Happy New Year from Pasadena

Theme Park Insider's hometown also hosts this little parade every New Year's Day. Here's a personal look at this year's Rose Parade.

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Published: January 1, 2005 at 6:02 PM

Happy New Year from Theme Park Insider world headquarters in Pasadena, Calif., home of the 116th annual Tournament of Roses Parade. Once again, official TPI kids Natalie and Brian joined me on the short walk to the parade route, waking early after a late night cleaning their room of flood damage.

We'd spent the past week in Denver, escaping the rains that pounded Southern California this week. Yet the leaky roof over our townhome allowed enough rainwater to flow through to provide an unwelcome reminder of the storm when we arrived. After what happened in South Asia the same week, however, you'll hear no complaints from us about stinky carpets and some soggy books.

2005 Rose Parade Grand Marshal Mickey Mouse

Disneyland kicked off the parade this year, following last year's embarrassing plug for the Tower of Terror ride. Someone at Disney obviously said the right things to the Tournament of Roses committee -- or, wrote the right amount on the check -- because not only did Disneyland's float get to lead the parade down Colorado Boulevard, Mickey Mouse served as this year's Grand Marshal.

Nor did Disney risk alienating the crowd with an ill-advised design. The park went old school with this year's float, offering a castle-inspired design that anyone familiar with one of Disney's afternoon parades would recognize. Of course, this version of the castle float was executed on grand scale, covered in the blooms, leaves, seeds and spices that the Tournament of Roses demands.

Universal might have cloned the Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade, but no theme park will ever be able to duplicate the Rose Parade. The requirement that every inch of every float's surface be covered with organic material imposes a too-brief lifespan on these floats. In a week, they'll be potpourri. Given that Disneyland likes to keep its floats around for, oh, a decade or so, no theme park with a desire to stay in the black would be able to run a Rose-type parade for longer than a weekend. Which isn't long enough to recoup its investment.

Alice and the Mad Hatter were among the Disney characters on the park's Rose Parade float

But with nearly six miles of Orange Grove, Colorado and Sierra Madre Boulevards on which to show its parade to nearly a million visitors and a billion-plus television viewers, theme park economics do not apply to the Tournament of Roses parade. And thank goodness. It's a refreshing delight to see themed entertainment roll by on which no expense has been spared. For a change.

While Disneyland got the parade off to a rousing, and appropriate start, the largest cheers went up for the float from Pasadena's Jet Propulsion Laboratory/CalTech. JPL's rocket man featured body parts depicting JPL's various missions, including two Mars Rover feet. Leave it to the folks who figured out how to navigate the Martian surface to dream up such an inspiring design.

But my two favorite moments from this year's parade were personal. My daughter attends the McKinley School in the Pasadena Unified School District, and this year marked the return of the PUSD Honor Band to the Rose Parade line-up after a three decade absence. The Tournament once welcomed its home school district into the parade, but after a court-ordered racial integration of the district, PUSD bands disappeared from the line-up. Affluent, white families in this diverse community fled the public schools for private academies. And the public schools became a power base for politicians rather than a place for kids to learn.

A few years ago, after previous failed attempts, a group of progressive parents declared they'd had enough, and began the task of reintegrating Pasadena's schools, bringing white families back into the district, while improving facilities, curricula and teaching for the growing Black, Hispanic, Armenian and Asian communities that the district continues to serve. And one of the goals that these parents set was to get PUSD back into the Rose Parade. Thanks to the hard work of these parents I had the pleasure of sitting with today, as well as the courtesy and generosity of the Tournament committee, a diverse, well-trained and talented group of Pasadena middle and high school students finally got to show their stuff to the world on their hometown's most famous stage.

Lawrence Central Spirit of Central Marching Band

My daughter's school wasn't the only one in the family that got to show off, however. Today, I also got the chance to cheer on my high school alma mater, as the Lawrence Central High School Spirit of Central from Indianapolis marched the long route, too. I didn't play in the band at LC, but I was a founding member of the school's Central Sound show choir, which like the marching band and orchestra, has gone on to claim numerous national championships. Now that PUSD's back in the Rose Parade, I hope that it uses schools like Lawrence Central as role models for how diverse public schools can accomplish great feats on a national scale. (And the fact that LC's former superintendent now runs the Pasadena schools should help make that happen!)

And, as always, the rain stayed away. No rain has fallen on the Rose Parade for 50 years, and after this week's deluge, many worried that fortunate streak would end. But Mother Nature loves Southern California.

At least when the TV cameras are on, I guess.

Happy New Year to you and your family, and I look forward to hearing from many of you lurkers on Theme Park Insider in the year ahead.

Readers' Opinions

From Justin Cornwall on January 2, 2005 at 11:50 AM
Yup, I too was at the parade. The Disney float was pretty cool, and they had their best "entertainers" up there on it. Although, I was dissapointed that LCHS didn't have their band in this year, no school spirit for my school this time around. It was a pretty great parade, as is every year.

Happy New Year!
Justin Cornwall

From Robert OGrosky on January 2, 2005 at 12:20 PM
Robert, Do you have a picture of the JPL float???
I worked so i didnt get to see the parade.
From Robert Niles on January 2, 2005 at 2:11 PM
The JPL float was quite tall, and I was shooting into the sun for approaching floats. Since I was in the front row on street level, I couldn't get a good side shot of something that tall, either.

But I found a passable shot on the Reuters wire via Yahoo News.

From kyle sussman on January 2, 2005 at 4:49 PM
Anyone see the games, especially the Rose Bowl. They were amazing games!!
From Rhys Evans on January 2, 2005 at 6:21 PM
Did the Disney entry "go the distance" this year, or pull out of the lineup once the cameras were out of range?
From Robert Niles on January 2, 2005 at 8:00 PM
The float made it all the way to the end of the route on Sierra Madre Blvd., as Disney's entry did last year. The character flood preceding the float, however, thinned considerably from that which you saw on TV. And the song and dance at the beginning of the parade was strictly for the cameras, not repeated again along the route.

Give Disney credit, however. Its floats return to full height for the final mile after contracting to get under I-210 at Sierra Madre Blvd. Many entries contract to get under the bridge, then never return to full height, forcing us watching the final mile of the parade to watch, literally, half a float.

Talk about bad show.

As for the Rose Bowl, if the game ain't Big Ten vs. Pac-10, I don't care. I chuckled to myself when the Texas band passed by to stony silence from the crowd, when every other band elicited polite to wild applause. (The biggest reaction? We were sitting just down the street from a crowd of Costa Ricans who exploded like they'd won the World Cup when the Costa Rican band marched by.)

From Robert OGrosky on January 2, 2005 at 8:06 PM
Thanks for the link to the photo Rober, the float looked very good!!
From Deborah Davis on January 3, 2005 at 7:00 AM
My son's high school band (Seminole Warhawks, Seminole, FL) was there, as well. They were the 1st high school band on the parade route and they are the first band in our county to ever get the opportunity. The fundraising effort was severly hampered by the hurricanes, and two buses were involved in an accident in CA, but they made it.
From Dane Massie on January 5, 2005 at 7:20 PM
I braved the weather this year and camped out all night to see the parade...I think I got at least one picture of every float so if there's one you wanted to see, e-mail me at gotdane@gmail.com and I'd gladly send you a picture or two. I have to say though, the float that I thought was the coolest was the Honda Train...It was just so stinkin' big, and the fact that it had pyro shootin' off was a massive plus.

The Disney and JPL floats were pretty spiffy too.

From Chuck Campbell on January 16, 2005 at 7:24 PM
Speaking of the Honda train, I thought it was hilarious that Johnny Cash's "Folsom Prison Blues" was used as the float's theme music (at least on television). Everytime they got to the line "I shot a man in Reno just to watch him die" they looped back to "I hear the train a'comin'." Gee, guys, there are plenty of other train songs that don't feature condemned murderers as narrators. Why not use "Orange Blossum Special" or "I've Been Workin' on the Railroad"?