I’m certain I stiff armed a clown at some point and grabbed a Frisbee just before contact with my patrons.
After almost 5 months on the road without seeing my family, the last place you would think we would meet is in a parking lot all wearing orange shirts to stand out from the crowd as ushers at a parade. That is exactly how it happened though. This would be the first day we would all volunteer together, and I was excited for the experience. It should be noted that my Mom and brother are very active volunteers at the Humane Society and the World Bird Sanctuary in St. Louis, so they have volunteered together often. Any other times I can remember were as Cub Scouts or in school. This would certainly be the first time when we were all adults (or as much of an adult as one can be while living out of his car…).
Upon arriving in the parking lot 2nd, I knew I was going to hear about being “late”. “Good to see you after 5 months!”…not a chance. A little jab about the “captain” showing up “late” from my Dad came first. Of course, my Mom led with the warm welcome. I parked what felt like a couple football fields away as they wanted the volunteer cars at the very back of the lot. The walk across the parking lot probably could have made it in a movie (comedy of course) as my Mom insisted on waving almost the entire time. I will admit I was smiling pretty much the whole way. Even chuckled a little as I ran through the jab that I knew was coming about me being late…although for the record, I was still there ahead of when we were supposed to arrive. Just not before them…which made me late.
After greetings, we headed towards our station. On the way, I must have asked about sunscreen, chapstick, and lunch as my mom was increasingly more shocked I had made it this far on the journey without her. My dad and brother quizzed me on the info packet that was sent out and I passed with flying colors…or at least enough to convince them I had read it. Cramming for tests my whole life up until this year paid off I guess. Arrival at our station brought more confusion than clarity as we saw very few orange shirts. We looked for guidance and found little. Our only instruction was to meet at our section with our leader. Soon we realized there was a gathering one section over and they had reassigned some ushers. Apparently our last minute add to the schedule was not communicated to our leader. It was good that we were there though because a number of ushers had not shown up.
After spending a great deal of time walking up and down sections 31 & 32 to fully grasp the chalk system the boy scouts had put in place for the seating arrangements, I was more than ready. My left palm was probably less familiar to me at this point. Then, we learned we would be moved to section 29 & 30. I was devastated. Well, not really I guess. The numbering was pretty much the same in the next section over. As a one-time a year event though, the numbering system WAS chalk drawn in front of the chairs. The parade was sold out this year and over 300,000 people lined the streets to watch the festivities. Not surprisingly, some people started showing up well in advance. After a feeling out process, we each took a corner of our section with two of us on each side of the street.
The interactions with the folks being seated were a true pleasure. There were people from Canada to Arizona there for the first time that I seated right alongside folks who lived walking distance and had been out almost every year since the parade started (60 years now). The shade was at a premium, and I was always happy to be the bearer of good news when I learned their seats would be in the shade. During the first half, I had the shade side, so the good news came often. After a little while, I did the good son deed and switched with my mom though. My slight sun burn was my reward, but it also assured me that I would be very liberal applying my sunscreen the next day at the Indy 500.
One of the best parts of the day was the fact that we got to watch the parade for most of the time as people are supposed to be in their seats by the start of the parade. After waiting 10 minutes or so to seat the stragglers, we sat down for the parade. We each recounted some of the best and worst interactions from the day.
My favorite was walking an elderly couple from one side of the section to the shaded section. Probably only about 90% sure there seats were in the shade, you would have thought I was 100% sure as I built up the seats the whole way. No doubt I would have been 100% sure had we not moved sections shortly before the start of the race. Although not too far away, our pace was not the quickest. Of course by this time, the clowns were out on stilts and mopeds riding around. Walking across the parking lot for what seemed like 5 minutes to meet my family could have fit right in an exaggerated scene for a comedy movie, but this walk easily took the cake. It felt like we were walking through a circus. I’m certain I stiff armed a clown at some point and grabbed a Frisbee just before contact with my patrons. Luckily, we made it to the seats and they were in the shade. I wiped my brow. Everyone who has a last name that starts with Z and had to wait for what surely seemed like an eternity before getting a test back knows how my stomach churned on that walk as I hoped I was right about the shade. I pushed the chips in the right basket though, and as I reached for a handshake I saw a tip headed my way. I surely do hope our generation continues the coy slip of the tip in a handshake. After years of working at a golf course though, I saw this one coming a mile away…or maybe it was just a 100 yards that we walked. Regardless, I had to politely decline the tip (multiple times of course) and wish them a happy parade.
Once we finished sharing our stories and watched the parade, we were very entertained. One of the largest parades in the nation behind the Pasadena Tournament of Roses and the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade, the parade was truly a spectacle. The parade is put on by the 500 Festival which has contributed more than $400 million in economic value to Indianapolis. Founded in 1957, the 500 Festival is a not-for-profit organization that produces more than 50 life-enriching events and programs while celebrating the spirit and legacy of the Indianapolis 500 and fostering positive impact on the city of Indianapolis and state of Indiana.
We may have been volunteering as a family for the first time, but we got some good marks from our coordinator Mary Ann. She was a long-time volunteer (she had all the pins on from each volunteer experience) and gave us all good marks as she explained we were doing a much better job than the section next to us. There were a lot of things we could have done that Saturday morning as we saw each other for the first time in almost 5 months, but there is no doubt in my mind that meeting in a parking lot all wearing the same orange shirt was the best of the lot.