Friday, March 14, 2008

Wearing of the Green (and other such nonsense)...

Could the evil spell of the cantankerous Winter Warlock finally be losing is hold on us? Could it be that he may finally be bidding a long overdue retreat into his desolate, frozen crypt for the year?

This winter has been particularly long. Between the schizophrenic weather with record-breaking snowfall and several fake, all too brief thaws, stir-crazy kids in desperate need of outdoor activity, a desolate economic watseland stretching our resolve to the breaking point, and the world in general being in seemingly unending turmoil, we FINALLY come to the seasonal turning point for me and my family...

...Saint Patrick's Day!!!!

Easter is often looked upon as the symbolic beginning of Spring for most. Bright flowers (greenhouse grown, riddled with pesticides, then cut or potted), festively colored eggs (chemically dyed), and the Christian time of renewal (oddly enough, replete with Pagan iconography). While I like and appreciate Easter for all of its well-intentioned symbolism and faith-based sentiment, it's not Easter that symbolizes the beginning of Spring for me - it's St. Patty's Day.

Each year for the past decade or so, on the Sunday before St. Patty's Day, my family has headed down to Corktown in Detroit by the old Tiger Stadium for the annual Detroit St. Patrick's Day Parade. For some reason, for all of the parades that I can remember, the weather has always been spectacular. After 4 months of the cold, gray Michigan winter, the parade weather has always been bright, sunny, (relatively) warm and just down-right Spring-like, seeming to turn on a dime and go from blizzard the week before to near Utopian the day of. This year seems to be no exception.

Last week we got pummeled with snow, sleet, ice and a bit of rain, throwing temporal constants to the wind and making winter seem perpetual. Over the past couple days, as if Mother Nature wanted to be sure to get the last remnants of the ice patches (formerly thigh-high piles of snow) out of the way by the start of the parade, the sun has shone and the temperatures have crept up into the tolerable range. The outlook for Sunday: sunny and mid to upper 40's. Not exactly tropical, but a damned sight better that what we've dealt with for the last 1/3 of a year.

The Annual Corktown Saint Patrick's Day Parade, held along Michigan Avenue between the Lodge Freeway and the old Michigan Central Depot train station is a spectacular, festive celebration of everything Irish, Detroit, Spring, and just plain fun. The feel is almost like Mardi Gras, with costumes, music, beads, baubles, and treats being thrown from every passing unit, and of course, a drink in almost everyone's hand. Despite the traditional presence of a myriad of alcoholic beverages, the scene is remarkable family-friendly. Being held always on a Sunday afternoon, most folks tend toward moderation (if not at least keeping friendly respect for the 'sobers', families, and designated drivers). The crowd is boisterous and lively without being rowdy, and it's a safe, fun time for all.

For those of you who have never been, a few tips for your first time:
  • Come early.
    The parade starts at 2pm sharp (after church with time enough to get the corned beef boiling), but don't wait till the last minute. The parade route isn't hard to find a spot, but parking usually is. You're likely to find a spot within 3-4 blocks of the parade route, regardless, but you may spend time winding around every block in search of it while you are constantly maneuvered by police around the parade and marathon routes. Besides, there's lots of great people-watching to do, the bars open at noon, and Corktown has some absolutely GORGEOUS architecture to admire as you wanter the local streets. Get to one of the bars early enough and you may score some beads, buttons, or other swag.

  • Bring a flask of your favorite Irish drink/cocktail.
    Not the whole damned bottle or a full case of beer. Just enough to sip on, keep yourself a bit warmer, and maintain a mellow attitude and shit-eatin' grin. Popular favorites include Irish whiskey, Irish cream, Guinness, Harps, Smithwick's, Killian's Irish Red (if you must - it's not Irish, but made by Miller in Milwaukee), or best yet, prepped Irish Coffee in a thermos. We usually bring hot chocolate for the kids. Be sure to put the hot chocolate in a notably different container than the Irish Cream and don't mix them up!

  • Bring a camera.
    There is SO much variety in the parade units, you'll be sure to want some snapshots. The weather is always so bright and sunny (a wonderful happenstance, knock wood) and the groups and floats so colorful, that any picture you take is bound to turn out publish-worthy, if not near iconic.

  • Wear green!!!
    Obviously. You may be subjected to a light pinch by drunken college girls if you don't.
    Hmm... Come to think of it, some of you may want to leave the green at home, after all.

  • Leave room in your pockets for some stuff.
    You'll be coming home with beads, candy, maybe even a Danish or two (wrapped, of course) thrown from the groups in the parade.

  • Warm up your pipes.
    And brush up on your Irish drinking songs. Inevitably the crowd will break into singing one of the songs piped out by a passing band, community group, or float. Don't worry about how you sound. Most of them won't remember tomorrow morning anyway. ;)

  • Go to one of the local bars (Nemo's is best) after the parade.
    And on St. Patty's Day proper. The huge tent Nemo's has up in their parking lot will be full of colorful characters, friendly faces, and the best Irish Folk band in the area, the Balduck Mountain Ramblers. The Ramblers are there from noon until the last Leprechaun has spent the last of his gold on both parade day and St. Patty's. Learn the words to "The Unicorn Song", "Black Velvet Band" and "Danny Boy"- you'll hear them a lot (much to the band's chagrin).

  • Find Me!!!
    I'll be camped out around Nemo's, most likely, and right by the street. While my cell phone may be out of commission, I shan't be hard to spot. Just look for my kids scrambling for candy and beads, my white Irish sweater, and ever-present Red Chucks.
This is the best parade in Detroit - hands down. The Thanksgiving Day Parade may have giant balloons and bigger floats, but is too cold, too crowded, and too early in the day. The Labor Day parade is warmer, but too politically charged, often too hot, and rather boring. This parade has everything, plus a great afterglow.

If you're thinking of going, drop me a line and we can gather in the same spot, hang out, and catch up! If you're a barbershopper, be prepared to sing a few tunes! We may even be able to get up on stage at Nemo's and give the poor guys in Balduck Mountain Ramblers a break! Given they'll be singing for about 18 hours over 2 days, they're usually more than happy to let someone else hop on stage while they grab a beer!

Corktown St. Patrick's Day Parade
Sunday, March 16th, 2008
Along Michigan Ave., between the Lodge Freeway
and Michigan Central Station

(by Old Tiger Stadium)

For some great pictures of last year's parade, go see my sister Valerie's Flickr set here: Corktown St. Patrick's Day Parade 2007

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