Location, hydration, and hecklers: How to survive a parade

July 8 | Guest post by Dootsie Bug
This sparkly mermaid float would make the Empire proud! #whaleday
This sparkly mermaid float from Maui's Whale Day Parade would make the Offbeat Empire proud! Photo by Megan.

I've been in my fair share of parades. From a soaking wet and shivering cold St. Patrick's Day downpour to a Why Am I Dressed Like a Pioneer in 100 Degree Heat fiasco, I've learned that being in a parade is a bittersweet delight. But with these tips you can make it more fun!

Marching in the parade?

Have a hydration lackey

If you're in the parade, you've likely got a job to do that will make lugging around water difficult. Have someone in charge of ensuring that everyone in your group gets plenty to drink. It's helpful to give the hydration lackey a wagon or cart. Bonus? You can decorate the wagon and people will freak out over the cuteness.

Treat it like a marathon

The long, slow parade route will test your endurance in ways you never expected. You'll get used to the slow pace, then all at once, your group will be dashing to catch up. All that waving and moving in the heat will sap your energy fast. Before the parade starts, take a moment to warm up. Wear proper attire to ensure that you're not aching and blistered at the end of the day. And do whatever you can to prevent chafing, especially if you're in a costume.

Prepare for unwanted interactions

This is one of my least favourite realities of parading. There's a very real chance that people on the sidelines will make unwelcome comments, throw things at you or touch you if you're walking near the crowds. If this is a problem for you, consider walking in the center of the parade and chatting with the people you're walking with.

Are you here to watch?

Every parade needs an audience! Waiting in the heat for the performers to go by can be rough. Here are my thoughts on how to have the best parade experience possible! (P.S. pack water, snacks, headache medicine and sunscreen.)

All about the location

Finding the right spot to watch is a tough task. No matter where you stand, it seems like someone is just waiting in the wings to step in front of you. Anywhere shady or near a watering hole will likely be very crowded, so aim for somewhere in front of a building. Do show up early if you plan on bringing chairs, strollers or other seating–navigating a crowd with that stuff is difficult. One of my favourite spots for parade-watching is from inside an above-ground parking garage — it's a shady spot that many people just don't consider because you don't get any parade SWAG.

Have an exit strategy — don't exit

Getting out of the parade area once it's over is often a traffic nightmare. The easiest way to avoid the traffic isn't to leave early, it's to not leave at all! Hang around, relax, have some water. The crowds will clear out before you know it!

Tattle

If you see someone being a jerk to parade performers, move out of their vicinity and tell a police officer. If it's a particular group being heckled, an officer will often walk alongside them to ensure the crowd doesn't threaten their safety. If it's an individual being rude, the officer will usually walk to that person's area and keep things peaceful. This helps everyone in that spot feel more comfortable, as well as the performers.

Comfy shoes, special seating hacks? What are you parade-enjoying tips?

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  1. As always, wonderful advice. I am bookmarking this to send to our many groups I am in parades with. Added bonus suggestions:
    1) Have something for people of all ages /abilities to do. Passing out candy or pamphlets can be done by 8 or 80 year olds and if they get tired it's no big deal if they want to stop.
    2) if in costume ALWAYS pack emergency repare kits (hem tape and safety pins come to mind) for on route repairs if someone trips or gets a little over enthusiastic with the waving you will be happy you can fix and go without slowing everyone down!

    1 agrees
  2. Instruct 9 year olds to "toss candy" not "throw candy." My brother took it as a challenge to whip candy as hard as he could at the spectators! He has (mostly) grown up to be a functional adult, for those who were worried.

    9 agree
    • Oh my gosh this! And it ain't just 9 year-olds. I once took a piece of ABC Gum to the eye via an overenthusiastic toddler beauty queen.
      Underhand toss is key–it gives everyone the opportunity to see the candy and get under it as it falls (or get out of the way, as the case may be).

      7 agree
    • "He has (mostly) grown up to be a functional adult, for those who were worried"

      This made me chuckle.

      5 agree
  3. I also recommend having something to entertain children when watching a parade. The parade itself is exciting, but there can be long stretches of waiting before and after the big event that test the patience of little ones.

    One idea I saw recently: the parents bought each child (who looked to be elementary school age) a cheapie disposable camera to take pictures. The kids spent the time before and after the parade taking "artsy" photos of the sidewalk, the sky, their family, etc.

    4 agree
    • I love this! I also think keeping kids entertained will help curb their OMG BUY ME THAT INFLATABLE SQUEAKY HAMMER impulse.

      1 agrees
    • My parents used to have us compete to see who could get 100 people to wave at them first. This actually works in multiple situations, including a boat ride in which we had the whole tour playing, and when we finally got the 100th wave from a little old lady, the entire boat erupted in cheers. Poor little lady didn't know what hit her!

      1 agrees
  4. Please, PLEASE do NOT hesitate to report someone! When I was about 13 (a well over developed 13) I was at a community Native American Festival complete with Parade and my mother noticed a guy come up while I was watching people go by and take pictures from underneath the dress I was wearing! She promptly reported him, the gods only know who else he could have snapped indecent shots of throughout the day! Yet alone my 13 year old little mermaid panties. I still feel weird about it to this day! REPORT IT ALL!

  5. Oh, man, if I had to write a parade resume that thing would take up three pages! On the bright side, I got quite a bit out of it both as a participant and as a spectator. Granted, most of my experience stems from marching in a band. Still, I've learned a lot about parade survival tips.

    Participant:
    -Make sure to eat a little something beforehand, especially if you're in uniform/costume. I made the mistake once of marching on an empty stomach due to being too angry to eat before a performance. I'm amazed I didn't pass out midstep. I still didn't feel all that great, though, and battled a headache much of the time.
    -Use your time in the staging area wisely, and by that I mean crack jokes. This is probably a good opportunity to say anything you wouldn't want a large audience to hear, so if you're marching with anyone you know, a quick pow-wow will help you get your parade face on.

    Spectator thoughts:
    -If you're planning on taking pictures, you'll want to show up early as well. That said, bring a tripod at your own risk. It can save you a spot, but depending on what kind you use it could be more of a hassle carrying it around than it's worth.
    -Find out how long the parade will be and plan accordingly. I had a mind last year to pick up a black bean wrap before making my way downtown for the Aquatennial Parade. Good thing I did because that lasted almost three hours. Yeah. It was insanely muggy, to boot. I ended up having to leave early because it was nearly 11 at night, and I had to work the next day!
    -Please stay out of the road where the parade will be going by. Not only does it create safety hazards, but it annoys other spectators who are trying to watch the action.
    -If you're going to watch a parade in the winter, those warming packs are awesome! Bring as many as you can. Your tasty hot beverage will run out before you know it.

  6. Most of my experience also stems from marching band: I played bass drum and later quad toms (and was drum corps leader for a few years), but I also danced at many the fair or festival.

    If you're organizing a group, the water carriers are key, but it's also important to have a few people (or at least 1) who could leave (or stay behind) with participants if necessary. Yes, sometimes wearing wool marching band uniforms in 90° weather can cause fainting. Yes, 7 year-old baton students do sometimes throw up when they get nervous…

    If you're new at this: staging can take FOREVER. And then suddenly you're on route. Make sure you're ready to go, but don't spend all the staging time at attention, practicing, etc. You're just draining your group's energy. It's okay to spend that time sitting on the curb or goofing off (safely). Find out what stages there are in advance and keep the group up to speed. Is this the last parking lot you're standing around in before you go or are there 3 more places you need to wait? It can also be helpful to move in an organized way from place to place so you don't inadvertently lose anyone or fear it.

    You might laugh, but I speak from experience: try to avoid multiple parades on the same day.

    If it's hot and you're female, consider an up do with wet hair. It will dry out during the day but might help keep you a little cooler to start with. I've never tried it, but you may also consider putting a damp washcloth in your hat, if you have one.

    If there are people in your group with impaired vision (due to costumes or, say, giant drums in front of their faces), make sure they have some help getting around. Usually the people around them will naturally help. For example if we were walking from one staging place to another, the person in front would always say what was coming and we'd pass it on, "curb" …. "curb" … "curb" If you have some heavy-duty costumes, it might be good to pair those people with others who only have light costumes or none at all so that they can assist, whether with walking, costume stuff, obnoxious crowd members, etc.

    If you have hot costumes/uniforms, consider where you can change clothes after the parade. It will probably be make-shift, but it's good if you at least have an idea.

    Have a great time! Parades can indeed be grueling, but you'll feel a great sense of accomplishment at the end.

    Also: this should be obvious, but of course if you're performing during the parade at all, be sure to practice taking the route length into account!

    1 agrees
    • As a marching tuba player, I was ssoooooo happy to hear "Parade rest"

      2 agree
      • Ha ha – yes! People carrying ridiculous instruments around for long distances (for fun!?!) unite!

        1 agrees
  7. Also – my best spectator tip: usually people avoid driveways even though no one will be using them during the parade. You can sit there, really.

  8. I have no parade marching plans but I do feel the need for a hydration lackey in my regular life. Where might one procure this? Also would said lackey be willing to double as a shopping elf?

    1 agrees

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