If you're planning to spoof the Winter Olympics' ice skating competition in this year's Doo Dah Parade, you might want to reconsider. After all, a bunch of Canadians are on the Doo Dah International Judging panel, and skating paybacks, as we all know, can be hell. On the other hand, show up as a neurotic, trembling French judge and the Queen of Doo Dah will likely hail you from her golf cart.
Variously known as the Queen of Doo Dah, Mz Doo Dah, and the Doo Dah ChairChick, Deb Roberts/Loutzenhiser is devoted to promoting "liberty and lunacy" in the Short North. You'll find her motoring through the parade, attended by the King of the Queen, AKA Charlie Loutzenhiser, this July 4th. At 41 years old, Roberts shows no sign of abdicating her throne, though she is still a bit perplexed by her title. With a wisecracking Eve Arden-like delivery, she asks, "Queen of what?"
We have lunch one afternoon at Phillip's Coney Island and chat about how one goes from growing up in Philo, Ohio, to becoming Queen of Doo Dah. "Trash," she says, wryly. "I started out picking up trash. I still pick up trash."
For the uninitiated, the Doo Dah Parade - parade participants has poked fun at everything and everyone from the Bush girls to Castro (the ever-popular Marching Fidels) to Upper Arlington (there was once an "Upper Yuppington" float). Anyone can march, and nothing is sacred (you can bet that Catholic priests will be the object of some wicked humor this year). Winding its way through the streets of Victorian Village and the Short North, the parade became wildly popular - and just over 10 years into its existence, a bit too wild. Parade-watchers began throwing water balloons at those marching. Ultimately, spectators became so violent that one marcher was injured.
A decision was made to cancel the parade for three years. And although it was officially cancelled, the event, true to its nature of contradicting itself, went on. But Roberts recalls those days with palpable distaste: "It was just no fun that last year. It's not pleasant when someone shoots you right in the face (with a water pistol)."
In recent years, a much calmer audience lines the parade route, many of whom travel from the northern 'burbs to gawk and giggle. There will be no Doo Dah on their suburban streets, according to the Queen. At least twice, attempts have been made to duplicate Doo Dah -once in Upper Arlington (a gaff that inspired the aforementioned Upper Yuppington float) and most recently at Easton. The mall's management thought it would be a great idea to hold an
"Ooh Aah" Parade. Roberts immediately registered the "Ooh Aah" name with the state, prohibiting Easton from using it in the future, and then went to the mall toting a sign that read, "Ooh Aah, Doo Dah Fraud."
Roberts' feisty demeanor is shared by her colleagues, most notably the "Emperor of the Short North and Baron of the Bottoms, Douglas the Last" (AKA Doug Ritchey - "Doug rules the land of Doo Dah," Roberts explains). Together, the group has set the tone for irreverent revelry. "It's a great place to vent using political satire," she says. "We don't even know what PC means."
Roberts first volunteered for Doo Dah duty 13 years ago. After picking up garbage along the route for several years, she moved up to "volunteer uncoordinator" and then, six years ago, to ChairChick. It's unclear exactly when she became Queen, but as you listen to her talk about her annual gown search - "Darlin', every queen has a closet full of gowns"- you get the idea that the title really isn't much of a burden. Not long after each Doo Dah event, Roberts begins her search for next year's perfect gown, raiding the Salvation Army racks. "I have two gowns this year. Maybe I'll wear one for day and one for night."
Having grown up on a golf course (really), Roberts also has an affinity for golf carts. Unlike pampered royalty, however, Roberts insists on taking the wheel. "I love driving it." In the past, two waifs-in-waiting, Deb Carey and Linda Boulder, escorted Roberts. And then she met future-husband Charlie, who became the King of the Queen. Smiling broadly, she says, "He's been riding with me ever since."
Roberts' Doo Dah identity has become so much a part of her life that her travel agency's (University Travel Service) web address is www.mzdoodah.com. Clearly, she loves a parade. She lists a few of her favorite parade entries over the years: the Doo Dah band performing Foxy Lady; the Red Eye Witness News van with its faux satellite dish and half-dressed reporters; and Dr. Broyle's Construction Crew, which parodied a former local doctor whose wife was found buried in the concrete foundation of his home. "Doo Dah is supposed to be about your own beef," says Roberts. "There are enough morons in the world and there's lots to pick on. There are too many creative people in this neighborhood for it (to become conventional)."
While last year's event had plenty to mock (who could forget hanging chads?), this year's parade has to contend with the very somber reality of 9/11. Roberts, though, sees Doo Dah as a welcome escape from the tension. "I'm patriotic, but this isn't a patriotic event. It's about celebrating liberty and lunacy."
She hints at some possible entries for this year's parade: a spoof on WLVQ-FM jocks Wags and Elliott ("because they declined to be Grand Marshals of the parade"); the return of the On-Land Synchronized Swimming Team; a Congressman Traficant look-alike; Mayor Michael Coleman; and the infamous Beer Belly Brigade. Andrea Cambern,
WBNS-TV news anchor, is the parade's Less-than-Grand Marshal. "Maybe this will be the icing on her weirdness cake," laughs Roberts. Although the entries change from year to year, Roberts says she keeps "seeing the same crazy people" in the parade.
As ChairChick, Roberts' role is to oversee the parade's marketing and media efforts, as well as soliciting support from Short North businesses and directing other administrative tasks. The job is nearly year-round, with only a two-month break after each parade. She is quick to recognize the contributions of her fellow DisOrganizers and, despite her exalted title, loathe to take much credit for the event. With a budget of $4,500, the DisOrganizers pay for t-shirts, permits, and services from city police. Each year, the group donates proceeds from T-shirt sales to a local children's organization, such as Short Stop.
Roberts' love for political and social satire doesn't limit itself to one day a year. In fact, she and others in the group have been known to engage in guerrilla spoofing a week or so before Doo Dah. Roberts gleefully relates one such adventure: When a local realtor snagged a piece of neighborhood property from the city for a measly $10,000, the Doo Dah Queen and King posted "for sale" signs throughout Goodale Park.
As we sit looking out the window at Phillip's Coney Island, we spy two women walking down High Street, wearing "look-at-me-hey-I'm-rich" outfits. I can't help but wonder, where are Doo Dah's Fashion Police when you need them? I look at Roberts, who is wincing; my guess is that she's wondering the same thing. "We're awful," she says, laughing.
The 2002 Doo Dah Parade theme is "Commit to Be Lit" - Roberts says, "You don't have to be fit to be lit." The parade starts at noon, July 4 (rain date, of course, is July 3). The route, according to Doo Dah DisOrganizers, is: "Park Street to Buttles Avenue, taking a left, left, left onto High Street, then left, left, left onto Second Avenue, then left, left, left onto Neil Avenue, then left, left, left onto Buttles Avenue, then left, left, left onto High Street again, to Russell Street. But then again, that could be backwards and it could all be right, right, right in the opposite direction. If you need more info, call Mz Doo Dah @ 228-0621.
July, 2002 Cover Story