July 4, 2012
The plan was simple and good-get on the bike by 9:30 to get to the annual Fourth of July parade at Joen and Bill’s house by the 10:30 start. Since they live on the edge of the Como neighborhood near Larpenteur and Dale, I figured an hour would give me enough time to make it with a little time to spare.
I did get pedaling at 9:30, right according to the plan and I had gone just over a mile when I noticed I didn’t have my house keys. Almost immediately I recalled I had left them in the garage door, an obvious security breach. I turned around and quickly pedaled the mile and change back home and there were the keys, just as I left them.
Now I found myself behind schedule, with a reduced margin for unplanned stops or problems. It was apparent that the day was going to be another hot and humid one but there were still a good number of runners, bikers and dog walkers out as I rode through Macalester-Groveland, Summit-University, Frogtown (Thomas-Dale) and North End neighborhoods.
Predictably, there were several objects of interest along the way, (of which I made mental notes) but fortunately, all were things I could catch on the return trip.
I rolled up to 768 W Montana Avenue about 10:25 where Bill and Joen greeted me. A few people were milling around but no obvious signs of the July 4th parade. Then, as if by a silent signal, Montana Avenue fills with people, bikes, wagons and cars.
Like many traditions, the July 4th parade started by happenstance 37 years ago, according to Bill. “It started out when a few neighbors did not go on Fourth of July vacations. We stayed at home. We got together and said ‘Let’s have a barbecue or something at night and a little something for the kids.’ So we started out with approximately six kids on their Big Wheels down the alley.”
Word of the parade spread from neighbor to neighbor and the parade has grown and grown, often to more than 100 people. In recent years, flyers have been passed out around the neighborhood on both sides of Montana, Nebraska, Grotto and Hoyt to let new neighbors know about the parade and remind others about it.
I asked Joen about the classic cars that were near the head of the parade. She told me, “The three cars belong to one family. One of them has a tape player and he plays Sousa marches for the parade. “
And what’s a parade without march music, especially John Philips Sousa? Nothing is more patriotic than Sousa marches.
The parade starts at Avon and Montana, moves east down Montana to Grotto, south on Grotto for one block to Nebraska, west on Nebraska to Avon, north on Avon a half-block to the alley between Montana and Nebraska to Joen and Bill’s garage at 768 West Montana.
“I think it grows every year because every year someone has a new kid,” Bill said with a chuckle.
Hosting the parade for 37 years has made Bill and Joen very well-known in the neighborhood. Bill told me, “When I’m working out in the front yard people come by and honk at me and I have no idea who they are.”
They’ve made the Saint Paul Pioneer Press newspaper and the TV news in the past.
“We’ve tried to figure out how many Popsicles we’ve given out over the years,” said Bill, “and it’s got to be 37-hundred-plus.”
Joen doesn’t usually march because she’s preparing for the post-parade festivities, “Can’t put lemonade and things out when it’s almost 100 degrees until the last-minute. Same with the Popsicles. Everything goes out last minute. One year we had a car with a rumble seat and I got to ride in the rumble seat. That was nice.”
I asked for final thoughts about the parade and its legacy. Joen said, “it’s a wonderful neighborhood builder.” And Bill’s take, “It’s a pleasure for us to do it. We really enjoy doing it.”
For the first time since I started this project I took the same route in both directions of a ride. Several things I saw on the way to the parade were worth including in the blog.
First stop, Your Enchanted Florist and Ace Vacuum at Dale and Nebraska. I couldn’t tell whether this is one business or two. (It’s two.) Better yet, a look at the Internet and I found out that Ace Vacuum is now called “Vac That Thing Up.” When the new sign goes up I’ll be back for another picture.
Marydale Park (a combination of the two streets, Maryland and Dale, that border the park) was established in 1974. According to the City of Saint Paul website, citizens tried for years to reclaim this area and neighboring Loeb Lake, both of which had been used as a dumping ground for at least a half century. Loeb Lake, which I didn’t actually see, is stocked yearly with Bluegills and Crappies and the fishing is reportedly very good.
Here’s one time I wish the blog had audio. These guys were warming up on my first trip by Grotto Street and Thomas Avenue about 10 and I could tell they were going to be makings some fun music. When I rode past again in the early afternoon, they’d stepped it up and were groovin’.
Billy Newell was in charge of the entertainment, “Me and the guys, we play in a little band over in Minneapolis every Sunday so we just decided we’d come over here today and practice and play some music today.”
I asked Billy how long the band was going to play and he said, “Probably until they get tired. When it starts getting cool people will probably start coming by. Nobody might not even come but all we gonna do is have us some fun!”
Billy said they invited neighbors, friends and passers-by (including me!) over to listen to the tunes, play horseshoes, dominoes and cards and talk.
The music was too good to leave so I stuck around for another half an hour or so. When the band took a break I got back on the bike and resumed the trek home.
Today’s ride was probably my favorite so far this year. Folks of all ages were genuinely enjoying themselves, celebrating the holiday, despite the heat and humidity, in ways that were meaningful and fun. I appreciate Billy, and Joen and Bill for graciously welcoming me into their celebrations.
Click on the following link to view the map of this ride.