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Durham on parade

Last night, the streets of our fair Bull City filled with thousands of Durhamites coming out to see the annual holiday parade. I'm no great shakes at guesstimating crowds, but I'd put a wag at 4,000-5,000 folks lining the likes of Blackwell, Corcoran, Foster, Morgan and Mangum to get a glimpse at the sights, sounds and (occasionally) smells of the constituent groups marching through the city center.

We had motorcycle cops and motorcycle rebels; ad hoc punk marching bands and the high school kind; local politicians and a pooper-scooper. (Note that the pooper-scooper was picking up manure coming from a team of horses, not the politicians.)

This was my first Durham holiday parade, and to be honest, it's a great and very authentic Durham experience. For the fourth-largest city in the tenth-largest state in the U.S. of A., Durham often has this really wonderful way of feeling like an overgrown small town, and there was a certain homeyness and comfort to this parade. Witty and a little weird all at once; the kind of thing you probably love if you like it hear, but can't stand if the Bull City isn't quite your speed.

Missed the parade? Let's take a photo tour through the festivities, including highlights of some (but by no means all) of the parade participants. To keep things interesting, I walked in the opposite direction of the paraders along the marked route, which is why the background keeps changing, FWIW.

A decent crowd came out to enjoy the scene, despite the day's brisk weather,


Now, we bloggers like to complain about the Durham Centre's design as being pedestrian-unfriendly, with no clear connection to the street level. Congrats to the legacy of Eighties architects everywhere for proving this observer wrong in one case: it makes a great perch for folks to watch a parade from on high. (Come to think of it, doesn't a design that elevates the viewer above the fray actually support and not disprove the point?)


In the lead today, law enforcement officers on parade, on their bikes, doing the CHiPS equivalent of synchronized swimming. This was a bit of a crowd favorite:


Then came Charlie Nelms, the parade's grand marshal, in his designated Saturn. The Saturns for Ellen Reckhow and Bill Bell sat empty, however, as the local pols shrewdly decided to walk amongst the citizenry:


...followed by Durham Police Dept. Chief Lopez and other law enforcement dignitaries onboard a boat marked by a message that, if not perhaps the most uplifting in this holiday season, is an important reminder to all:


Following the police boat was the... bomb squad? Yes, that does indeed appear to be a bomb disposal unit following along.


Bringing up the rear for government officials were three more members of City Council: Mayor pro tem Cora Cole-McFadden, Mike Woodard, and Farad Ali. (OK, Ali's not a member until Monday, but hey, it's the holiday, I'm in a giving spirit.)


Up next, one of many of the groups of youth participating in the festival; these, members I believe of one of the youth cheerleading groups, and a spirited bunch to boot:


Proving someone has a sense of humor putting this thing together, we next have a group of motorcycles revving their engines loudly, belching out smoke and the occasional backfire -- followed immediately by a Durham P.D. recruiting van. (Naturally, the police are never behind these motorcyclists' less civic-minded counterparts who own the 'crotch rockets' that zip up and down Roxboro, Avondale, etc. in the dark of night.)



Next up, the Bull City Cowboys, of whom one female rider had the line of the parade: "If gas prices go up any higher, I'm going to ride this horse to work." Followed, predictably, by a Durham staffer with a garbage bin to pick up, well, you know. (Here's hoping this cart isn't destined for a residential delivery; if you need a garbage cart, I might hold off asking Durham One Call for one for a day or two, you know?)



Next up, part of the Animal Protection Society of Durham's parade entry; this entrant had a sign that would have been much more appropriately snapped next to Major the Bull, which apparently didn't heed the APS' advice in advance of its installation downtown:


Another youth entry, this one from C.C. Spaulding Elementary, also standing out from the crowd for the energy in their performance--


Following Spaulding, the rather large entry from the Durham County Library, which besides Booker the library mascot and the bookmobile included the Library's book cart precision drill team. You didn't know Durham had a library book cart precision drill team? We sure do, and it's eligible to enter the American Library Association's book cart drill team contest. Those crazy librarians! (Durham's team has enjoyed some local fame performing before the County Commissioners and at other events, as this Herald-Sun article demonstrates.)


The Scrap Exchange was out in full force with the help of the Scene of the Crime Rovers, who delivered the best-choreographed and most tuneful of any of the adult musical options. Though there was still a shootout to follow between Southern and Hillside on the marching band front; more to follow there.



Followed by the Durham Seniorette Divas, 2006 N.C. state senior games champs in the cheerleading category, and looking good and looking spirited on their YMCA-sponsored float:


Duke Park's neighborhood association showed up for the show, complete with Beaver Lodge paraphernalia...


Close behind came the Southern High School marching band, performing a lively number and looking good doing it. (Riverside's marching band performed near the beginning of the program, too.)



One of the highlights of the parade? Surprisingly enough, the entry from Durham's Public Works department, which showed off representatives from throughout its fleet of vehicles, including a dare to Mother Nature to unleash its worst in terms of snow, and an automated trash collection truck that was, well, showing off how it picks up, dumps, and puts back down the curbside carts. Talk about government in action...



Durham's water management float followed, with what appears to be Patrick Baker sitting at the front of the float, and a gigantic, lifesize water droplet standing at the rear. HEY PATRICK! Get that anthropomorphized water drop up to Lake Michie and throw him in -- we should be able to get a couple thousand gallons out of a drop of water that big, right?


Hillside High brought up the parade's rear in their usual close-out position, leading into Santa's big appearance in town.



The last float left the DBAP/American Tobacco area around 5:20pm, with a tree lighting following the parade at 6:30. Sadly, I couldn't stick around for that -- perhaps one of our readers can share thoughts on that happening here in the comments?



This was the first Durham parade for my wife and me. I guess 'authentic Durham experience' comes about as close to describing it as anything. She and I are both from small, Midwestern towns, though we've lived several other places.

We were both shocked at how crappy we found the parade to be. I mean, there were cars and SUV's full of people cranking rap and talking on their mobile phones with no obvious affiliation with community organizations or businesses or Christmas don't really meet my expectations for a Christmas parade. I would guess, though I have no evidence, that every single parade float was crafted by the city with the same materials. Even in the small, fairly rural towns that my wife and I come from, the community is better represented. Now, perhaps I should take people in SUV's on the phone as representing the community, which in fact it does, but where is the holiday/Christmas connection? Where was Duke? Where was NC Central?

That said, we enjoyed the pre-parade music in Central Park and the fact that there even is a parade. I just with it wasn't such an embarrassment to the city and it's residents. I'm not asking for our parade to be a carbon copy of Raleigh's. I moved to Durham intentionally after checking out the triangle. I rented in Raleigh and Durham before buying a home here. I just want the holiday parade to have a theme. Driving unmarked cars while smoking, talking on the phone, and listening to rap aren't exactly in keeping with my idea of Christmas. Maybe I just don't get 'authentic Durham'.

Kevin Davis

I've seen parades with more 'themes' than this one, too. But I guess what I liked about it is it felt like an accessible parade anyone can be a part of. You want to hang out your Escalade and play music? Fill out an application and go for it. (Though worth noting there were only a couple of those -- a lot of the SUV-based entries were much quieter, and more for getting church groups and non-profits out.)

As a result, the parade is one of those rare events -- Durham Rising was another -- that draws both black and white residents across social strata to celebrate together.

I was talking with Barry last night after the parade and he noted that his first year in Durham, his first reaction was, "Who are all these people and where did they come from?" You don't see this broad a representation of Durham residents at, say, a Bulls game -- or at NCCU football games.

I liked the fact that you didn't have WRAL broadcasting this live (which would mean sanitized floats), you didn't have the Junior League blessing every entry, and you didn't have a theme.

Was it an embarrassment? Everything's in the eye of the beholder -- and while I certainly expected more of a theme, I found the whole thing kind of refreshing. Then again, as an Orlando native, maybe this is part of my getting over the days of overly-programmed, sanitized Disney schlock. Seeing the folks with TROSA and UMD coming out to celebrate what they're part of? Right on!

Anyhow, I hear where you're coming from, and respect your opinion; I guess I just saw a different take on it.



I had the exact same reaction you did when I first saw the parade -- it was disbelief that so many exhaust-emitting, noisy vehicles were considered holidayish... but then, after about ten minutes, I began to feel more like Kevin -- delight at seeing so many groups you never see or hear about otherwise and I found true joy in watching a squadron of bad-ass black cowboys go by on their horses followed by an army of Christian soliders (ranging in age from 80 down to 6) looking every bit as imposing as the Nation of Islam in their matching suits.

But you are quite right that the parade lacks holiday spirit. And you want to know why? Because the City, in all of its boneheaded wisdom, charges $750 for an organization to have a float -- and even f you do pay up the $750, they do not let the organization decorate the float themselves. They require that a professional organization, whom they have annointed, create the float on their behalf.

What non-profit in good conscience can plunk down $750 for a float like that? And then have the look and theme taken out of their hands? Who wants to pay to make a statement and peace and joy, then have to cede the fun of it to someone else?

It's stupid and I've been complaining about it for several years. I'd see nothing wrong with a bunch of home-made, non-matching floats. I'd prefer it in fact. The Gay Pride Parade has wonderful homemade floats and groups marching -- and they even give a prize for the most colorful display. Durham could easily follow a similar policy and get some wonderful parade groups as a result.

In sum, I think the reason it's mostly a bunch of people walking up the street is that not many people can afford more than the $50 to $75 they ask just for that honor.

They need to change the policy. Durham is perfectly capable of putting on one amazing, fun-filled lively parade - and the NCCU homecoming parade proves it each year.

By the way: I keep thinking they are going to change this policy and I thought I heard rumblings of it last year. I searched on-line to see if it was still in effect and found a parade application for this year laying out the same old rules. If the rules changed at the last minute and that application was outdated, then maybe the word just didn't get out?


Chaz - walking contingents (such as Duke Park NA - that's me holding the "Peace on the Planet" sign above) pay $50 bucks.

But you're right. $750 is steep. There's months before planning starts for next year's parade to talk about ways to improve the parade.


You also have to apply to be in the parade by October 31 or you are out of luck.


Wow. Kevin, I've been reading your blog for about 6 months now and always thought our paths may cross, and some of these pictures were taken from about 5 feet down the street from where my family was sitting. Makes me wish I was more outspoken in meeting the people around me in these crowds.


"I'm no great shakes at guesstimating crowds, but I'd put a wag at 4,000-5,000 folks lining the likes of Blackwell, Corcoran, Foster, Morgan and Mangum to get a glimpse at the sights, sounds and (occasionally) smells of the constituent groups marching through the city center."

Shake? Wag? Smells? Is Kevin Davis really a big dog? ;-)


Thanks for sharing these pictures. I couldn't make it for the Durham parade but next Saturday (12/8) is the parade in Chapel Hill.

Yesterday we went for a walk in the American Tobacco District and we the holiday lights there; beautiful.


If the parade was shite Durham redeemed itself with the singing and lighting of the Lucky Strike water tower


Kevin - thanks for the photos. The parade showed what I love about Durham (and, based on your comment about the floats, some of the boneheaded things the powers-that-be do).

But you didn't have any pictures of the funniest part of the parade (well, ok, after the book cart team) - the pawn shop driving a decorated vehicle. Gotta love a town which doesn't take itself so seriously that it has to figure out a way to ban a pawn shop from the Christmas parade...

Michael Bacon

I think I had the exact opposite reaction from J.

I normally would have completely ignored the holiday parade, except as a sign to stay the hell away from downtown for a bit. But because of an e-mail out from the Scrap Exchange inviting people to come down and march, and that they would be joined by the Scene of the Crime Rovers, my curiosity got piqued.

See, I figured it for the sort of mess that the Asheville Christmas Parade was when I marched in it as part of the Asheville High marching band back in 1992. Bunch of car dealers, real estate agents, the Miss Junior Murphenburphen Whatever, and every marching band in the county. All very Christmasy, all very classy, all boring as hell. Of course our parents showed up -- which I think even then I considered a sign of true parental love, to sit through that awful thing, just to see us eight-to-five it past playing some hokey rendition of "Holly Jolly Christmas."

This year, yes, there were the utterly bland city produced floats, but what really made it worthwhile was the Durham Senior Divas, the Book Cart Drill Team, the Beaver Lodge wagon, the Bull City VW Bug Club, and of course all the madly grinning kids on the floats screaming Christmas carols. Grace and I instantly decided that we needed to figure out a way to be in it next year -- a Marching Old Time String Band was our best idea, complete with putting our tub bassist in a shopping cart and santa miter and pushing him along with us.

I loved this parade because it didn't look like any other holiday parade I'd ever seen. It looked like Durham, in it's full campy regalia, celebrating all of our internal weirdness. Here's hoping the city drops its silly policy of designating a float designer -- if we can start doing homemade floats, we can really goof this thing up right.

Kevin Davis

Phil #1: Darn, my secret is out! Yeah, I've tried to keep it on the D.L. until my agent negotiates a sweet deal for me to star in the sequel to that Tim-Allen-as-a-shaggy-dog film.

Phil #2: I should have mentioned the National Pawn clown car, I forgot about that. The photos I took of it didn't seem to come out.

Miles: Yes indeed. I need to get a "Bull City Rising" hat or something for events like this one. :)


michael - as long it's hand propelled, you can decorate your float any way you want.

hence the Beaver Lodge and the library book cart drill team.

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