I really love this stuff. When I first moved to Minnesota I was absolutely charmed at the timewarp aspect of parades such as these, although there were many more of them even that recently. (There is now only one Aquatenniel Parade, for example, rather than two, and there is no more Northside Showboat Days parade.) Three times last night people I know shouted out my name, either from floats going by or from the sides of the streets. I live somewhere. I live here.
This got me thinking about the Pride parade, which is coming up this weekend. It's now the season for people to write in various forums about not liking Pride parades. In previous years a lot of people wrote a lot of nonsense about how it's only the "freaks" at Pride, and how the parades offend Aunt Ethel or something (which is code for "they offend me but I won't admit that so I'll displace my assholeness by claiming it's about protecting somebody else"). But this year the only complaints I read came from people who noted that they don't enjoy Pride (and planned not to go -- which differs from "didn't plan to go") because of the crowds. In each of these notes I sensed a subtext that I couldn't quite elucidate, a different subtext for each note, something that was bothering the writer that didn't seem to be only "I don't like being around a lot of people", but I'm withholding any sort of conclusion about what that might be in each of the cases.
Enjoying a Pride Parade and Festival is not something that can be argued -- if you don't enjoy it, you don't enjoy it. But I think that part of what's going on here is a larger cultural trend, the movement away from regular seasonal festivals and public gatherings, and towards staying home with large-screen HDTVs (to simplify things a bit). The Pride Parades and Festivals are community events like the Celebrate Northeast Parade or even the State Fair -- although even that yields the inevitable complaints about the "commercialization" of Pride, as if the hundreds of community organizations at Pride didn't exist. Are Pride Parades in large cities just too big now to serve this purpose? Or have people lost a sense of what this purpose is and why it's a good thing to get out and see your neighbors? Both, of course, but I fear there's too much of the latter involved for me and my idealization of the world as I want it to be.
When I lived in Boston the annual Pride Festival was quite literally the day I saw every lesbian and gay and bisexual person I knew in the city of Boston. I remember standing around once with a few people and realizing that every man I'd slept with in the previous eight years was standing right there with me (this wasn't too large of a number, obviously). It was Old Home Week for sure. I haven't been to the Boston Parade since 1988, and I believe it's now a good ten times the size I remember, so I'm sure those days are long gone.
Still, in Minneapolis I always run into many people I know -- and many of them are staffing the various organizational booths. I like to sit down along the side of the path that encircles Loring Park and watch everybody walk by. Ok, I love this. I don't find this oppressively crowded at all -- I find it to be people-watching at its absolute best.
It's been 23 years since I've marched in a Pride Parade in any other capacity than as part of a community marching band, so I don't know what it's like to have a less defined role than I do -- or not to be cheered and shouted at for the entire length of the route. I suppose that if I were simply meandering along the route behind some sign it would seem tedious. But then after the parade I change out of my band uniform and I always have a wonderful time wandering around the festival, running into friends, chatting with strangers, and collecting the freebies from the corporate booths.
I wish I had some way of helping other people enjoy this the way I do. The best I've done so far is, on occasion, convinced somebody to come visit me in Minnesota for Pride Weekend. They always say, "But this is so friendly and sweet." So maybe, all told, it's not that I have a different expectation of Pride. Maybe it's simply that Minnesota Pride is different. Still, in every city I believe that Pride can be likened to Market Day in a Cotswald Village of Queers.
Enjoy it as best you can, folks.