But none of that is what I speak of here.
What I speak of here is last night's Holidazzle Parade, a parade of lights along the Nicollet Mall that now takes place every Thursday through Sunday between Thanksgiving and Christmas. There are wonderful floats, and many light-bedecked costumes that different sets of volunteers wear each night. There is also a set of band outfits, and various local bands play on different nights. I have been marching three nights a year since the parade began with the Minnesota Freedom Band, and of late I've also been marching one additional night with the Minneapolis Police Band.
As you can imagine, over the years I have marched in some pretty foul and some desperately cold weather. The Freedom Band these days gets to play the first few nights, over Thanksgiving Weekend, so we've been pretty lucky lately. Plus the last few Decembers have been mild, which has helped somewhat. But my luck ran out last night with the Police band.
The Police Band can barely muster enough members to march at all on the sunshiniest of summer days, so I was surprised they had contracted to do this parade. Although, as they pointed out to me, it's $200 for the band. Believe me, I know how much that means to a community band. But they had barely eight musicians last night, plus three percussionists (including me). As I pointed out to them afterwards (as they flocked about me to thank me, as they always do, which feels awkward), this is one of those occasions where I feel that what I'm doing matters a great deal. Which is why I agreed to do it.
Let me tell you about the weather yesterday. The day began with a little rain and snow and surprisingly mild temperatures hovering in the low 30s, although there were major problems all day with icing. We were at the very edge of a serious blizzard that was moving across the Dakotas and northern Minnesota -- a blizzard bad enough to close all the highways in that area, which is extremely rare. The Arctic front hit around 4pm, which means sudden severe temperature drop. I happened to be at work yesterday afternoon, which is just the other side of downtown from where the parade begins; in my one-mile drive over at 4pm my car got covered with big blobs of ice. This did not bode well.
By the time we blocked up for the parade at 6pm the temperature had dropped to the low 20s and the wind was whipping up to dangerous territory, blowing frozen ice crystals through the air and hard into our cheeks like small pieces of glass. The temperature continued to drop, although we did sort of dodge the bullet of impossible dangerous unbelievable wind chill by about two hours (temperatures were in the single digits within half an hour of the parade's end, and below zero not much later). The streets and sidewalks were as slippery as you might fear under such circumstances.
But here's the cool part. As we stood and waited to take our place in the parade all the street lights went out (as they always do for the parade) and I stood there in the bitter cold and high wind and looked out over a vista of blowing icy snow, illuminated by the colored lights of the floats. It was pretty, and invigorating in a winter way, but it was absolutely ludicrous that we were marching in this. I mean ludicrous in its literal sense, because I started to laugh. What else could you do? This wasn't just unpleasant, this was absurd.
The even cooler part is that bands, in my experience, tend to be composed of good sports. The band members were not comfortable, but nobody whined. They just warmed up their instruments, tried to figure out how to keep their valves from sticking, and waited their turn. This is what bands do. We've all marched countless times in parades when the skies opened up with torrential rain -- at which point what can you do? You're wet. You keep marching. This is very much the reason I enjoy marching band. In the way I enjoy Morris at times.
My experience marching in the bitter cold is that after three or four blocks my hands start to warm up and I'm fine, and that was mostly true in this case. There were times during the parade when I was very comfortable, even, and surprisingly happy to be marching. But then -- oh but then -- the wind would whip up to its blizzard-gusts, and my drum would become a sail that I could not control, and the wind whipping against my numb cheeks stung terribly and I would have to chant myself into moving on (just one more block -- one more -- now another). That's when I knew I had moved back into boasting territory.
There's something about the frozen discomfort that makes you feel all warm and toasty and happy when you manage to return to a warm place. At the end of the parade they smash us like sardines into city buses to drive us back to the parade starting point, and a sense of giggly pleasure overtook me. Look what we just did! And we lived! And I never faltered on my drum!
See? Boasting rights. I got 'em.