I hate a parade!

Eschew on this: The grand marshal of world-weariness says it's OK to stay home

Chicago's annual St. Patrick's Day parade will step off at noon Saturday from Balbo and Columbus drives in Grant Park and head north about half a mile to Monroe Drive.

You couldn't pay me to be there.

Contrary to the words of the famous song, I hate a parade.

Nothing against this particular event or the Irish-Americans who flock to it. Just in general. I hate floats, strolling dignitaries, marching bands and drill teams. I hate large balloon characters, processions of novelty vehicles, mock parade royalty and people in costume waving to the crowd and strewing cheap candy, which I also hate.

"Hate" may sound like an awfully strong emotion given the harmlessness of the procession of the above elements. But, like "love," the word has been so cheapened by overuse that it's fitting shorthand for the indifference and bewilderment with which I regard nearly every parade.

Don't get me wrong. I understand why people love to be in parades. What's not to love about being the center of attention? Mary Schmich, Amy Dickinson and I rode on the flatbed of an antique pickup truck in the 2005 Magnificent Mile Lights Festival parade, and getting friendly waves from spectators standing 20 and 30 deep along North Michigan Avenue was exhilarating, even though they were there to see Mickey Mouse and friends, not us.

But I don't understand why people love to be at parades. What's to love?

"I Love a Parade" was written for a movie in 1931, when television was still experimental, no one had a home stereo and revolutions in plastics and robotics hadn't raised our national threshold for spectacle. Hearing a real live marching band was a big deal, I'm sure. Seeing cheesy rolling dioramas made of chicken wire and tissue paper was amazing. Watching close-order stepping and getting an up-close look at politicians you'd seen only in grainy newspaper photos was a thrill.

Many people still find sentimental value in this kind of anachronistic pageantry — the quaint, almost small-town feel of even the gay pride parade, the most contemporary of cavalcades, manages to pack sidewalks and delight families.

Which is fine with me.

I'm not out to be the Ebenezer Scrooge of parade season, which kicks off this month in the Chicago area and features street-clogging events in the city and suburbs nearly every weekend through Columbus Day. As long as no one compels my attendance, I'm happy that others are being entertained and have no interest in souring their outlook or enlisting them in a buzz-kill brigade.

And I exempt from my jaded critique all parades that honor military veterans, men and women who deserve more honor and attention than we give them.

What I am out to do is offer comfort and a message of solidarity to those who've long felt guilty about their aversion to parades; to those who suffer silently when persuaded to join their enthusiastic friends and relatives in staking out prime spots along the curb so they can get a better view of the firetrucks and strutting Rotarians when they pass several hours later.

I'm here to tell those of you who've never cared for marching band music — have any on your iPod? Didn't think so — or the sight of convertibles piled with minor celebrities that you are not alone.

When I posted an online click survey on this topic earlier this week, 54 percent of respondents agreed with the statement, "Those who shun parades are my kind of people." Unscientific, sure. But when the Chicago Reader's "Straight Dope" feature posted a parade-related survey in 2009, 40 percent of respondents clicked on "I hate a parade" while another 29 percent clicked "Who cares?" Just 12 percent answered "I love a parade."

In other words, we are legion. We need no longer pretend out of a sense of duty or shame that we enjoy this ancient and tedious ritual.

Say it loud and say it proud: "No, that's OK, you go on without me."

March on over to chicagotribune.com/zorn to comment on this column.

 

 

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