My First Dunedin Mardi Gras Parade
A one-word description: Unreal.
My being new to Dunedin could either be considered a great disadvantage or a fortunate advantage.
On one hand, when it comes to covering the city’s news, I have no baseline for events, history or venues. This means I may not inherently know things that are common knowledge to longtime residents. On the other hand, it could be considered a great advantage to you. I have no baseline, so I approach everything with a free and open mind and a commitment for absorbing it in its entirety. Sure, there's a learning curve, but it comes with an objectivity guarantee.
When folks in Dunedin hear that I’m new to the area, they frequently share with me all the great events I have to look forward to, the Mardi Gras parade being at the top of the list. “It’s big,” people would tell me when I pressed for more information. It was a frustratingly vague description, the magnitude of which, I couldn't possibly understand.
I found out what streets would be blocked off, what bands would play and that vendors would be on the streets. Based on the information and my past experience with community parades, I had no reason to believe it would be any bigger than the street festivals I’d already seen in Dunedin.
Pre-parade: “Is it OK if she rides with us?” my unofficial float sponsor asked its owner. The float owner graciously agreed. And then, as if some Parade Fairy Godmother waved her Fat Tuesday wand, my street clothes immediately transformed. Suddenly, I was decked out with a sequined party mask and about 10 pounds of beads hanging on my neck.
Our float soon launched, heading north on Douglas Avenue. “This is insane,” I commented. People lined the street by the hundreds.
“Oh, this is nothing,” said my float friend. “Wait till we get to Main Street. You’re going to crap your pants.”
Flash to mid-parade: I’m tossing beads to thousands of people waving their hands for more. We're stopped in front of the elevated judge's stand. Dunedin TV cameras are rolling; bright lights are shining on us. It was so dreamlike. When I woke up the morning of March 8, I did not expect, in my wildest dreams, to be in that moment (of course, I didn’t expect to be covering a county-wide prescription drug ring bust that morning, either). At best, I figured I’d be taking in the parade from the sidelines. Instead, there I was, throwing my heart out, as if a sacrificial parade-watcher might die if I didn’t throw beads (while simultaneously worrying, “I hope I don’t peg someone in the eye”).
We pushed off from the judge’s stand, and the elevated view of thousands of Mardi Gras revelers packed into the corner of Main Street and Douglas Avenue takes my breath away. People upon people, upon people, overflowing into Pioneer Park, not a patch of grass or asphalt anywhere on the horizon. Unreal.
"I seriously underestimated this parade," I say out loud.
"It's something you have to experience to understand," my float friend said.
True to my float friend's word, I "crapped" my pants. (Figuratively speaking, of course).
Dunedin, thank you for allowing me to be a part of your parade. I'm already looking forward to next year. Float on!