Parade staging a choreography of chaos

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WALLA WALLA — It rained on Macy’s Parade of Lights Saturday night.

Three hours earlier in the staging area, the skies were clear blue with just a spattering of cumulonimbi over the Blues and a very hopeful Jennifer Northam of the Downtown Walla Walla Foundation counting on those clouds holding out until the parade was over.

Even more pressing for Northam was the task of having to organize 68 vehicles, riders, walkers and parade floats.

“They are not maneuverable, so if we run into an issue it can be a sticky wicket,” Northam said.

For several years now, Northam has been the lead coordinator for what is possibly Walla Walla’s largest parade. And once again, on the first Saturday afternoon of December, Northam found herself directing 68 entries as they stationed along Boyer Avenue east of Palouse.

At around 4 p.m. Northam’s job was finding a parking spot for the Walla Walla Regional Airport’s Oshkosh P-series snow plow, which was equipped with a 24-foot blade, making it the widest float of the night.

“I like having you right there. This is perfect,” Northam said, with an ulterior motive to parking the plow in the lot next to the Walla Walla Sub Shop.

It’s seems the biggest problem Northam faced was thwarting wrong-way drivers.

Imagine several dozen rigs, many with 20-foot or longer trailers, all trying to park on a narrow street. Throw into the mixture a number of pedestrian working in the streets, frantically trying to start generators, hang lights or tend beasts, all in the dark, and the result is organized chaos.

So to help alleviate the congestion, Boyer became a one-way street on Saturday, and a team of assertive volunteers enforced the new traffic direction.

“Bossy people are good volunteers,” Northam added.

But there were the security breaches, such as alleys and parking lots that needed to be blocked, hence the need to set a 24-foot wide snowplow across a parking lot entrance.

For almost two hours, floats entered from the east on Boyer, at which point they would begin looking for their numbers.

Though the numbers were in order, the dark led to other problems.

“That guy, he missed his spot and he must be cycling around,” said Robert Riley of the Steppin’ Country float, noting that backing up a float in these conditions was too dangerous.

Even when everyone follows the rules, Riley said problems still occur.

“Sometimes you take a mirror off and that’s OK. Its in the right spirit,” Riley said, noting he saw that happen last year and that he wasn’t the driver.

In spite of a rather chaotic start, all 68 entries were staged and ready to go at about 6 p.m., which was about the same time the rain started.

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