Welcome to March at the Syracuse St. Patrick’s Parade

Participants merely have to follow the green line through downtown Syracuse for today's St. Patrick's  Parade.

Participants merely have to follow the green line through downtown Syracuse for today’s St. Patrick’s Parade.

The organizers put up a special street sign, to posthumously honor the longtime chair of the Syracuse St. Patrick's Parade.

The organizers put up a special street sign, to posthumously honor the longtime chair of the Syracuse St. Patrick’s Parade.

The happy times will roll down Syracuse’s Salina Street this afternoon.

The annual St. Patrick’s Day Parade is a really big deal.

For hours and hours, bands will march, floats will be pulled, vintage cars will roll slowly so dignitaries can wave from inside, fire companies will show off their shiniest truck.

Dance schools will Irish high step, rock bands will jam on truck beds, veterans will throw candy to scurrying children, social clubs will give members one more reason to socialize.

So many people march, I always wondered how there were enough people left over to join the festivities by lining the sidewalks dozens deep and crowding the bars in the neighboring blocks by the hundreds and basically making it seem like enough people to fill the Carrier Dome have squished themselves into that downtown stretch.

This year, there will be a big balloon pulled down South Salina Street by volunteer workers from the Syracuse Media Group. Kermit the Frog will signal a triumphant return for the words-and-photos bunch.

It’s been eight years, as I can best figure, since the balloon squad made its rounds.

Back in the day, Babar the Elephant or Woody the Woodpecker or one of its cartoon cousins were annually sponsored by the big daily.

I remember those parades well.

I proudly held my rope and marched.

It’s not as easy as it looks on TV as you watch those hot air characters paraded down the streets of Manhattan every Thanksgiving Day.

Sure, it’s filled with a gas lighter than air.

But the skin, that polyurethane shell created in the shape and color of so many favorites, is heavy.

When you’re one of the dozen or more folks holding on to the ropes attached to it, you feel like if half the crew bugged out, that baby would pull the rest of you up into the sky.

You must wear gloves because the rope burns bare hands. You must pay attention to the rope and those walking around you because it’s easy for the tethers to tangle.

The owners of the balloon will bring it deflated on a truck, fill it up with the helium-air mix and instruct the rope crew in how to haul it.

The Syracuse parade route has several traffic lights and pedestrian bridges. Lowering and raising the balloon is a carefully orchestrated maneuver akin to Dancing with the Stars.

My best memory is the year we guided Babar the Elephant down Salina Street.

My dear wife Karen was part of the crew, before she was my dear wife, before we had gone on our first date.

Her rope got tangled during the parade and she let it go.

This I know because a work photographer captured that crew in a wonderful photo that hung on the wall of the big daily for the 10 years after, with Karen walking next to the hanging rope and me among those still latched on.

When the big daily was packing up to move to new offices last year, Karen asked the HR director if she could take that picture home. Alas, when Karen went to collect it, somebody else had gotten to it first.

We have our own memories of that March day nevertheless.

The balloon crew and other newspaper workers celebrated the successful balloon trip with a trip to a bar — well, several bars, actually.

At one place, there were two stools left next to the door.

Karen and I ended up sitting there chatting. Several folks coming in thought we worked at the bar and tried giving us a couple bucks, thinking we were collecting a cover charge.

We laughed.

We knew each other better as part of the gang.

By the end of that year, we’d gone out on our first date.

It’s supposed to rain today. The parade will be on TV. We’re taking a pass. But we’ll never forget being part of the marching horde in the Syracuse St. Patrick’s parade.

36 thoughts on “Welcome to March at the Syracuse St. Patrick’s Parade

  1. Aw, how lovely! I’ve never seen a proper parade like this… and only on TV when that TV is on a movie or something. I’ve never thought about the fact that they could just float away like that… has that ever happened? Don’t you think it would be a tad bit tempting to orchestrate it amongst your fellow float holders– like at the corner of X and Y street, let’s all of us let go except for Jane. Perhaps that’s just my wicked mind over here…


  2. Neat story Mark. And a great story of a meeting leading to marriage. Sounds like you really celebrate the showing of the green in Syracuse. Around here it largely goes unnoticed except for sales on corned beef and cabbage. I’ll have to make mine later in the year, but I’ll definitely wear my shirt and hat my sis brought back from Ireland for me. Well, actually she brought me the shirt, I kinda grabbed the hat off her head in a snatch and run back when I could still run.


  3. This is gorgeous post. And yes, it has it all.
    I love the story of how you met your dear wife Karen. I wish, I WISH you had that picture! But it sounds like you have it stored away in your brain. And now we do, too.

    This might be one of my favorite posts of yours. Maybe it’s because I like parades, or balloons, or a love story, or just finding out how hard it really is to command one of those big balloons at a parade. It’s one of those things we take for granted, without really knowing how much work goes into it.



    • I had fun writing this one, Samara, because I knew where it was going from the very start, a winding route that would take everybody to the point where good things were beginning. Thanks for your kind words. And, for sure, I keep waiting to read the news story about too-light balloon handlers drifting up in the air outside of Macy’s!


  4. This was a fun post. Everyone loves a parade! I am always surprised that roads are closed on Monday, the ‘real’ celebration day, here in Columbus, Ohio. I mean, wish it were held on a Sat. for all to attend! This is a nice partnership that you share with your wife, you give us kind glimpses of the good man you are within posts! Smiles, Robin


    • It’s beautiful in spring, summer and fall, certainly, laflor. You should try to com to see New York City for a few days, then go the extra 400 miles to see Niagara Falls. It will take your breath away!


  5. this is a wonderful st. pat’s story, mark. i love st. pat’s parades, they are always so happy, i love the street sign of honor, the green line, and most of all, your sharing stools by the door with karen part. great post.


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