Hometown Parades: A Slice of Americana

I t was a cool, dreary, misty morning on Main Street in downtown Kennesaw, Georgia; and the weather drifted into the early afternoon as police erected barricades and fluorescent yellow crime scene tape for several blocks. Out of curiosity, people started to gather as the blare of a locomotive horn echoed in the distance as the lighted arms of the crossing over Cherokee Street lowered in anticipation of the arrival of an oncoming train.

Law enforcement officers and city workers were milling about everywhere — but it was not because a crime had been committed. Nope — a ubiquitous yet traditional slice of Americana was about to occur: the hometown Christmas parade. On the east side of the railroad tracks in this quant center of town which was decorated for the holiday season, children were in one area playing in “snow” made from a machine even though the temperature was in the low 60s. Vendors were hawking their wares from small tents — everything from sandwiches to massages to religious services.

As the last of the cars of a train clickety-clacked along the track which snaked through this city of approximately 30,000 residents, a man in holiday attire cheerfully greeted the crowd which lined both sides of Main Street and announced the commencement of the parade, starting with Kennesaw’s Finest as two police officers on motorcycles with their red and blue lights flashing waved to the crowd.

Photograph ©2014 by Brian Cohen.

Photograph ©2014 by Brian Cohen.

Growing up in Brooklyn, I had always thought that the terms Finest and Bravest were reserved for the police officers and firefighters respectively in New York City. Now I am not even sure whether or not the term originated there. One thing I have noticed is that when someone says The City — as in “I went to the city to have dinner” as a poor example — more often than not people automatically think of New York…

Photograph ©2014 by Brian Cohen.

Photograph ©2014 by Brian Cohen.

…but I digress. My mind returns to Kennesaw and its parade of Mrs. Claus and boy scouts and girl scouts and antique cars and dancers and employees of The Southern Museum of Civil War and Locomotive History. Beauty queens proudly wore their crowns and sashes. Local merchants advertised their products and services on makeshift floats towed by personal vehicles. Two high school marching bands — one of which won its latest award as a finalist in a national championship last month — oompahed their sousaphones; jazzed the air with their alto saxophones; tooted their flutes; and pounded their drums in full regalia. Cheers and applause erupted from the crowd for retired military personnel — resplendent in their uniforms — who served this country during wartime as they were displayed on floats adorned with American flags. There were even greyhounds wearing fake antlers as they represented Second Chance Greyhounds — an all-volunteer non-profit organization that is working to form partnerships with correctional facilities throughout Georgia who will foster and train former racing Greyhounds to better prepare them for life as a treasured pet.

Photograph ©2014 by Brian Cohen.

Photograph ©2014 by Brian Cohen.

Photograph ©2014 by Brian Cohen.

Photograph ©2014 by Brian Cohen.

Vaughn Williams — the director of athletics at Kennesaw State University — was the celebrity of the parade this year, waving from the back seat of a Ford Mustang convertible. The Owls football team prepares to play its long-anticipated inaugural season after years of bringing it from concept to reality with the assistance of legendary college football coach Vince Dooley, whose photograph appears at the bottom of this article I wrote about the grand re-opening of the Delta Flight Museum on June 17, 2014.

Cheerleaders follow Vaughn Williams, who is the director of athletics at Kennesaw State University. Photograph ©2014 by Brian Cohen.

Cheerleaders follow Vaughn Williams, who is the director of athletics at Kennesaw State University. Photograph ©2014 by Brian Cohen.

Children were delighted by the constant barrage of candy being thrown at them from the participants of the parade. Leaflets were handed out — some containing coupons and discounts. Another train slowly crawled its way through town with its horn blaring…

Santa Claus in a fire truck signals the end of the annual holiday parade in Kennesaw, Georgia. Photograph ©2014 by Brian Cohen.

Santa Claus in a fire truck signals the end of the annual holiday parade in Kennesaw, Georgia. Photograph ©2014 by Brian Cohen.

…and the parade concluded with Santa Claus waving from the “passenger side” of a fire truck one hour after it started.

When I was photographing a parade for a collateral kit I was designing for a radio station in Riverhead, New York on eastern Long Island, I also received a flavor of the town which I would not otherwise have experienced by simply visiting it, which helped me significantly with my work on that project. There were photographs of elderly people watching from the front porches of their modest homes; the local stores and offices festively decorated for that day; the traffic lights which changed from red to green uselessly. Interestingly, the weather for that parade in Riverhead was about the same as it was for the parade earlier today in Kennesaw — and that was during the summertime.

Parades are like soup, I suppose: all of the ingredients are there in one place simultaneously for anyone to taste — whether you are a neighbor or a stranger from another land. Even though I typically do not enjoy parades, it occurred to me that I was reminded from when I was at the parade in Riverhead: what better way is there to get a taste of small-town Americana than a parade?

The United States is by far not the only country which has parades. As a college student studying photography in Paris for a month while earning my Bachelor of Fine Arts degree — it was like being on vacation while receiving college credit; and how cool is that? — I ventured down to the Avenue des Champs-Élysées on July 14 while I was there. I wanted to see the parade for Bastille Day, which during every July 14 commemorates the beginning of the French Revolution with the Storming of the Bastille in 1789; as well as the Fête de la Fédération which celebrated the unity of the French people in 1790. The Avenue des Champs-Élysées was quite crowded. When I asked some people in French where — as a college student from the United States — I could get a good view of the parade, they actually escorted me through the layers of people right up to the barricades along the street in front of the crowds so that I may enjoy an unobstructed view of the soldiers and tanks which slowly moved down the broad boulevard to triumphant music. Even the president of France participated in the parade in a motorcade — but once again, I digress.

I suppose that what I am saying is the even if you are not particularly fond of hometown parades, I recommend you attend at least one. It is an excellent place to meet local residents and merchants who will surely answer any questions you may have and guide you to enjoy and take advantage of the best their town has to offer. You might even score some coupons and discounts to merchants and restaurants which would otherwise not be available elsewhere…

…and when you think about it, isn’t all of that the point of travel in general — to experience the local flavor which encompasses people, cuisine, culture and style; and possibly saving money in the process?

Photographs ©2014 by Brian Cohen.

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