I am lucky to live in a small town which does traditional stuff like Salmon Bakes, summer concerts in the park overlooking Puget Sound, farmers markets, an apple squeeze, and my personal favorite, the old-fashioned Fourth of July celebration. For as long as I've lived here (over 30 years now), there has been a street fair and parade, followed by a big fireworks display paid for by town residents' donations.
When I was a cop working for our town, I really looked forward to this holiday, as all hands were on deck, and we public safety types had as much fun as the visitors. About six years ago, I began serving as the parade announcer, which as my Spousal Unit will tell you is my favorite activity because I have a microphone. (A stint as a DJ for a community college radio station in the early 70s was the start of that particular weakness, but that's fodder for another blog post down the road, maybe.) My deployment to Iraq kind of messed up that gig, but this year I was asked by the parade coordinator to be the traffic director for the groups as they passed by the "reviewing stand". (There isn't really an actual stand, but it sounds more awesome than "the cement stairs by the post office parking lot.") So, decked out in what I call my "Traffic Clown" outfit, (fluorescent orange gloves, orange reflective vest, and a bright orange whistle), I prepared for this crucial assignment by downing a plate of pork carnitas, obtained from one of the street fair food vendors. It was a tasty lunch, accompanied by refritos, arroz, and guacamole, and a fresh flour tortilla.
My hunger sated, I had plenty of energy to wrangle the parade participants into moving along the street at the prescribed pace. Only two glitches: a group of tiny Tae Kwon Do students and their instructor, armed with nunchuks, apparently decided to stop every 50 yards and put on a demonstration, which created a HUGE gap in the parade. Since the parade route is a long rectangle using parallel streets, I had no idea what the problem was until the mini Chuck Norris wannabes appeared at the end of the block, with a long line of classic cars and other groups backed up behind them. By this time, the spectators lining the street assumed the parade was over, so they started wandering up the middle of the street. Once I figured out what was going on, I had to clear the street by waving my orange-gloved hands, blowing my whistle, and generally making an ass of myself. Of course, the diminutive martial artists ignored my instructions to "keep moving, no more stops!" I figured that being outnumbered by the 30 or so nunchuk-waving little tykes made that a non-winnable argument, which proved correct.
The other glitch was provided at the tail end of the parade by the town's volunteer firefighters, who traditionally mark the end of the groups with a fire engine and an aid rig. This year's young crews were apparently so focused on checking out the hot babes lining the route that they opened up a 400-meter gap. Once again, the spectators figured the parade was over and filled the street, and once again I had to "head 'em up and move 'em out, Rawhide!" So that was 5% awesome.
My assignment complete, (after being yelled at by the parade coordinator about letting the gaps develop, but whatever), I walked home to pick up my Spousal Unit and head to our friend's house for the traditional 4th of July BBQ, and to watch the fireworks from their house overlooking the Puget Sound. After a fine meal of grilled burgers, chopped vegetable salad, and fresh strawberries, we all chatted while waiting for dusk and the fireworks show to commence. That's when my innards began to swell and my stomach became really queasy. So here's another life lesson: If you ever need to camouflage serious gastric distress, there is nothing better than a commercial fireworks display. It's just a matter of timing your own explosions in sync to the airbursts, and the drifting clouds of cordite definitely mask any other sulphur-based aromas.
Fortunately, I didn't experience the full onslaught of what turned out to be "Revenge of the Carnitas" until we got home...I ended up taking a sick day in order to recover. I do believe that next year I will eat lunch at home before the parade, despite having gained another tactic to maintain social poise under difficult conditions.