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I love a parade, but I would rather be in it than sit on the sidewalk watching as it goes by.
There were two annual parades in Ottumwa: Saint Patrick's Day and Oktoberfest. Oktoberfest is the biggie. Our radio station staff had a ball and participated in both.
When Dad owned the radio stations, I had an idea for the fall parade, but he said no. "It would be too expensive, impractical, and unsafe," was his reasoning. So, we hung some station banners, put balloons on the motorhome, and drove through tossing out the same boring candy as the rest of the parade floats.
My brother Steve livened up the same float the following year by adding a sound system that pumped out "97.7 Today's Best Music." Between songs, the DJ talked to the crowd over the airwaves. People liked that, but we still tossed out the same boring candy. Several years later, I bought the radio stations. That October, I implemented my plan into action.
The staff and I gathered in the meeting room at 8:30 to prepare for the 10 am parade. First, we put the meat on the buns, added a ketchup and mustard packet, then wrapped the hotdogs individually in sheets of deli waxed paper. Finally, we tossed the hotdogs out to the crowd during the parade - 250 of them. It seemed like a good idea, but Dad's skepticism may have had some validity,
When we threw the hotdogs, the waxed paper came loose midair. The single unit flew apart, becoming four individual projectiles – sometimes five if the bun broke in half. We had littered the streets with hotdog debris.
Little kids found entertainment in stomping condiment packages on the ground, which shot ketchup and mustard on the legs of folks who didn't want to wear the Iowa State University colors that day. Teenagers picked up the links and threw them at friends – frankfurters and buns were flying everywhere. It was all fun and games until Grandma Sharon got beaned in the forehead with a weenie, then it was nearly an all-out food fight on Main Street!
Dad was right. Tossing hotdogs instead of candy was impractical and possibly unsafe, at least as I had initially planned. I wasn't ready to throw in the towel, but my plan definitely required some re-thinking.
The following year we increased the quantity to 300 and added a piece of tape on each wrapped sandwich; they still came apart. So the year after that, we wrapped 350 hotdogs in those square foil sheets like the restaurants. They held together better than in waxed paper, but sandwiches from restaurants aren't meant to be thrown through the air. We needed a more rigid foil.
In the fourth year, we wrapped the hotdogs in regular aluminum foil. We cut the pieces of foil about fifteen inches; three inches longer than the restaurant foil squares. Finally, we had the magical wrapper that allowed us to launch a hotdog like a precision-guided missile and hold the contents together. The tin foil also kept the hotdogs warmer than the paper wrappers. (Of course, if you hit someone directly in the head, I would imagine it still hurt a little bit.) The hot dogs were a hit and became an annual tradition.
People would see the TOM-FM truck in the parade line and press toward the street. Often calling their favorite DJs by name, "Hey! Throw me a hotdog!" By the time I finished my career in radio, some twenty-two years later, we were up to 3,500 hotdogs for the parade. The hotdogs were something people looked forward to annually.
People still talk about the hotdogs today, but nobody ever asked me, "Do you remember when you used to toss out the same candy as everyone else in the parade?" I do love a parade.
Not long ago, I was in Faribault, Minnesota, filling my car with gas. An old car driving down the street caught my attention. It was an Amphicar.
The amphibious German-built Amphicar could travel on the road, and maneuver like a boat by simply driving into a lake. When my dad was the manager of KTVO television in the 1960's they covered an Amphicar with ABC stickers. Whoever guessed the number of decals would win the car!
The TV station promoted the contest by displaying the car at different businesses; of course, it was in every parade possible. On several occasions, Dad would take some of my siblings and me for a ride in the Amphicar. Then he would drive into the water at the marina, where we would putt around for a bit before returning to shore. It was cool and always drew a crowd to watch!
The Germans only built the Amphicar for about five years, and there aren't many of them still around. So you can imagine how seeing that car in Faribault caught my attention. I quickly topped off my tank as I watched to see which way the old car went; he turned right off highway 60.
At the end of the street, I could see the lights of a police car flashing by the traffic lights. It looked as though they were directing traffic. Maybe there was an accident. I jumped in the car and headed that way. The cop was directing westbound traffic from Highway 60 to turn north (right) onto a city street, the same road the Amphicar took. I pulled in behind a newer, hopped-up Mustang and followed the line. The driver kept revving his engine to impress people, I guess.
A few blocks away, a city park has a reservoir on the river. Maybe the Amphicar would be there – in the water. I looked as I passed by; no such luck, so I continued to follow the traffic ahead. We passed another cop and then a third and a fourth, all directing traffic. Finally, the line of cars had left the city and detoured along a county road. It wasn't long until we saw a sheriff's deputy directing traffic to turn right at an intersection.
Farmers and neighbors in the country were sitting at the end of their driveways, watching traffic. They were friendly and all seemed to wave, so I waved back at them. I figured it must have been a bad accident; these country folks were probably not accustomed to seeing so much traffic on their road.
The Mustang ahead of me would slow down a little before each group of people he passed. He would drop down one gear, then accelerate as he passed the people so they could hear the roar of his car's loud, powerful engine. In front of the Mustang, I noticed a 60's model red Chevy Impala. A teal 40's Ford coupe was in front of him, and a powder blue Plymouth Fury was in front of the Ford.
A few minutes later, I also noticed several classic cars in my rearview mirror. "They must be on their way to a car show, and all got diverted by the accident," I said, talking to myself. People kept waving as we drove by. "I wonder how so many neighbors heard about the old cars being sent down their road because of an accident?" Then, suddenly, a light bulb lit up over my head. I immediately called my wife and told her what was happening.
"They're doing what?" She was as puzzled as I was at first.
I repeated what was going on. "Honey, I accidentally got myself into a parade of old, classic cars," I reported with excitement!
"Oh, my Lord," she said in disbelief. "Only you, Tom Palen. Only you." Then she asked the obvious question, "I assume you pulled off to get out of their parade."
"Are you kidding me," I replied. "Heck no!" I honked, waved, and hollered "Hello," as I passed another group of people. They enthusiastically waved back, returning my salutations. "Honey, I'm having an absolute blast!"
"Turn off on the next street and get out of their parade," she said.
"Honey, you're breaking up. I must have a bad signal. I'll call you later," I said even though I had excellent reception.
I saw thick smoke ahead of me on the road, and the parade slowed as we came back into town. (I assumed it was Faribault.) "I hope one of the cars didn't catch fire," I said with concern. Then the Mustang stopped on the road as the smoke cleared. Another man directed me to stop well behind the Stang. A man sprayed the rear tires on the muscle car in front of me. "Oh my gosh! This is a burnout contest area!" I was excited to see what the Mustang could do.
Though he gave it his best shot, the driver couldn't get the tires to spin. He stopped and tried again, barely squeaking the tires. A man on the right side of the road waved for the Mustang to move along. That had to be embarrassing for the driver. The first man holding the spray bottle waved his wand at me as if to ask if I wanted my tires sprayed with bleach for the burnout contest. I thought about it, then shook my head, indicating I would pass.
As we returned to Faribault, even more people watched as the classic cars returned to town. I wanted to follow up to see where they were gathering; maybe I would find the Amphicar and check it out. But instead, I decided I better start heading home.
I turned into a parking lot and googled, "vintage car show, Faribault Mn." The reply popped up, "Downtown Faribault Car Cruise Night." Apparently, this wasn’t an impromptu thing. They have a car cruise on the third Friday of every month from May to September. So I called my wife, "Are we home the third weekend in August?"
"I think so; why," she questioned.
I told her what I found out. "Next month, I want to come to Faribault with Willie." (Willie is our 1971 green Ford F-250 Camper Special, with a classic 1970 Alaskan camper in the bed.) "We can go to the car show and drive Willie through the parade." There was a long pause; she didn't say anything. "Come on, Honey, it will be a blast. You know I love parades."
She finally answered, "We'll talk about it when you get home."
Well, I don't know if we'll be going to Faribault with Willie in August. But one thing I know for sure: on the third Friday in July of this year, I had to be driving the coolest kid-hauling, grocery-getting 2017 Subaru Forester that participated in the Downtown Faribault Car Cruise Night parade. If only I'd known about it in advance, I would have taken hotdogs to throw out to the people gathered to watch the classic cars. I do love a parade.