Tonight I went to the Brillion Electric Parade. It was being held on main street at 9pm as part of this weekend's Brillionfest. All the typical small town parade features were there: people in lawn chairs lining the street for as far as the eye could see; decorated night-time floats with strings of twinking lights; street vendors selling glow-sticks; potential political candidates handing out flyers; candy being tossed to eager children waiting on the curbs; local county fair royalty; floats/vehicles for almost every business in town; about a dozen fire trucks from every nearby community; marching bands; the mayor in a classic convertible; a flat-bed semi carrying the state champion football team; and more. It was a fascinating experience!
And, I say fascinating, because I don't think I've been to a small town parade in over 20 years. And not because I didn't want to.... but because I've lived in the big metropolis for the past 20 years. Parades in the big city are very different from parades in small towns. It's a completely different culture.
Point of fact, for me, as I stood on the curb watching tonight's parade, I was surprised by some of this local small town culture. Here in Brillion, one of the big three factories is the Brillion Iron Works. It's a huge facility; not at all something you'd expect to see operating in a city of only 3,000 people. But nonetheless, Brillion is its home. In the parade, their float was a mere semi. No decorations, no lights, just a typical semi truck/trailer driving in the parade. As I discovered, here, a parade is all about getting your corporate logo seen. And... well... their logo is on the side of all of their semi trucks.
Another thing that I'm not used to seeing is all the farm equipment. In the parade. And we're talking everything from the cool old-fashioned John Deere tractors, to the HUGE modern you-can-drive-a-car-under-me crop harvesters and machinery. In short, two-story tall farm machinery. Sting up some lights on one of those bad boys, and you have yourself a parade float! In tonight's parade, where were at least half a dozen of those monsters.
You definitely don't see that in the big city!
Another thing that intrigued me were the golf carts. There were a few of those in the parade as well. Some of them were lit up with lights, others were just there carrying notable people. Some were just plain simple golf carts with someone standing on the back holding a sign. I can't really give them points for creativity there, but, I suppose you just go with what works.
One of the most fascinating units in the parade -- at least for me -- was a marching band from Milwaukee. Big city Milwaukee. My old hometown. The Milwaukee that resides 100 miles southeast of Brillion. I was pleasantly surprised to see them too; way up here. I don't remember the name of the band, but they seemed about as close to a skilled drum corps/professional marching band as you can get. A nice addition to all the local floats, signs, and musical groups.
Where I come from, a big-city parade is usually creatively decorated floats. Flowers. Ribbons. Wood frame contructs. At least a dozen marching bands, one for each of the many high schools and colleges in the area. Lots of horses. Police on horseback. Rows of military veterans. Rows of reenactors portraying soldiers from past wars. Clowns. Crazy clowns in tiny cars. Fancy classic cars. Military vehicles. Loud music blaring from floats as they pass by. Singers singing from floats. People dressed in costumes lit up by thousands of tiny lights. Dancers. Guys on stilts. People on big bikes. People on little bikes. Professional series race cars. Costumed characters. Street performers. Things like that.
Big cities have more resources and manpower that allow them to create more elaborate parade units. And they're a sight to see, believe me! But one thing I like about these small town parades -- like the one I just watched on main street, is the resourcefulness of the proud farmers, business owners, and local citizens. When you don't have those deep pockets or the master float builders like the big city... you turn what simple things you do have into something worthy of the whole town turning out to watch. And believe me, around here, the whole town turns out for a parade.
It's a different culture here. It's more intimate. Personal. Inviting. Passionate. All things I didn't experience as much in the two-million-people-strong Metro Milwaukee area. But here... it's a way of life. And it's the driving factor behind everything Brillion does. Even parades.
I may be from the big city; I'll always miss the big city. Someday I may go back. But for now, with each small town cultural aspect that I experience here in Brillion... I find this place growing on me more and more. I grew up in a town half the size of Brillion. Then I lived in big cities for 20 years. Now, I guess you could say... I'm back to my roots.
It's a fascinating experience! No question about it.
So... here's to Brillion, and a parade well done. ... [hat tip] ... I've never been much of a parade-goer. But after tonight, I'll admit, I'm already looking forward to next year.