As evening and raindrops fell Monday, revelry of an increasingly expanding Dyngus Day revved up.
Polka music blared, smoked sausage smells wafted through the East Side, young women in flowered folk costumes ducked under umbrellas, and Theresa Wanderlich explained the beauty of it all as she adjusted her parade float under protective plastic.
"There so many people down here in this area -- like it used to be," said Wanderlich of the old Polish neighborhood where she still lives.
The increasingly expansive, traditional Polish holiday of post-Lenten revelry has become a celebration of spring, cultural heritage, a unique Buffalo blend of silliness and fun and, for many, a business opportunity.
Locally, 40 official venues from the city to the suburbs had 22 polka bands. Four bus routes connected them all so "people can crisscross Dyngus Nation," said Marty Biniasz. He collaborated with his cousin Eddie Dobosiewicz and helped found Dyngus Day Buffalo, an organization that now has Sobieski Vodka sponsorship money and T-shirt and red beaded necklace giveaways.
Each year for the last five years, the collection of party-hosting veterans halls, churches and bars, including the Central Terminal train station, has grown. (This year there were even parties in Cleveland, South Bend and Pittsburgh.) Sales of party-entry wrist bands seem to go up by about 20 percent, said Biniasz, who said last year's count was 100,000.
"We've been able to market and package really a Dyngus festival," said Biniasz, who has marveled at how people in the crowds now wear red in tribute to the red and white of the Polish flag.
"That is a totally new phenomenon," he said.
Two Italian friends admired the Buffalo party tradition as they wore red shirts at the Knights of Columbus hall on Union Road in Cheektowaga, where Grammy-winning polka singer Jimmy Sturr was making his first Buffalo appearance with his band.
John Lascala had taken the day off from work and brought along a friend from Rochester who had long been curious about the parties. Once Lascala had been amazed to see the floor moving up and down as people did the chicken dance. He explained the role of squirt guns. "You feel a sudden bead of water on your face. Someone's flirting with you," he smiled.
The new Dyngus popularity persuaded the Knights of Columbus hall, which had given up Dyngus years ago, to drop Monday bingo and try again. With its front and back rooms crowded with people dancing to the tight, brassy sounds of Sturr's band, clearly they had made the right choice. This could be one of the year's biggest fundraisers, said Carl Dux, board chairman, as he stood watching people in Polish T-shirts wander in and out.
A group of 16 friends printed up their own custom "Poland Shore" shirts in a spoof of the show "Jersey Shore."
"We thought of it while we were getting together for a Sabres game, and it just kind of snowballed from there," said John Young.
There were so many parties, most had a circuit of Dyngus stops planned so as not to miss anything.
"I'm not going to stay in one place for more than an hour," said Michal Zachowicz, wearing a red shirt, white tie and drinking a small cup of honey liqueur called krupnik.
The biggest collection of parties within walking distance was in the city's old East Side neighborhood, where the Central Terminal train station and outdoor lawn tent were full of people by late afternoon.
Then there was the very wet parade, which began near the Broadway Market. Cars lined up had rear view mirrors tied with clusters of the fuzzy willow branches. Some were filled with red and white balloons, the colors of the Polish flag. A man walked down the street in a yellow costume like a marshmallow Peep. Silver mannequins held beer cans on one float. The creation Wanderlich tended on a car roof was a tribute to neighborhood buildings in miniature, including Corpus Christi Church and a little Superman figure by its famous Clark and Kent street intersection, where she stood and where the fifth annual parade was about to begin.
At nearby Arty's tavern, on the corner of Peckham Street and Memorial Drive, a line formed at the front door, and the outdoor tent recently added to the party was full of people.
"Each year we've grown a little bit," said John Taylor as he stood by a pot of cooked sausage. His family owns the place, and he remembered the old days when Dyngus was mostly celebrated within the Polish community. It was low-key. There was free food in a back room, and the owner's wife used to sprinkle people with water from a salt shaker.
Now, regular business is much slower. Dyngus crowds help a lot.
"It'll keep the bar going for another year," he said.