Wednesday, December 06, 2006

The Santa Claus / Grey Cup Parade, Saturday, November 18th, 2006: A Retrospective

That's right -- A retrospective! A very cute way of dressing up how astoundingly late this piece is, if I do say so myself.

I blame my job, of course; I haven't had two days off in a row since the middle of September, and as late they've been calling me in for more shifts because everybody around me is quitting on account of they are far smarter and far more financially secure than I am. Another consideration in this post's delay is its sheer size; this is going to be massive (weighing in at nearly twenty kilobytes of text, and that's before HTML coding), so you'll probably want to grab a drink or something.

Regardless! My apologies for disappearing on you all; with any luck it won't happen again. On to the story.

Now, as I've written before, Winnipeg was party central all across the city during the week leading up to the Grey Cup; I was missing all of it because I work overnight all week, and I was good and grouchy about this understanding. Damned if I was going to miss this parade, the one thing I was actually available to enjoy!

So, headstrong with determination and a secondary mission in mind (more on that later), I bundled up and drove myself downtown to go watch myself a parade. I went out alone, on the grounds that nobody I knew was both free that day and sufficiently dumb enough to stand around in the cold for two hours like a moron. I, however, was both free and dumb -- and besides, I must confess that I've always been a sucker for any parade. I don't care how old you are, you should never be so jaded as to reject the principle of sitting still and having everybody specifically bring you their best efforts to entertain you.

The parade was scheduled to start at 3:50 PM, so I don't know what moron confidence made me think that I, leaving my house near the end of Pembina Highway at 4:00, was going to casually cruise downtown and find an available parking spot. But this I attempted regardless!

And so I ended up parking off St. Mary's, across from Coronation Park, at about 4:30 PM.

Ha ha, yeah. I'm stupid.

In retrospect, it was a far better spot than it originally seemed; it was only a fifteen minute walk away from the end of the parade route, and I honestly can use all the exercise I can get now that my working life is over fourty hours a week of sitting on my duff and eating junk food after midnight. Still, at the time, it seemed a pretty rough deal -- because now I was going to be nearly an hour late to watch a two-hour parade.

The sun began to set beside me, and off I hurried. Past that electronics place, past the li'l strip mall with the Liquor Mart in it, over the bridge, under the concrete, over more of the bridge (stupid bridge), through the southern tail of Main Street, and finally catching up to what I assumed was a halfway completed parade.

Aw crap, I thought to myself, they've already made it to Louie the Lightning Bug. Surely the parade is just winding down.

(Oh, as an early disclaimer; my digital camera is a little old, much as the Atlantic Ocean is a little damp. I'll go into greater detail on this in my next post, which I assure you will be soon.)

Now, I should explain at this point that Louie the Lightning Bug is genuinely one of my favourite prairie icons; I hold him in the same reverence that I hold, say, Tom Cochrane, and the same reverence in which all good people hold Nick Hill (who for years I referred to exclusively as "Kern-Hill Furniture Co-Op Guy"). So I just kind of automatically assumed that Louie (whose name I always initally type as "Louis", as in Riel; no, I'm not kidding) is one of the heavyweight appearances that would be saved until right near the end of every parade.

I scurried under the bridge (an important plot point; remember this later) and alongside the parade, to see what kind of nifty things I may have missed -- and passed about five floats before I made it to the Goldeyes parking lot, the designated end of the route, way ahead of the actual parade.

You can imagine my surprise.

Sure enough, at around five o'clock, with the sunlight quickly dwindling and a substantial crowd already forming, there I was just in time to watch the entire parade. Go figure! Sometimes things just work out right after all, and there's a valuable lesson to be taken from all of--WAIT A MINUTE WHY IS LOUIE THE LIGHTNING BUG RIGHT AT THE BEGINNING THIS IS BULLSHIT

Right at the beginning, why I oughtta. Well, they have to do what they can to get the crowd good and excited early, I guess -- and it worked, because it turns out that other people like Louie as much as I do. (A problem for later mascots, as you'll find out.) So all was well.

How the stone hell is Louie the Lightning Bug not the cornerstone of the Spirited Energy campaign? It hadn't occurred to me until the parade that Louie the Lightning Bug would be the only identifiable symbol for which Spirited Energy makes any god damn sense. He's a lightning bug, he's happy -- there you go! He's so spirited, he fires energy out of his ass! Which, coincidentally, is what I think they can do with the whole rebranding campaign!

A little humour, there, of course. What I actually think is that the Spirited Energy braintrust should be eaten alive by wolves. But it's important to put a lighthearted spin on it!

This float was the absolute highlight of the parade for me! Unfortunately it was just before Louie the Lightning Bug, and came ten minutes into what turned out to be a two-and-a-half-hour parade. But still! I take my awesomeness where I can get it.

I mean, look at that bad boy. The old and beloved Play Safe commercial in its entirety, plucked lovingly from the childhood of an entire generation and rendered anew in travel-size float format. See that robot? He can put his arm back on -- but you can't!

I tried my best to get a shot of the message on the front, but people kept getting in the way. Anyway, it reads "SPOT THE DANGER", which I thought was really funny -- because, okay, seriously, the guy is on Planet Danger. Planet... Danger. You would assume he's probably figured out by this point that there may in fact be danger on this planet.

Anyway, yeah, this was the absolute greatest thing they could have done. If they sold a car with this display bolted to the roof, I would buy one. I am dead serious about this. Slap those things on an old wood-paneled station wagon and I swear you have built my dream car.

In fact, if I had my way, street racing would be completely legal in Winnipeg -- but only for cars with hilarious novelty attachments on them, like these old parade decorations and stuff. Isn't that the greatest idea you've heard all day? And then there'd be a climactic race between the Power Smart float car and a rival car, like the car made of leftover Manitoba Moose apparel or something, and the Power Smart car would be the one to successfully navigate a difficult stretch of road and take the big victory because it can SPOT THE DANGER. Oh my god I am the biggest dork ever and let's pretend I never wrote this.

This is Cuffs the Crime Dog, ostensibly the Winnipeg Police mascot. He is a cheerful and helpful police pal, a true friend to those in need, and a friendly face around the town that everybody is always happy to see! I mean, okay, the police turned him loose on a Critical Mass rally in July and he mauled about twenty people -- but they're cyclists! They deserved it!

A small but vocal crowd of Winnipeggers just behind me on the parade route took upon themselves the responsibility of representing the true Winnipeg spirit, and by this I mean they just booed the fuck out of everybody. This clown? Boo this clown! The aircraft museum float? Boo the aircraft museum float! The little kid marching band? Boo the little kid marching band! The hot women from out of town? Especially boo the hot women from out of town! ("ARRRRRRRRRRRRRRR-GOOOOOOOOOOOOOES," they heckled the Toronto cheerleaders. "ARRRRRRRRRRRRRRR-GOOOOOOOOOOOOOES." Similarly for each team.) Good ol' Winnipeg!

That's Winnipeg rock band Pushing Daisies, repeatedly performing their official Grey Cup theme song "C'Mon C'Mon" atop a HOT103 float. I can't for the life of me remember anything about how the song goes. I'm sure it was a great song, though, guys!

Also -- why HOT103? I mean, really, now. Does anybody here believe for a second that HOT103 is big on A) playing a lot of rock music or B) promoting local artists? Are we supposed to spontaneously develop warm and fuzzy feelings for a soulless major media conglomerate holdership station that has attached its name (sorry, brand) to a Winnipeg rock band for the few days prior to a national event? Or, to put it another way -- if I turn on the radio right now and put it to HOT103, what are the chances that I'm going to hear the latest single from Pushing Daisies?


The red thing up front is a lobster advocating for a team that doesn't exist yet and playing a flag like an electric guitar, but disregard that for the moment. That guy right behind the lobster there in the background, wearing the jaunty reflective gear and fetching black toque, served as the main exhibit for children to understand that parades are not fun for everybody; he was one of the parade security staff, yelling in frustration for the bigger floats to hurry up and smoking about a hundred packs that day. Poor security guy! Let us all briefly sympathize with him before forgetting him entirely and enjoying the awesome parade stuff again! Awesome parade stuff that never fails to whip a crowd into a good frenzy, like say the



HEY YEAH MAN IT'S A FISH BEING, UH, CAUGHT OR SOMETHIyeah, never mind, this parade kind of sucks.

This band (perhaps prompted by the hecklers -- "Play something we'd recognize!" "BOOOOOOOOOOOOOOO") broke into Rock & Roll Part Two right after this photo was taken, which was probably the most unfortunate choice they could have made. I know that most people know it only tangentally because of its eternal connection to sporting events, and that it's a constant favourite among crowds of fans, and blah blah dick so on and so forth -- but, man oh man, an orchestra of ten- to fourteen-year-olds playing Gary Glitter just does not sit right with anybody who actually remembers who Gary Glitter is.

Winnipeg has Dancin' Gabe. Regina has The Flame, who does this. Plus their taxes are lower than ours now, and their crime rate is lower for pretty much everything. BUT WE'LL STILL MAKE FUN OF THEM ANYWAY, SO HA HA SUCK THAT REGINA

This is a pretty bad photo, but humour me on this one. I want you to squint right into the centre of the picture, look right there, look riiiiiiiight--there! See that guy? That was by far the guy I felt the worst for, even worse than the haggard security guy who probably no longer has lungs. This is the Honey Nut Cheerios bee mascot guy, probably named 'Honey' or something equally lame -- but this is not his main problem. Pretty much anywhere else in the world, the costume would simply be recognized as the bee from Honey Nut Cheerios and receive mild approval from a parade crowd. Here, however, in the sacred lands of Louie the Lightning Bug, everyone -- and I am not exaggerating -- everyone initially thought that he was Louie the Lightning Bug approaching, and then registered disappointment when he wasn't. Children gave him blank looks, parents gave him frosty stares for not being Louie, and one guy tried to cheer his kids up by saying "It's Louie! Wait... it's... not Louie. It's, uh... Louie's cousin!"

Even I'm guilty of this, and I actually felt bad about it for a little while. The reason that the picture above is so bad is because I passed up a better picture opportunity seconds earlier; I had him lined up perfectly for the shot, took a second look at him, and then specifically did not take the picture because I realized that he wasn't Louie. Isn't that terrible? I mean, think about what a horrible time the guy in the costume must be having, drawing that same reaction of stunned disappointment from a hundred thousand people for the whole day just because he's wearing the wrong insect costume. Poor Honey Nut Cheerios Bee mascot guy!

Okay, maybe I'm overthinking the whole matter a little bit. Moving on!

Being that I have an Honours Degree in History, obviously my heart sings with desire to own something bearing the traditional stripes of the Hudson's Bay Company.

I went to the Bay downtown a few days ago just to see what they sold, maybe buy a scarf if it was less than twenty bucks -- and a scarf would have cost fifty-five dollars plus tax. A coat like these ones pictured will probably run you nearly half a grand; they charge two hundred and fifty dollars for a six-inch teddy bear wearing an HBC coat.

Hey, The Bay! Maybe if you weren't hideously overcharging us for your own history, you wouldn't have been bought up by Americans!

I'm so glad that I studied history and political studies so that I can never be cheerful about anything in the world ever again.

Wow, uh, okay. Nobody else so far had put out any float half that tall, but I guess it's more important to make a point about your corporation than it is to fit into a parade properly. Way to be dicks, you guys.

You'll notice that it's getting darker and darker in these photographs; I noticed the same thing, because as previously mentioned my camera is an old camera and it shows its age by not doing too well with most scenarios. So I had a brainwave and moved from the parking lot along to the street because, duh, the streets have streetlights. I would have thought of this sooner, but I was too busy being entertained by the... CBC float? I don't know. Anyway.

The Giant Tiger entry is noteworthy, not for any interesting design ideas, but because it was the only float to throw candy at this parade. Not cool, parade. Not cool.

As this Manitoba Lotteries Corporation float rolled around the corner, one guy in the crowd gathered up all of his earnest sarcasm and went "GAMBLING! WOOOOOO! YEAH, GAMBLING! WOOOOOOOO!" I love Winnipeg.

I was so pleased with this slick ice-sculpture Grey Cup that I almost felt bad about disliking Coors Light so strongly. (Truthfully, I would actually rather eat that ice sculpture than drink Coors Light.)

If this bus goes on to strike and kill somebody who has stopped near a railway crossing, then dramatic irony will have claimed one more life.

I know my camera starts to perform really unimpressively at this point, so rather than make you squint again I'll just straight up tell you that this is a Rainbow Stage float promoting their upcoming Sound of Music and Grease productions.

Okay, maybe Rainbow Stage could be doing better things with their newfound dough than running a float in a parade, but let them have their moment. They're still getting used to even having money again; this is a nice change for everybody.

I hear a couple of years ago they tried to run a Good News float in the parade and it mysteriously collapsed on them. Don't hold me to that, though!

Oh, yeah, by the way.

The fireworks, to the best of my knowledge, had nothing to do with the parade; they were most likely part of the family day events at the Forks. But the parade's proximity to the Forks meant that the fireworks soon became the main attraction -- and a couple of the taller floats were actively booed when they blocked the crowd on one side of the street from watching the fireworks. Yeah! Take that, parade!

Oh -- I'm also a sucker for fireworks displays. Just so you know.


Where was I? Oh, yeah. Parade.

Remember what I was saying earlier about having a street-racing circuit comprised entirely of novelty vehicles? This bad boy would be right there, every night, tearing up Portage Avenue. Rock on, oldschool Winnipeg Transit bus!

I forget what this was even promoting, but damned if it isn't the best argument against human cloning that I've ever seen.

what the hell is that

I swear I heard "Stayin' Alive" start up in my head when I saw this float. I'm never going to actually post that song on here, but this is the closest I am ever going to come. Strut on, Shriner dude!

Yes, they put this as one of the last entries in the parade. This here is a Trans-X truck with a few lights around it, touting its company virtues (which are mercifully blurry in this photo) such as strong leadership and youth incentives and being locally owned and stuff. It was a nice message, yes, but I don't think it could have been any lamer without adding a giant thumbs-up made of Christmas lights and the words "YAY FOR WINNIPEG" on the front.

But, then again, there were some people that weren't even trying. Would it have killed them to throw anything else on there, like "Go Grey Cup" or "Merry Christmas" or "Yay for Winnipeg" or anything?

"Okay, men! We need to come up with something to include in the upcoming Santa Claus-Grey Cup parade, but we can't make it too complicated or the audience might not get the message! How to handle this? How to handle this?"

I put up with this in stride, of course -- crass consumerism and commercialism is a fact of life all the time, especially so as Christmas approaches, and surely it would all be made good by the unfiltered joy of children when they see Santa Claus! And to a lesser extent, the joy of Canadian football fans when they see something that Winnipeg hasn't won in fifteen years. (AND THERE ARE ONLY SEVEN OTHER TEAMS.)

This was my line of thinking, because I am a moron. There were a couple more subdued, lightly decorated trucks and a couple of police cars... and then nothing.

No more. No Santa Claus. No Grey Cup. No nothing.

Remember the bridge that I had scurried under in my efforts to catch up to the parade? Well, the upper-level geniuses organizing the parade had somehow forgotten that bridge was there -- and as such they had made the combination Santa Claus and Grey Cup float too tall.

So anybody past the bridge, like myself, had the interesting experience of having watched an amalgamated Santa Claus / Grey Cup Parade which included no Santa Claus and no Grey Cup. It was only about minus twelve, minus fifteen outside that day; however, sitting or standing in place for upwards of two and a half hours can make any temperature seem like a living hell. So, if you weren't there at the end of the parade route, rest assured that there were a lot of very unhappy children and very unhappy parents filing away that day.

Me? Well, after the initial shock, I must admit to a dry amusement about the whole thing. We can't even properly deliver the payoff to a parade; somehow, it struck me as just being very quintessentially Winnipeggian.

It's called disappointment, kids! May as well learn it now, while you're young! Please don't move to Alberta!

I poked around the Forks a little bit after that, admiring the crowds gathered there in another bout of dry amusement ("Holy crap, look! Tourists! In Winnipeg!), before heading back to Main Street and fulfilling my second objective for the downtown that day.

Winnipeg Square was my destination, the underground white elephant; go figure that business underground does no better than business above ground in downtown Winnipeg.

To most people this is a small, strangely positioned empty lot behind the food court of a sparsely populated underground mall. But to me, and to an increasingly small number of reminiscers, this is the spot where RC Amusements -- the very last dedicated arcade in downtown Winnipeg -- used to sit until mere weeks ago.

This has been one of my little side projects over the last six months or so, since getting this old digital camera; I was tired of never having any pictures of the disappearing buildings and landmarks that used to encompass my childhood in Winnipeg, and since everything seems to be vanishing at once in this city I've been doing my best to save some glimpses of their remains before they disappear entirely. When I found out that RC Amusements bit the dust, I'd made it a point to drop in and grab a photo the next time I was downtown -- which was for the parade, and so here I was.

See, you can tell that I'm an experienced Winnipegger; I don't need some special parade to get my disappointment fix. The burned out shell of previously beloved downtown establishments, why, that's inspiration enough!

So the day was a success all around, as far as I was concerned. I spent the rest of the Grey Cup weekend either working or sleeping, missing the actual Grey Cup game entirely -- but, oh well! At least I got out to do something, and that's what's important in the end. Right? Right.

So, to celebrate demoralized festivity and underground amusements (how's that for a pair of motifs?), here are a couple songs to fit the tone:

Howard Levy and Trio Globo - Carnival of Souls [buy]
Gem - The Subterranean Parade [website -- having fun finding the album in North America]

Fun times! Hopefully the next parade will deliver on its titular promises -- or, even better, hopefully the next parade will be about something else entirely so that they can hold it during the summer. Hey, a guy can dream!

[A postscript, hastily appended after rereading this work:
Oh, man, I
swear I come across as far more cheerful and less acerbic in person! Really! I mean, yes, I was of course a bit grouchy; I missed everything except a lame parade, the last arcade in downtown Winnipeg is dead, and since the parade I've had more ten-and-a-half-hour overnight shifts at work than I've had actual weekends. But other than that, I'm totally a cheerful dude!]

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

That honey nut bee was me!-km