Columbus, Ohio USA
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Somebody Bet on the Bay
The 30th Anniversary of the Somehow Annual Doo Dah Parade
By Allex Spires
July/August 2014 Issue
Friday, The Fourth Day of July in the Hundred Score and Twice-Seventh Year since B.C.(E.)
Batman fell on hard times and had to sell his much beloved Camaro Batmobile but walked in the parade and performed his super-heroic duties nonetheless. Photo © Larry Hamill
On a No. 2 bus that was running late because it was the Fourth of July, a man told me that a friend of his had his car towed from the Doo Dah Parade route and that was why he was riding the bus. Nobody else on the bus seemed particularly excited about the fact that it was July 4 and that it was looking up to being a rather mild and pleasant Independence Day, the mildest and most pleasant in recent memory, in fact.
The bus crossed Broad Street on High at 12:34 p.m. At this rate I’d make it to my destination, the corner of Buttles and Park, with time to spare before 1:01 when time’s lighted fuse would burn down to set off the human fireworks display I’d come to experience firsthand. Then the bus turned onto Nationwide Boulevard taking a detour to avoid Doo Dah. But I needed to be at Doo Dah!
I took egress at the first stop and made my way back down Nationwide to High and turned right. I said “Happy Independence Day” to the people I passed, most ignored me, and turned left at Goodale where a police car, siren lights flashing, blocked off access any farther up High. At Park Street and Goodale the last entries into the parade lineup were getting their acts and floats together, preparing to leap blindly into the weird and unknown.
A bunch of women at the end of the line wore pink and green tutus. A gang of men celebrating polka were all dressed as yodelers. The Ballooniacs had laid out a 20-foot balloon model of Godzilla and were preparing it on struts while other group members were unpacking a large pink balloon contraption.
“Excuse me,” I asked, “What is this?”
A smiling woman held up an end of the pink thing and matter-of-factly said, “This is the tutu that goes on Godzilla.”
I felt such a fool. “Of course it is.”
Onward I found CordovaInk, a new tattoo parlor in Grove City, with a Winnebago float which bore signs: “Art for the People” and “Follow your dreams or you’ll spend the rest of your life working for someone who did.”
Next were a cadre of belly dancers followed by a Duck Dynasty duct tape truck featuring farm and hunting implements composed of or repaired with duct tape and/or cellophane. Performance artists Button and Snap, with teevy antennae decorating colanders atop their heads (Button’s colander had a large button attached and Snaps had an oversized male snap) atop their NASA logo-painted semi-nude bodies that sat atop a canoe set atop an automobile, looked ready to sail across the stars.
Bethany turned 30 and stayed flirty and had a full entourage of friends, family, and well-wishers present to ensure she turned 30 in style in tandem with the Doo Dah Parade celebrating its 31st go. The first parade in 1984 was on day one, so the first-year anniversary was the second parade. A pickup marked with an unconvincing “Police” insignia carried people in the bed who had apparently escaped from the county jail.
I was then introduced to the most amazing of all local celebrities, Mr. Bubbles, whose voice screams Percy Dovetonsils and whose smile is so infectious I thought I might have caught bubonic plague. I wouldn’t have recognized him at all, he’s changed so much over the last year, but his mustache, like a wide ginko leaf filling his orbicularis oris, gave him dead away.
I next came across a car towing a trailer with a full ten-piece drum kit on it. There was a man in a red jumpsuit, a child dressed as – for an entire instant, I assumed it was a Viking, but the second second’s second glance showed that this boy was dressed as every superhero. What I mistook for a Viking helmet was Thor’s winged helmet; his whole outfit was made up of pieces taken from no less than 527 different superhero costume kits. This kid knew at least one of these items would instill superpowers and wasn’t taking chances on a dud.
The Shazzbots were all dressed the way you’d expect to find a space shuttle crew. These are people working on a new television show and hopefully, through a KickStarter campaign, it will get off the ground. Blatant advertising isn’t allowed at Doo Dah unless you are willing to not take yourself seriously, and the Shazzbots were all silly enough in their regular work clothes to get past the censors. Columbus needs a public access television station. No, the Internet isn’t good enough because the Internet isn’t damned well local!
Next up: a sheriff biker dressed loosely as the Village People; bearded jesters and clowns galore; ninjas, ronins, samurais; the custom Volkswagen Beetle limousine. As I said, blatant advertising isn’t allowed, and since all political campaigns are just blatant advertising, politicians are required to wear silly hats in the parade: John Gonzales, running for judge, sent his campaigners out in sombreros. Next was an art car adorned with stars, radiation-warning logos, pizza slices, and skulls with crossbones. Covering the hood were a hockey mask-wearing mannequin head, keys, buttons, beaded necklaces, and Barbie. Alternative and gothic-themed wedding officiant Kimberly D. Burke was out in full regalia with a hearse I assume is intended to act as wedding coach for the marriages she presides over as minister for alternativeweddings.org.
Suddenly I found my me accosted by gorgeous Douchebag women wanting a group photo taken. Who am I to say no? Then all the people from the Top Ten Douchebags team, which always has a special place for the Kardouchians, rushed to stand before me, smiling stridently. I caught the photo and moved along. Too many Douchebags for me, including Miley Cyrus in her brown psycho bunny bear plush bikini-cut outfit. Then I happened on the well-regulated Short North Militia riding a wacky bike car, with Nerf guns at the ready, ready to take on anything. The Swing Columbus group practiced a line dance number. I came to the float for Dana the Online Queen of Clintonville with signs: “Not In My Back Yard.” “Is that Local?” “Is this organic?” “The sky is falling!” I was asked, “How do you know if someone’s from Clintonville?” And the immediate answer: “Don’t worry, they’ll f*ing tell you.”
There was a Centurion and a Samurai with armor and swords made from beer cases, and the Centurion wore chainmail constructed entirely from beer can pull tabs. They stood ready behind a sign that said “No Alcohol Beyond This Point” beside another affixed to a golf cart reading “MADD Pub Crawl.” With just five minutes till the start, I encountered a man who beat drum sticks against an upturned metal pail and complimented me on my tote bag’s own special message: “Fill This Bag, Not The Landfill.” But then I told him to please not actually use it as a trashcan.
I spotted a very large group of vegans, all wearing black in the hot sun, and passed Dance Walk Columbus, who, true to their name, would dance and walk throughout the parade. I stopped to see the Ohio Roller Girls, dressed as aliens, one with a Ridley Scott baby Giger alien chest burster exploding out of her torso. Based on a quick head count, I made my way past a thousand people on bicycles, all dressed as bees. But who cares about bees? Certainly not big pesticide and herbicide manufacturers, that’s for sure. I passed a beautiful hog beside a scissor lift that was going to be ridden in the precarious “raised” position. And noted a group of proton pack-wearing, neutrino wand-brandishing, ECTO-1- driving, Marshmallow Man-capturing Ghostbusters with their own name patches in the official Ghostbusters typeface.
A geriatric band of Star Wars characters marching with walkers and Depends Undergarments were out promoting the movie that nobody on Earth is excited to see – Star Wars Episode VII: The Quest for New Licensing Fees. I passed a TARDIS blue car with a Sylvester McCoy look-alike at the wheel and an inflatable TARDIS on the roof bearing a sign that begged the question: “Who’s your favorite Doctor?” Colin Baker. I noticed people from Star Base Columbus, a sci-fi superstore in Grove City, were all gearing up as Star Trek characters. I observed a pair of bikers with no cause who just felt like riding in the parade. The troupe from Columbus Civic Theater, on Indianola in Clintonville, had also come out to take part in the interactive play that is the Doo Dah Parade.
Ahead of this, with two minutes to go, was another kind of theater group, Improv Afficionados of Columbus promoting Improv Wars One Night Stand. They came right before the Scaratorium, a Hallowe’en type attraction with an ambulance and crazy clown doctors. I went by a group of zombies and I was almost running now trying to get past all the entries and be at the front of the lineup when the parade began. I passed the Studio 35 Rocky Horror Picture Show troupe in drag and fishnets and underpants, then the Fidels No Marchan who, unlike the more well-known Marching Fidels, drive a jeep through the parade rather than marching. Up next was Nicolai’s brother Dr. Bob Tesla who hosts Midnight Monster Movies, which holds free screenings at the Gateway Film Center with Cannibal the Musical, the first feature release by the Tony Award-winning team behind Book of Mormon, Trey Parker and Matt Stone, coming up on August 9.
I bumped into Ramona Moon, who is often named as one of the first in the art car movement, getting into her art car for the start of the parade. Next up was a 1966 Quandt Amphicar with skipper and passengers geared up for fun and water sports on what was sure to be a completely dry run. Then Gov. John Kasucks – ‘nuff said. Close behind was the famous Tiki torch car, torches alight, mermaid on hood, bamboo side panels and a tiki hut trailer in tow. Then the colorful collaboration between the Athens puppeteer group Honey For The Heart and the local group Openheart Creatures, both of whom apparently make puppets and can put on very elaborate puppet productions, featuring well over a dozen Mardi Gras-type costumed performers. At the front, just 50 feet away, I could hear people singing the “Star Spangled Banner.” Floats were starting their engines, and everybody was getting geared to go. Next came a mad rush to reach the start of the parade. I could see the Marching Fidels turn onto Buttles, followed closely by the marching band. I hadn’t made it to see “Starter Joe” Theibert get the parade underway. But now not only was I making my way to the corner, so was everybody else, and there seemed to be no organization as entries rushed and mingled together, and I got sucked along by the current and herky-jerky momentum of a river of bodies.
I spotted and made way toward Starter Joe and told him of my plan to cover the parade from the inside and interview the people as they marched. He liked the idea and told me to have a good time, and I was through the starting gate, stepping swiftly to catch up with the front of the parade. Thousands upon thousands of people lined the start of the parade, and there was no diminution of their numbers along the entire route. Ahead of me, a man who’d never played a banjo before in his life plucked away at one while the Capri-cut army fatigue slacks he wore slipped down to show off his pink t-back draws.
I caught up with him and confirmed the legend that the band is made up of people who are randomly given an instrument they’ve usually never played before and that their only practice is held during the parade while performing before as large an audience as any platinum-selling recording artist can expect to see at any given show. I was made a DisHonorary member of the UnOfficial Doo Dah Band and began whistling loudly and poorly along with the banjo man and the rest of the band including a fellow beside us who played a kazoo into a microphone connected to an amp on his back in a terrible rendition of “When the Saints Go Marching In.” Then a drum majorette who’d never before twirled a baton swung a flag and almost smashed me in the cheek. The sousaphone is usually one of the loudest instruments in a marching band but the one in this band was barely audible.
A man with a large aluminum hoop, who had seen too many Cirque du Soleil shows, put himself inside of his hoop so that his arms and legs became spokes and his belt buckle the hub of a large wheel, and he twirled like a spinning coin coming to rest. The audience was thrilled beyond measure. Up ahead of me was a locust dressed as a farmer representing the dangers of radiation. Then I caught up with the Marching Fidels just as they stopped to take a siesta, all puffing away at fine Romeo Y Julietas, I learned, after they awoke, that each is their own Fidel who has been the self-proclaimed leader of a small Caribbean nation for an arbitrary period of time and only represent the idea of Castro; they carried a banner that read Fidels For Hillary.
Ahead of the Fidels was Tom Coombs who loves a Doo Dah Parade and marches dressed in sweatshirts and hats embroidered and appliquéd with the phrase: “I Love a Doo Dah Parade!” He was made a DisHonorary DisOrganizer this year, which he told me was his 22nd year traveling from Woodland Meadows, Illinois, to march in the parade. I moved ahead and chased down the lead of two golf carts that were well ahead of me. At the wheel of my quarry, unashamedly handling the chore of being her own chauffer, sat the Queen of Doo Dah herself, Mz Deb Roberts. I asked her what makes Doo Dah work. The answer: Humor. Now I made my way backward to see how the parade was faring and how the participants were handling the long walk around the outer reaches of the Short North.
A lot more happened: I should mention that even though three people said they felt tired, most of the entrants in the parade said they felt great and were having a wonderful time. I overheard the Marching Fidels laying out secret plans to take an apparently spontaneous siesta and then sing “Yankee Doodle.” Ian Urquhart, whose Scottish family castle sits on the famed Loch Ness, and myself marched along with the band, he played Tibetan prayer bells and a tambourine, and as we talked the band stopped playing, and in a gesture not unlike the Fidels’ siesta everyone knelt or crouched or sat yogi-style and hummed meditatively – as a DisHonorary member I felt it my duty to join in.
Many people I spoke to weren’t sure exactly why they were in the parade. A lot of them said they were in the parade because a friend had called them at the eleventh hour and invited them to march, so they’d wound up as costumed creatures and unwitting cos-play team-up co-adventurers; all the rest seemed to feel that without the Doo Dah Parade, life just wouldn’t be the same. I got Doo Dah beads, which are exactly like Mardi Gras beads except you don’t have to show off your naughty bits to get them, you just have to show up. All of the large Doo Dah T-shirts had sold out by noon and apparently the sort of people who buy Doo Dah Parade memorabilia are not the sort of people who can fit mediums and smalls; some smalls were still available after the parade had run its course.
I learned from a very reliable source that the Doo Dah Parade was actually 34 years old. Shelly Wiechers told me that it was drinking wine that led her to the idea of covering her car from end to end with wine corks. This year’s Less-Than-Grand Marshal, renowned NBC4 meteorologist Jym Ganahl, told me he accepted the DisHonorary role in the parade because it was something he had wanted to do before he died and it looked like he was getting close. Gov. John Kasucks mumbled at me drunkenly, threw candy at children, and had me escorted away from his person by a couple of “heavies.” Almost the exact same thing happened when I tried to interview the much more docile candidate Woofie. I ran into Batman, and it turned out that the Dark Knight had fallen on hard times and had to sell his much beloved Camaro Batmobile. He walked in the parade, but performed his super-heroic duties nonetheless. There was so much that happened, but space constraints have forced me to truncate my story and end it here until next Fourth of July and Doo Dah 32.
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