Everybody was talking about it, so I should have known. My landlord--groanfully--my neighbors--giddily, mischeviously--the cops--wearily ("gotta work a double on labor day, what the hell is that, right?). And I figured, a parade, a parade to celebrate West Indian culture. That sounds kewl. That sounds like a good time. My neighborhood's full of these people, so it makes sense to have the route go down eastern parkway two blocks away.
Current mood: savage
Then the party truck came. This flat bed with its own porta potty dropped off and big ass straps to hold the PA speakers. Uh-oh, I say.
Olivia snaps the blinds shut. Then peeks through them with her sneak (non West Indian) half-puerto rican fingers! I keep waiting for it to be on, keep waiting for the man in the trenchcoat I saw freestyling on the train to have his album come blaring out.
This is, I think, Friday night. T-minus two days and a night to Labor Day, and the scheduled parade. It's pretty loud for a while, and it sorta looks like the loose assemblage of dreadheads congregating on the flatbed are doing something, or what I'd call commencing to fix to do something, but mostly it's just music and a bunch of people on the front stoop of the house the truck's parked in front of.
But there are flags. Oh are there flags: this skinny ass rowhouse limestone--which is a brownstone except with limestone, and so kinda cream colored--with its three narrow floors, couple windows, and rounded out semi-turrets (think the Huxtables plus Sesame Street, sorta) cram packed from every drape able place swaying in the breeze, Jamaica, Dominican Republic, Trinidad, St. Lucia, Barbados, Anguilla or some shit, Antigua--names and flags that sound made up, like they use the requisite pieces of a country flag--red, white, blue, some stars, interlocking patterns of alternating color. Boom! Instant Island country, irie.
Jah right. Whatever.
I ask the guy whose house is holding the mini-fest--Mr. Smith, the block captain--I ask Mr. Smith what's up with the truck.
I tilt back and then toward him, in disbelief and in order to give him a view of the SEMI PARKED IN FRONT OF HIS HOUSE.
"Yeah." I wave my arm out. "The truck."
"Oh. That's da party truck." It's funny; Mr. Smith don't SOUND like Caribbeaner. But neither can I place his accent. "You need special pass to get on the truck." I hadn't asked, so I'm thinking about how to respond to this, when he leans in a little closer, waves me in kinda, with smaller speech:
"You want I can get you on the truck."
"That's alright. Hey, Mr. Smith." He snaps his chin up to me. "Which country is that they got up there?" I point to the flag. "I mean, where are you from?"
"That? That's...." I have no idea what he said. Again, I'm pretty sure these folks are making things up. "But I'm from Panama." He sees the confusion in my eyebrows.
"We get in on everything."
So it's pretty freakin' loud with party drums on the party truck and everybody revved up to do nothing, and I get to sleep pretty late. Then Saturday morning comes. More drums! A panic of the cat on hyper alert mode! It's like nine thirty in the morning and I hear over top of Tropicale Mambo extraordinaire beat, about three different songs with DJ's dueling their competitive cross-faders (not a live steel drum in sight, not a single timbale, tambourine, nuthin live), this repetitive singing:
"And we ain't gonna stop til we see the light of the dawwwwwwn...."
Oh man, the parade! It's already the parade--and they've detoured to my street, to my HOUSE. I see lawn chairs, I see old people swaying their heads, I see aimless teenagers and even more aimless young whit ecouples meandering without destination. I'm looking for the tell-tale tinfoil drip pans, the massive disposable covered tin pans that mean only one thing: curry, jerk, roti, you name it. In a word: the tasty. But I find nothing in my first scan, standing at the window, squinting at the sun shine, scratching the ass of my boxers.
Just tons of school kids dressed like neon LSD butterflies, all lame and Alice in Wonderland. I see dragons, I see palm trees that know how to dance, all of it too bright to see in the morning light of just woke up. And check this: a bunch of em are on stilts. I shit you not: thirteen year olds, maybe fourteen, up eight, nine feet in the air, marching to a beat, people. They do better marking time on lumber way up in the air than I do standing in one place trying to keep up with da rhythm. But they are just having a ball out there, and I kinda like it, tired as I am. But nobody told me Saturday....
Sunday was Coney Island, and then other stuff, and we didn't get back til late (more on that in part III), but sure enough, rolling into our front door, we look over at that party truck and it's got banners and three dudes, one of whom is dressed in a flag (not like the shirts that have an American Flag print, like a flag he tied into a shirt to cover his torso), working feverishly with hammer and nails to build....to build....I don't know what. Still don't. But I'm guessing it was one of those DJ thrones of wood, a kind of modified cage that people can perch and dance on top of, semi-float style. And they've got the diesel, the rig, hitched up to the flatbed, so they're mobile. But I don't know how in the hell that thing's gonna make it complete to the parade tomorrow at eight or whenever the dang thing starts.
After Saturday I'm terrified Monday's gonna be absolute chaos, like prisonbreak post Rodney King riot crazy, like pounding on my windows , beating and frothy crazy. But no. Monday comes and all I see are no parking signs, some wooden police barricades, and some languid cops yawning at each other, leaning.
Then I try to get on the subway, the 3 line, which runs under, you guessed it: Eastern Parkway. I walk the two blocks south and BOOM, I'm in it. Just swarms upon swarms of people. Everybody looking somewhere else, charcoal smoke billowing around their heads from lines of oil drum grills sizzling pounds and pounds of meat and corn, all lined up like fusillades of cannon, with barbecue men in africa flag aprons tending them, turning them, lighting their wicks, stoking their coals. Everything is motion. Everything is buzzing with people energy. There are so many people you have to walk at a lowest common denominator crawl pace. There's nothing you can do, no way to fight it.
But the vibe ain't malicious in the least. THere's just so much to see, all around you, in foreground middleground background, with food and milling people with shirts necklaces shorts short enough to let out bare asses, hair braid holders in their respective country flag colors, waving flags from the line of houses set back a bit, grandmas looking overawed and infantly amused from their balconies, mounting trash piles on corners, people trying to collect, organize, get to where they have the best vantage point on the next towering glitter monstrosity that's making it's way down the hill peak of the road. I am positively engulfed, and luckily there's a pathway--not my usual, but whatever--that leads you directly into the subway, whether you want to go in it or not. Some older ladies in front of me nearly got flattened because they made an about face at the head of the stairs. I could barely see them for the noise.
It was the same thing coming home, except I couldn't cross Eastern Parkway because of float traffic--mad deafening noise, just a jungle tropical hive of syncopation and hot concrete beats, all amplified, all louder than the party truck assembly mix the night before. I couldn't even guess what the total number of people was, even in that small area, and the parade route was easily a mile, mile and a half long, running all the way to the massive arch in Grand Army Plaza that's flanked by the central branch of the public library. All I can say is that if this were a protest, somebody would be listening. But it wasn't. It was a party!
Later that day I was watching the news, the local news--don't ask me, man; I never do that---and I saw this same swarm, except shot overhead, as an aerial view. They had one of those "Live" overlays in the bottom left corner, and I knew the double line of trees, and what the fuck else was going on in new york city today but this damn parade, but jesus jumping jiminy, that looks like a TON of people. Then I hear the guy from the news on the voiceover, talking about 3.5 million people.
Say what? You telling me there were three point five million people crammed onto what were essentially two sidewalks and one small side street, for a mile and a half tops?? He went on to say that most of the day was peaceful despite the crowd--I have no idea what that means, but am starting to pick up on his town--but that, unfortunately, with such density and the heat and, you know, things couldn't help but get out of hand, and one person was shot. In the leg, it turns out, and then a police officer who apprehended the shooter was also wounded, though not seriously (turned out he got nicked in the arm), and that this was the only incident.
And I thought to myself, yeah, it does look kinda dangerous from way up there in the helicopter, if you look at it all at once like that, if you can't see what's going on. And then I think, funny, because, from down there, the most menacing thing I noticed were these low-flying helicopters making like they were gonna Tomahawk chop our heads off or something. I even tried to get away from them in my backyard at home, but they were still slashing away, stirring up the air like a little hurricane and making my ears feel like somebody was playing an accordion with them.