Columbus, Ohio USA
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Everybody Loves a Parade
The 30th Somehow-Annual Parade of the Song of the Camp Town Racers
By Allex Spires
September/October 2013 Issue
Thursday, the Fourth day of July in the Hundred-Score-and-Baker’s-Dozenth Year since B.C.(E.)
This is a first-person account of my first experience attending the Doo Dah Parade. If you’d rather read something interesting try Allex Spires’s Doo Dah Parade story in the Short North Gazette.
Photo © Larry Hamill
On the morning of Independence Day 2013, my pal Pat and I played a long, slow game of chess. In the final throes of endgame, we both had one knight and one bishop, and Pat was up two pawns. I was running late, so at 11:40 a.m., I photographed the board. We would finish the game later. By 11:45 we had set off from Clintonville in a noisy ‘96 Saturn. Pat, behind the wheel, steered through the late morning’s light drizzle. We took I-71 south from Cooke Road and hit the Short North just at the stroke of noon. Pat brought us down Second Avenue onto High and dropped me at the corner of Goodale right as the drizzle died down. I walked up to Park Street with a crook-handled bumbershoot dangling from the strap of my satchel bag and then made my way north past the parade participants who performed last-minute setup of their floats and cars, and those with something to say rehearsed their phraseology.
I had never been to a Doo Dah Parade before and found it amazing to see all the freaks, loonies, and nut jobs come out from all over the city to band together as one unstoppable mob showing off what weirdoes they really are to anyone who wanted to see. There were all-American golf carts celebrating American freedom of expression, cyclists, clowns, two motorcyclists in gaudy drag, zombies stumbling around, and our own superhero, Captain Ohio, took the lead.
I stationed myself at the northwest corner of Buttles and Park where I waited for the show to begin. Down Buttles, between Park and High, there was a raging block party that had started at 10 a.m. The Apple Bottom Gang played all-American country music about war, peace, hugs, and booze. Back at my corner a smiling policewoman tried to redirect lost and confused motorists away from the parade route while directing latecomers into the parade lineup. She may have had trouble deciding who was truly lost.
While we waited for the parade to begin – spectators kept arriving every minute – some people left to visit the Doo Dah Parade’s Parade Block Party, others left the party to await the start of the parade. A scene of D.W. Griffith, R.D. Crumb, and A.E. Neuman-inspired Americana unfolded as Captain Ohio officiated over a golf cart traffic jam that was just too much for the policewoman to cope with. A drag saxophonist stood at the lead of a weirdo woodwind jazz band, a tie-dyed Uncle Sam beat a drum-headed garbage can, and a man in long johns labeled “Vote For Me” with a pair of bulls-eye print Y-fronts worn on the outside played a tambourine.
Ahead of the band a red-white-and-blue group of unofficial-looking persons held a banner that read “The End” and designated the Doo Dah Parade as a project of the no-longer-existing Short North Business Association. A last-minute arrival – a shirtless man with long light brown braids who wore black sunglasses, shorts, and boots, and red-white-and-blue socks and suspenders, carryng Old Glory over his shoulder – came along and stood by the banner.
Rain kept threatening, and every now and then a few drops fell across my notebook. A little boy in a Wrigley Field T-shirt, who had a monkey-faced folding chair that kept toppling, cried to his father (whose folding chair worked fine) that he wanted to go home. Just then people started singing that ever-popular Francis Scott Key lyric. When they finished, the parade began.
The banner went by and the woodwind weirdoes played poorly and Captain Ohio grinned wide as he rode past, heroic, on his Ohio motorcycle. There were the Marching Fidels, a lizard-masked man and Star Trek’s Chekov with walkers, and a Camaro Batmobile with appropriate driver. What a sight to have seen and a place to have been as the rain kept threatening and the parade kept going by. There was a clown car, a mermaid-laden Tiki torch car, a Mexican Guy Fawkes with a gigantic telephone. A troupe of toga-clad actors promoting their production of Aristophanes’s Lysistrata, and Swing Columbus dancers came swing dancing down in a misaligned line.
A cadre of CoGo Bike Share cyclists followed a man from the IRS, who wanted us all to keep all of our receipts forever, followed by a group from WCBE who wanted us to pray for public radio. Then came the ghouls and psycho circus clowns and more vegans than any zombie might ever want to eat. Team Fun wore unofficial Grateful Dead tees. NORML carried sign-sized pot leafs and wore pots and pot-leaf garlands on their heads reminding everyone that there’s important stuff on the ballot. A man on a tall unicycle juggled clubs; and the champ wore his boxing gloves and mustache, both costume, as he and his lackeys went strolling by. The Doo Dah Blue Angels flew past in formation and swooped and looped on the ends of wood poles. They came after a crew of cycling Vikings and were followed closely by a Pueblo Indian with a motorcycle and a costume that might have fit into Road Warrior.
A biker cyclist gang all in black and leather led a group of suspensionists from Evolved Tattoo who pulled a very large truck by the skin of their backs. Other tattooed persons on the truck played drums and marimbas while other suspensionists swung from a trailer in back of the truck. Many spectators muttered that seeing this was enough for them. The Zombie Walk crew, and a zombie Uncle Sam, came stumbling by battling rigor mortis for brains. Never Nudes for Local Foods all wore clothes, and a pickup truck that offered a “car pool” had a bed full of water. A man inside splashed at the crowd. It looked like Carmen Miranda had stepped off a banana ahead of the drag bikers, and Dance Walk Columbus marched with a TMNT-colored VW bus that had a stereo inside playing modern disco tunes.
People from Cirque du Soleil handed out masks so we spectators could disguise ourselves from a couple NSA agents who followed them up on bicycles, looking through binoculars and playing Weird Al’s Theme from Spy Hard on a stereo. A minivan displaying 1984-styled “Big Brother” posters with a pyramid on top slowly drove by. Then the Pedal Wagon rolling bar made its way along. The crew from the Studio 35 Rocky Horror Picture Show waved and waggled and did the Time Warp, again and again. Then Clyde Beatty and a clearly tame lion rode past on bikes chasing two gorillas on a tandem bike. A crew of medieval warriors battled each other with foam weapons as they slowly made their way along with the parade. Cheerleaders for debt and civic irresponsibility, dressed in black and pink and waving black pompoms, cheered about what a waste of public money Columbus Commons has been.
The second-to-last attraction was a man in shorter than short shorts who walked an all-American bicycle as he stumbled along. And last of all was a two-tuba band of marching sousaphonists who played Sousa tunes and brought up the rear. The parade lasted about 40 minutes, and as soon as the sousaphone duo passed, spectators left. The rain continued to threaten, and people were walking up and down Park and Buttles to return to their rides while others walked across Goodale Park hoping to safely stay ahead of the weather. I crossed Park Street and went to the Doo Dah Block Party.
A solar panel and a windmill on the back of a truck ran power to a small stage where bands would perform country, blues, rock, and other genres. The audience was pretty small as most spectators had gone home. Those who stuck around mostly went straight to High for a second viewing of the parade which was scheduled to come back southward along the parade route a little before 3 p.m. It was now 1:48 and the rain started falling. People opened umbrellas and awaited the parade’s second pass.
A nameless pushcart sold gyros, cheese-steaks, bratwursts, and hot dogs, and the Late Night Slice truck sold pizza. The pizza line was too long for me, so I ordered a bratwurst for only 3 bucks. I was the third customer back in line and waited patiently for my bratwurst to be thoroughly cooked. By the time I was served, the parade was passing, so I carried my food through the crowd and watched, once again, as the parade went by.
I broke through the throng just in time to see the Marching Fidels. A fisherman who’d hooked a pair of very filthy underpants cast them at the crowd and continued along. The Angela Pace Fan Club praised Doo Dah’s Less-Than-Grand Marshal Diva: former news anchor, Angela Pace. Her regal jeep preceded Captain Ohio and the Batmobile. The High Street crowd seemed much more receptive than the previous spectators. Batman left his car and held up the parade to pose for pictures with children. Robin stayed in the car with both a look of embarrassment and a bushy mustache on his face. The mannequin-armed, baby-doll-headed, figurine-encrusted official Kentucky art car came blaring its horns followed closely by the bamboo Tiki car and a rhinestone studded automobile.
ComFest organizer, Bryant Fried, stood by me on the street. He’d been handed a card by a mad scientist and gave it to me. It said, “Wanted! Human Guinea Pigs!” Mister Fried then told me he’d overheard a small child ask a policeman “Who’s in this parade?” The policeman crouched and, with a smile, told the kid, “Anyone who wants to be.” Fried, a regular spectator at the parade, told me this was one of the best Doo Dahs ever.
A biker cyclist gang is all smiles at the Doo Dah Parade 2013. Photo © Larry Hamill
A trio of drag nuns had confiscated bikes from the CoGo group and rode circles in the street. A horrifying clown walked into the crowd and I told him he was funny. The police ignored numerous spectators who carried beers onto High past a sign that read “No Alcohol Past This Point.” The crowd pushed me back from the street. I could still hear horns, bells, whistles, cheers, buzzing kazoos, and stereos blasting. When I was able to see the parade again, there were a band of pirates with their flag flying high. The suspensionists passed still pulling that truck by the skin on their backs, many bled from their piercings, and a man with a bleeding back swung from his pierced shoulders over the crowd.
Zombie Uncle Sam and his all-American zombie crew preceded the Ohio Roller Girls. Then the waterlogged carpool truck came along and a woman in the back splashed water at my already drizzle-wetted notebook. A truck from Liberty Farm led a sulky-laden painted pony just before the NSA cruised through, still spying hard, with the Statue of Liberty in chains. Those party-crashing drag nuns spread their habit hoods like Sally Field and flew with the oversized paper-airplane-on-a-stick Blue Angels. The cheerleaders for debt hauled a sign that said “The Columbus Crushers” and went on about civic irresponsibility. A crew advertising the new Short North Applebee’s, which will take the place of the North Market as soon as it’s demolished in mid-July, handed out coupons for one free play of any Nickleback song at the forth(unbe)coming restaurant. The nearly nude cyclist staggered out of the parade and into the block party. The two-tuba band remained on High and played all-bass versions of everyone’s favorite Sousa hits. It was already 3:15 and the parade still had a few blocks to go before it would end at 3:pm-ish. When it did end, regular traffic resumed southward on High and soon traffic normalized both ways.
It seemed that most spectators went straight home rather than explore the Short North. I found a relatively dry corner by the Parade Block Party and lit a cigarette. Polite people from NORML almost instantly overtook my space and asked if they could use the dryish place for their petitioning. I stepped aside. They set up a station under two umbrellas with their sign-sized pot leafs advertizing their purpose.
A Budweiser trailer offered American lager to folks who stuck it out in the gently falling rain. The trailer featured a tip jar accepting donations for next year’s Doo Dah. I watched one man give a fifty dollar donation. People took their beers to the Doo Dah High Rollers and Bud Light EZ-Up tent shelter, just a few feet from the beer trailer. There they could enjoy their drinks without letting the rain water them down.
Signs on lamp posts, telephone poles, and the hoods of golf carts declared the parade and party to be in memoriam of Mr. Doo Dah himself, Bill Kiener, who had passed away exactly two months prior. The party’s attendees were having a blast in his honor, dressed in every type of clothing from underwear and halter tops to tees and shorts, khakis and denims, right up through suits of all kinds from leather armor to clown to formal… one man wore a riding cutaway with tails over jeans, a tie and a tee, and platform saddle shoes. Jim Hartman was dancing in his underpants. All were singing, dancing, chatting, and playing grab-ass, smoking grass and cigarettes and nothing at all. There were students, college and middle-aged children, and regular-aged children, young families, oldsters, and infants in strollers. I’d never met Mr. Doo Dah, but I’m sure he’d have approved of the bacchanal frolic that went on.
At 4 p.m. the Late Night Slice truck was cordoned off with a fire-line because someone had placed a backpack nearby on High and walked away. The bomb squad was called in to investigate. One last customer at the pizza truck pumped some garlic butter onto his slice and fled back down Buttles, into the party. The police wouldn’t let me get close.
I rejoined the crowd, and bumped into Central Ohio NORML’s vice president, Michael Revercomb. He wore a flowerpot on his head. He was excited that this Independence Day was the first time since the onset of marijuana prohibition that a traditional US flag made from hemp was flown over the US Capitol building in Washington, DC. We chatted a bit, and he gave me a NORML pin.
I turned back to the party and saw that the fire-line had been removed from the pizza truck’s vicinity. I asked a policeman about the suspicious package. He said it hadn’t been a bomb. Rumor--often wrong but often fun--said the backpack, examined by the Columbus Police Department Bomb Squad, had contained dog poop. I meandered back through the almost invisible army that ensures Doo Dah goes off without a hitch and got in line at the might-have-been exploded pizza truck.
The gyro pushcart pulled out just before 4:30, so the handling of all food business was suddenly the sole duty of Late Night Slice. I ordered a piece with mushrooms and roasted garlic. It was a bit bland. It was not rubbery gross pizza… it was just a bit bland. The bassist from the band Maio & Maio let me have a bottle from the cache of water set aside for the entertainers.
At 4:59 p.m. a Segway tour came along Buttles from Park and rode past the party. The tourists all wore yellow rain ponchos. They zipped by down the sidewalk and were gone on High before the hour was up. The rain stopped completely by 5:30 and a whole new crowd seemed to have replaced the people who had been partying during and after the parade.
There was one arrest. A policeman told me this part: A barefoot man in khaki shorts with a bird tattoo across his chest approached the party, apparently talking to himself. He started dancing to the rock show performance of the last band of the day, McAllister. He ran back to High and started dancing in traffic. Officers in a police wagon, stationed at the intersection after the doggy-doo bomb scare, told him to get out of the road. He ignored them. They beckoned him hither, and he ran circles in the street. The police chased him on foot. One officer fell down in the road.
I only saw this part: The man then ran back to the party closely pursued by the cops. He stopped in front of the stage and started dancing, again. He was then grasped, taken down to his knees by four upset police officers; they pressed his face to the road and put him in handcuffs. He was arrested presumably for public intoxication and fleeing from the police. The music was much too loud for me to hear him shouting at me, so it was probably too loud for him to hear his Miranda rights. The man was escorted to police wagon #168 and driven away.
Just then, Fire Paramedics Medic 1 sped down High with the sirens blaring and missed a turn onto Bollinger. They stopped, made a U-turn and pulled into the narrow street and stopped again just at the corner with the siren lights flashing. No idea why. Then I turned back to the party as Late Night Slice closed their awning. A lot of rainwater spilled onto the street, taking a passerby unaware.
I walked back toward the Park Street end of the party, and some folks invited me onto their porch for a shot of whiskey and a beer. The Doo Dah Party ended at 6 p.m. but people were allowed to hang out until 7. I left at about 6:30 and took a COTA #2 back to Clintonville. I found Pat and reset the chessboard so we could end our game from the morning. I took her bishop and she forfeited the game.
In this and every other way – aside from it being July 4, the whole whack-a-doo parade, the hemp flag over the Capitol, the excessive dancing arrest, the ambulance U-turn, the dog poop bomb bag, the dancing man in underpants, all the rest of the total nuttiness, and my driving Pat to forfeit a chess match – it was just another ordinary day.
© 2013 Short North Gazette, Columbus, Ohio. All rights reserved.
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