It was Mike Ditka who once said, “If you’re not in the parade, you watch the parade. That’s life.”
Here’s guessing the famed Chicago Bears coach never attended a St. Patrick’s Day Parade in Buffalo.
In the cold.
In a crowd.
In a sea of green.
It’s 1:30 p.m. Sunday, just half an hour before the parade is scheduled to start. A black Jeep filled with a group of young women is cruising up Franklin Street with the sunroof open. “Happy St. Patrick’s Day,” one yells out. A middle-aged man in a kilt, meanwhile, is walking up Franklin, headed toward Niagara Square, where the parade will begin. “Going to march with the Emerald Society,” says Denis Lates, a retired parole officer. “Yesterday we marched, too.”
By 1:45 p.m., the crowd assembles along Delaware Avenue, and it’s obvious that Delaware and West Chippewa Street is the most popular corner along the route. In fact, the crowd is already a quarter ways down Chippewa toward Franklin – too far for most to see the parade. Daren VanEvery found what he considered the perfect spot a block in, at the corner of Delaware and West Huron Street.
“I went up and down Delaware,” he says. “It’s not so crowded for me here, and I want to see the grandstand.”
It’s now 2 p.m. Let the parade begin. Five police motorcycles line up across Delaware to start things off. Behind them are marchers carrying American and Irish flags. Behind them are the Gordon Highland bagpipe players, and behind them is the grand marshal.
The politicians are next: Mayor Byron W. Brown, State Sen. Timothy M. Kennedy and Rep. Brian Higgins.
By 2:15 p.m., some of the more popular parade events start. The South Park High School Band comes by, then, a giant Lucky Charms box floats down the street. Next are the Irish dancers with their colorful costumes and curly hair. Jayla Carreras, of East Aurora, who watched much of the parade on her father’s shoulders, says she likes everything in the parade, but especially the dancers. “I dance, too,” she says. Her dad says she takes tap and ballet lessons.
By 2:30 p.m., half an hour into the parade, it has become more and more evident that it’s too cold to be standing outside: 16 degrees. Ed McMahon, a vendor who has a stand filled with parade mementos including beads and horns, says gloves, scarves and hats are the most popular items this year. “Of course, horns are always big,” he adds.
A short distance away, Dave Yager has a food stand. Yakisoba noodles. Is that Irish? Yager is asked. “No, Japanese,” he says, then goes on to explain that his wife, who is Chinese, usually works with him at festivals, but this year, she stayed home because of the weather. “If it wasn’t so cold,” he says, his teeth almost chattering as he spoke.
By 3 p.m., with more than half the parade having passed by the Delaware and Huron and Delaware and Chippewa corners, the crowd is having a great time, drinking beer, eating kettle corn, meeting up with friends. Seems the parade itself isn’t always the main attraction. Until that is, the “potty wagon,” goes by.
Yes, a potty wagon, which is basically a toilet seat on wheels. With the paradegoers’ attention now refocused on the parade itself, the fire trucks that come by next get a round of applause.
Are people watching the parade or enjoying the beer and party atmosphere on the street? Kayla Rinaldi, of Clarence, is asked. “Bits and pieces of both,” she says. “I like the potty wagon. It was cool. And I like the fire truck.” Her friend Ken Mosky, of Cheektowaga, agrees. “That’s why we came,” he says. “For the parade.
By 3:15 p.m., as the parade is dying down, it’s hard to find many people on the street without a beer – mostly Bud Lights – in their hands, especially around Chippewa. No one seems out of line. With the large police presence along the parade route, it’s hard to imagine there’s much room for rowdiness. Still, the amount of beer that was consumed over the course of the parade is evident by a tree on Delaware near Chippewa with empty beer cans hung on the branches. On the other side of the street, a few men can be seen with big plastic bags, filling them with empty beer cans and bottles they find on the street or in garbage cans. Lots of nickels to be made.
“I think I got 100 cans,” Hassan Teya says. “I got a lot. People are celebrating.”
Which all leads one to wonder if Ditka was right. If you’re not in the parade, are you just watching?
Willie Bianzano is standing on a ledge between Starbucks and the sidewalk, with dyed hair, and wearing St. Patrick’s Day beads and a multilayered, multicolored frilly skirt that was attracting lots of attention from passers-by. “I’m wearing green today,” he says.
Standing next to him is Josh Tschari, an Erie Community College student covered from head to toe in a green body leotard with shamrocks stamped on it. The leotard completely covered his face. “ ’Cause I’m Irish,” he says, explaining his unusual outfit.
Who has more fun? Tschari is asked. The people in the parade or the people watching?
“The people who come to watch,” he says without hesitating.
Why? he’s asked.
“ ’Cause,” he says, “everyone who watches gets to drink.”