Save the parade, hold the drama

The charm of my local Fourth of July parade is its provincial, ad-hoc personality, a Midwest-meets-People's-Republic-with-a-side-order-of-hippies kind of thing that sets the admission bar lower than Death Valley. Here in Baja Santa Monica, you get an info-deprived banner announcing "Grand Marshal" in front of some unrecognizable guy riding in a car. You get the starred-and-striped members of the DAR and marchers for the Santa Monica Fancy Dress Swim attired in tuxedoes, gowns and Speedos. You get AYSO kids marching in their team uniforms as their adult minders kick a soccer ball wearing flip-flops.

This morning's parade was not as goofy as in years past. Where were the people garbed in plastic bags protesting consumers' poor refuse habits? Where were the lobster people, protesting ... I dunno, shellfish allergies? Where were the saffron-robed Hare Krishnas? Certainly their agent was in attendance, passing out promotional literature among the crowd.

But what this year's parade lacked in laugh-out-loud appeal, unfortunately it made up for in true-life drama. The usual barricades had been erected to prevent vehicular traffic on Main Street south of Pico more than an hour before the 9:30 a.m. start. But nothing prevented people and their pets from crossing the street at will before and during the event, which is as much a neighborhood block party as a parade. Kids and dogs rule. This year, one guy brought his gray kitten on a leash.

Moments before the first parade entry crossed Ocean Park Boulevard a block and a half north, a burgundy Toyota Scion materialized out of nowhere, zooming south apparently oblivious to the people and dogs clustered curbside, and darting into the street. Suddenly there was a collective scream and the gut-tugging screech of brakes as a toddler in a red, white and blue fireworks dress stepped off the curb in front of the car.

In a split second, the atmosphere went from festive to furious, as parents grabbed their crying kids and other grown-ups surrounded the car, banging on the hood and shouting vigilantesque demands. They tried to yank the driver out of the car, but the doors were locked. The perp, a woman in her 70s, looked confused; she turned on the wipers as the angry crowd pounded on the windshield. An army of phone photographers snapped shots of her license plate.

Within a minute or two, a couple of motorcycle cops on parade detail took control. The crowd backed off, and, apart from mood whiplash, it appeared as though no one had been hurt. But this was now the scene of something official--an accident, a near accident, a crime--and the cops summoned paramedic backup. They instructed parade-watchers to move away from the Toyota, which remained parked in front of Toe Heaven--"Foot Reflexology, Waxing, ATM"--as the investigation got underway alongside the Santa Monica High School marching band.

As we applauded for the lifeguards and their "Baywatch"-emblazoned canoe, and for the Santa Monica mounted police horse with a fetching checkerboard pattern groomed into his massive butt, a fire truck and ambulance arrived. Paramedics unloaded a stretcher. Marchers carrying a sign that read "Love your neighbor as yourself," and others with a "Buy Local" banner vied with the cops for the crowd's attention.

The Santa Monica Fire Department was too well represented among parade entries, with a big red truck, a blue paramedic van and a couple of other vehicles, all with their sirens at fake full volume as police officers interviewed witnesses for real mere feet away.

Something called the Santa Monica Corps consisting of six people in black suits passed by, then a guy in a three-cornered hat and pilgrim breeches riding a Segway, then the Westside Original Car Club, with models including a translucent green, finned 1950s' Bel Air with tuck-and-roll upholstery and a 1930s' square black sedan fit for a mobster. Other vintage models in cherry condition motored slowly past a cop taking the dimensions of the Toyota with a rolling tape measure. The paramedics returned the empty stretcher to their van.

Meals On Wheels marched by, oddly represented by a couple of stilt-walkers, followed by a 1946 woodie with a surfboard hanging out the back. Its horn was a conch shell that required several attempts before the driver managed to honk. Four people in an extended golf cart bearing an inflatable fish mobile hoisted a sign that read "Life, Liberty, Happiness." A sky-blue Corvair came later with vanity plates--"NoNader." A bunch of Chabad members in prayer shawls, black suits and side curls danced in front of their message, "Mitzvahs on the spot for people on the go."

The driver of the Toyota wasn't going anywhere. Two-thirds through the parade, the cops moved her car into a small parking lot across from Toe Heaven. When the parade finished and the crowd began to disperse, she remained on the sidewalk. So did the father of the toddler she came within an inch or two of hitting. He said he thought his daughter was OK, but that they would "have her looked at later."

Asked how the driver managed to speed her car down a barricaded street, one of the motorcycle cops said she must have come out of a driveway in the middle of the block. "[She's] a little confused," he said. "We're going to get her checked out by the DMV."

There were fireworks at the Santa Monica parade today. Luckily, nobody got hurt.

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