a little easier. The American Field Service volunteers would walk up and down the parade route, hawking very small American flags that we would dutifully wave at the parade participants. For us kids, this was all leading up to the most important part of the parade: the candy toss. This was no small thing. Someone on a passing float would toss a handful of candy in our direction and a sugar-fueled feeding frenzy would begin. Every once in a while, an errant pitch would send the bulk of the candy in one direction and one direction only. Mine. Before I could pack up all of that Bubble Yum or Tootsie Roll booty, however, my mom would remind me of my Gallant tendencies and I'd end up redistributing it to the less fortunate. Darn the less fortunate.

One group that both scared and excited me was the Shriners, or as I thought of them, the old guys with the funny hats. At one point, their stunt vehicles of choice were Honda mini-bikes, which they would ride in intricate formations at different points along the route. Before going into their routine, however, a few of the flying monkey men would zip across the sidelines to make sure no groundlings were in the path of the mini-bikes. That little safety maneuver scared me to death, since I was often too busy picking up stray candy to notice a Shriner barreling down on top of me with 50 ccs of raw power behind him. The Shriners later switched to those miniature clown cars, which seemed to ratchet back the drama of non-athletic competition, in my younger opinion. You could only do so much damage in a clown car, and if these men thought riding mini-bikes designed for 8 year olds made them look like dorks on parade, the cars were not exactly babe wagons, either.

What happened next could only be described as an object lesson in terminal whiteness. The area high school bands would all march down the parade route in a stupefyingly predictable order: Majorettes, banner, drum major, band, band directors. Majorettes, banner, drum major, band, band directors. The upper funk limit for most of these bands was Stevie Wonder's “Sir Duke”. Bands from Tallmadge, Hudson, Cuyahoga Falls, Kent and most notably, Stow, would take turns performing these squeaky tight Marvin the Martian arrangements of traditional march music and fight songs. Stow's fight song was the same as Ohio State's: “Across the Field” (alternative lyrics not included). Precision was the underlying theme, and for the most part we appreciated the homage to discipline and order. We were still Midwesterners, after all.

But nothing, NOTHING, prepared us for the volunteer drum corps from Akron. They wore purple and black uniforms, and clearly brought the funk from the county seat. No clarinets, no flutes, no saxophones; just trumpets and a boatload of drums. These guys didn't march in hyper-straight formations; they didn't really “march” at all. They eased on down the road with a solid BOOM-CHAKA-LAKA, BOOM-CHAKA-LAKA back beat driving them the whole way. As a young, frightened Caucasian, I had read the forbidden texts concerning funk, but during the Stow 4th of July parade, I actually had a chance to experience it in person. I liked it. I really liked it.

One of the more interesting, and one would think least innocent bystander-friendly, participants in the parade were the stunt shooters from Akron. At regular intervals along the route, a volunteer sitting in the back of an open-bed truck would hold out a balloon and shout “Fire!”. At this point, the three trick shooters walking behind the truck would whip out their six-shooters and shoot the balloon dead. These people were lightning fast and extremely accurate, two qualities I admired in stunt shooters with live ammunition walking down a crowded street. I found out later that they only shot wax bullets, which would disintegrate on contact with the balloon. The version inside my eight-year-old mind was much better.

The floats were almost always from the “Red, White and Blaine” school of civic pride, and it was always interesting to see someone I knew from school or church strapped to one, but I noticed that some of my friends couldn't handle the pressures of sudden float fame. They would Bogart the candy, for one thing. After all we had been through from Kindergarten to July 3rd of that year, the least a buddy on a Stow Lions Club float could do was hook a brother up with that sweet, sweet Tootsie Roll action. Ingrates.

th of July parades. The parade participants who routinely gathered the most applause and adulation from the crowd weren't the high school bands, the gleaming and historical emergency vehicles or the local civic leaders. We saved our loudest cheers for the rows of street cleaners with their cheerfully waving drivers, who closed out the parade in style. Well, except for those of us who watched our last shot at Bazooka Joe and Dum Dums get swept away forever.

 


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