Saturday, July 08, 2006

THE CITY DESK - Rory Riddler, Councilman Ward 1

St. Charles July Fourth Parade
Is Rockwell Painting In Motion
If famed illustrator Norman Rockwell had wanted to portray a slice of Americana, he would have found no more engaging subject than our own Fourth of July Parade. Looking for something As American As Apple Pie? Look no further than the red, white and blue pageantry of the flatbeds and floats, civic groups, politicians, and bands that blend together so well on this day of celebration.

Study each crepe paper creation on its own for too long and they can lose their luster. This isn’t the Rose Bowl or Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade. Every petal isn’t meticulously glued in place. No Broadway stars illuminate the floats. No armies of balloon handlers choreograph the flight of giant cartoon characters down the streets of our town.

Yet each Fourth of July, no matter how many summers we’ve managed to live to that point, we all receive a very special gift. We have the opportunity to once more watch the parade with the eyes of our youth…where every blemish fades in the haze of a hot summers day. No greater proof is needed of the appeal of this parade than the large crowds and the fact people were putting out blankets and chairs to hold their spots along the parade route, two hours before it began.

This year our household arose early to help assemble one of the floats and blow up balloons. That left me free to be a spectator this year, from the front porch of my brother’s home, and to write this chronicle of the 2006 July Fourth Parade in the City of St. Charles, on this the 230th year of our nation’s birth.

The Jaycees (who organized the parade) were well represented on their antique fire truck at the head of the parade. The Mayor and several of my fellow Council members were each riding in their own classic convertible. As far as I know, they don’t get to keep the convertibles. Councilman John Gieseke chose to walk the parade route shaking hands and kissing babies. Or was it shaking babies and kissing hands?

Here are a few of the groups, businesses and individuals represented in no particular order of appearance: There were civic and charitable groups, like The Red Cross and St. Charles Kiwanis. There were also youth groups like the Boys & Girls Club, 4-H, Junior Football (seems too hot for football) and the Boy Scouts, closely followed by a bevy of Girl Scouts. Or is a claque of Girl Scouts? In the over specialization category, there were the members of the Fort Zumwalt High School Junior Varsity Ice Hockey Cheerleaders or the FZHSJVIHC for short. “Give me an F…etc., etc., so on and so forth.”

In the performance category the crowds were aptly entertained by the St. Charles Municipal Band en masse on a flatbed truck, a ‘50s era float featuring songs by the talented Patt Holt Singers, the patriotic samplings of the St. Charles West Marching Band and the flag twirling precision of the Hardin Middle School Color Guard. My personal favorite had to be the Moolah Shrine precision drill team and Drum Corps. Each member resplendent in red fez and golden sash, the twenty- man drill team performed close order drill moves that thrilled the crowd. Fortunately they weren’t wearing scimitars in those sashes or they could have done themselves physical harm.

I don’t want to forget the business entries. Allied Waste, Yellow Cab, Baue Funeral Home, Jehling’s Hardware, Bogey Limousine Service, The Montgomery County Speedway and the Verlo Mattress Factory demonstrated their community spirit. It’s sometimes too easy to dismiss commercial participation in civic events as self-serving. But each of these businesses seems to take genuine pride in being part of the fabric of our hometown and I thank them for it.

Tony’s Barber Shop shied away from reminding guys like me to get a haircut with a simple heartfelt message to Support Our Troops. The Orchard Farm VFW also came out to show their patriotism and support for our men and women in uniform.

There were numerous Churches and religious groups represented among the entries. It was hard not to see the Knights of Columbus in their red and black capes and ostrich plumed hats. It takes an act of faith to dress in a black suit and walk in a parade in July around here. Ridgecrest Baptist, St. Johns United Church of Christ and Church of the Shepard showed their colors as well.

Also looking a little hot in their wool clothing and stiff tall collars were the men of the Discovery Expedition in the period uniforms of the Lewis and Clark Expedition (circa 1804). At least they were able to ride in one of the replica boats of the period. Lewis and Clark’s men would have spent most of their time pulling the boat against the current upstream.

There are female members of the group who help portray frontier women they would have encountered here in St. Charles. The women looked a bit cooler in classic Empire dresses of the period, but my wife reminded me that the square openings on the bodices pose their own unique sunscreen challenges.

Also touting another annual events, were the entries advertising the Festival of the Little Hills. It was good to see both Bob and Clara Scott on their float, having donated so many years of their lives to the event and numerous other civic and community groups.

Which brings me to perhaps the largest sub-group of participants…the candidates for public office. The July 4th Parade seems to be the one time they are truly welcomed at an event. Other events during the year usually try to run them off. That’s harder to do at a celebration of the birth of representative democracy in America.

Pat Riley, Republican candidate for Sheriff, had in tow the front end of a fighter jet. Not a paper-mache mock up…a real fighter jet. It made we wonder just how tough he was going to get on crime.

Also causing me to scratch my head, was an entry by the “Conservative Ladies Association Sharp Shooters” or CLASS. Their float sported a painting of a woman with an elephant’s head and an automatic pistol in her hand. As a gun owner myself, I support our 2nd Amendment rights. I also remember we have a 1st Amendment and a bunch more that Congress doesn’t seem to want to stand up and defend anymore.

I guess I was just wondering why there also wasn’t a painting of a woman with a donkey’s head and a hunting rifle? I also thought the woman in the painting looked way too thin to have an elephant’s head. An anthropomorphic figure (yes that’s a real word) of a cross between an elephant and a human being, would likely have a bigger…but I digress.

Rick Zerr and Rich Veit, both Republicans running for judgeship positions, had red, white and blue strings of beads. It was a nice give-away item, but didn’t get the crowd too excited. I felt sorry for the candidates with the lame give-away items. You know, rulers and pocket calendars. Imagine you’re a kid enjoying your summer vacation and someone hands you a ruler for school. It has the same depressing effect as back to school sale signs in stores.

City Councilman Joe Koester, who is taking on incumbent State Representative Tom Dempsey in November, had a large contingent of volunteers and was working hard to shake every hand along the parade route. I get the impression that race is heating up faster than the asphalt.

County Councilwoman Sally Faith had her volunteers dressed in yellow shirts. Right behind her was Doug Saulters, another Republican running for Sheriff, who had his volunteers in yellow T-Shirts. I wonder if they felt the same way some women do when they go to a party wearing the same dress?

I also want to thank parade organizers for still allowing candy to be thrown from floats. Catching it in bags, baseball caps or free hand is one of the great joys of youth. Those parades that don’t always say tossing candy will put someone’s eye out, but never seem to produce the one eyed victim who seems more a product of urban myth.

This year’s hot items with the kids were the white helium balloons given out by Charles Karam, Democratic candidate for Congress in the 2nd District, and frozen flavored Icees given out by Scott Shipman, running for County Assessor.

Charles Karam was there in person shaking hands. That puts him one up on the Republican incumbent Todd Akin, who wasn’t. It also plays into Karam’s favorite theme, that he’s running against the “invisible” Congressman.

Republican United States Senator Jim Talent wasn’t here, but had a float and workers. Strangely, his Democratic challenger Claire McCaskill, who is ahead in the polls, didn’t.

The arrival of the City aerial fire truck, LSV, motorcycle policeman and the Mounted Patrol, marked the end of the parade. I estimated 700 people were in the parade itself. At least 4,000 watched the parade and my estimate is probably low.

If you were a kid and walked away from this parade with a Karam for Congress balloon, a Scott Shipman Icee and pocketful of candy, it was a good day. If you were an adult and walked away feeling proud of your country, proud of your hometown and a little bit like a kid again…it was a good day too.