It All Comes Together at 2nd and MarketBy Thad Gann
I’ve been going to the Chinese New Year Parade for years and years. Then in the first year of the new millennium, my brother-in-law got seats in the VIP section at Union Square for the whole family.
After the parade was over he asked me if I would like to see it from behind the scenes. I often tease him even now that it’s his fault that I became a volunteer, but the truth is it’s one of the best things anyone has ever done for me.
I volunteered for my first parade in 2001 and volunteered for a dozen years in a row before taking a break to watch and photograph the parade. Since then I’ve volunteered several more times.
The first year I walked with the Miss Chinatown float. During my second year, they needed a section leader and I was volunteered again. Being a section leader is fun. Most of the time it’s easy, the participants have been going for years. And occasionally it’s like wrangling cats.
While watching a parade, people don’t really take in the complexity. The San Fransisco Chinese New Year Parade is miles long, perhaps the largest outside China. It is not possible to line it up on a few blocks on Market Street. I liken it to a mighty river with many tributaries. The floats line up on Market Street. The VIP cars are staged up on Second. Bands, performers, Lion Dancers, and schools are divided into sections and gathered in side streets and building open areas.
Everything comes together at Second and Market where a very experienced crew brings each tributary into parade formation. For many years as section leader watched for my group and made sure they were up to the parade start on time and in order. And with several experiences parade marshals working with me it went smoothly. And always seemed to work itself out at the start of the mighty river flowing like some cosmic dragon through the heart of our City.
I had other tasks throughout the years. Walking with a specific float, working with other sections, etc. One year I was assigned to the mayor’s car and given two tasks: Keep the car moving, and don’t let him get out. Of course, it wasn’t until the end of the parade when I tried to explain why I failed so miserably I was told “Oh yeah, he’s the mayor. He always stops, he always gets out. In fact, he walks most of the parade.”
So even my worst screwup over the years wasn’t that horrible. And to my knowledge, we’ve yet to lose a mayor.
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