At 2:30 a.m. on Jan. 2, I woke up, reluctant to leave my warm bed, despite my dad knocking on my bedroom door. I didn’t complain though. After six years of saxophone lessons, four years of marching in my school band, and two months of rehearsals, the big day was finally here—I was marching in the Tournament of Roses Parade.
Sluggishly, I got dressed, packed my belongings and picked up my saxophone case. Double-checking that I had everything I needed, I left the house at 3:30 a.m. As I drove down the cold wet streets, I wanted to hold onto this, the only day in my life when I would be in the Rose Parade.
I headed for Pasadena City College, where I would join the other 250 members of the PCC Tournament of Roses Honor Band. It was a privilege to be part of this band; out of 600 who auditioned, only 150 high school students were chosen, along with 100 college students.
We dashed for our uniforms
By 4:20 I was parking my car. I was shocked to find some of the band members had slept overnight in their cars in the parking structure. I rushed to the locker rooms to put on my PCC uniform—red jacket with white sash, white pants, red shako (hat), white gloves and white squeaky-clean shoes—and assembled my saxophone. We lined up in the hallway for our uniform check—everything had to be clean, buttoned and well-fitting. Then we were issued lovely turquoise trash bags to keep us dry while we warmed up before the parade, clear parade ponchos and plastic bags for the woodwind instruments.
Then we boarded the buses to be transported to the parade start on Orange Grove Boulevard. The bus ride seemed to take forever. It was cramped, hot and the windows were foggy. Some dozed off, while others told jokes and had loud conversations with people at the other end of the bus. A saxophone player said his cousins from the Phillippines were going to watch him. The parade was going to be seen worldwide, along with the 40 million Americans who would watch it, and I regretted that I hadn’t told my cousins in Mexico to watch for me.
When we left the buses, we were in a rush. The parade was going to start at 8 and we had to find our places in the right row of our parade formation and warm up on our instruments. By this time I was anxious. I was worried about making mistakes, especially during the "TV sequence," where my mistakes would be exposed on nine TV channels. During one of the songs, the band was supposed to "pop" the horns up and to the right, along with the music. I hoped I wouldn’t forget that move—it would be obvious if I didn’t do it. There are just so many things to think about during a parade that you worry about going on "overload" and making tons of mistakes or, worse, blanking out.
It was almost time to march. The warm-up was incredibly quick, just enough to give us all a taste of that big sound we were shooting for—the clean, crisp, well-balanced "PCC" sound, unique in its own way. I felt so proud to be part of a band that sounded this good.
Meanwhile the rain was pounding us. We ripped off our turquoise trash bags and exchanged them for clear ponchos, which we would end up wearing until the end of the parade. We also had to take the plastic bags off our instruments. Several of my fellow sax players wondered if the rain would ruin their instruments. But I felt lucky to be in the first rainy Rose Parade in 51 years—the rain made it even more special.
There was no time to think
The warm-up was so quick, we didn’t even get a chance to stretch! I worried that my muscles would tear or give out on our five-and-a-half mile march. I realized I was worrying too much. I cleared my head, breathed deeply a few times, and reminded myself to accept anything that might happen. There were now a few seconds before we stepped off. "See you at the end of the parade," I told my fellow marchers. We were pumped and ready.
Approaching Orange Grove Boulevard, I saw the float in front of us, a huge "bathtub" float by Ivory Soap featuring a kid taking a bath, complete with a real faucet that spouted water (as if there wasn’t enough water already!) and bubbles. It hit me: I’m actually here! This is the Rose Parade! It was thrilling.
As we marched onto Orange Grove, my mind began racing. I had to remember my part in the song, along with any special moves; the sequence of songs, and pay attention to the drum major, who gave us commands to stop and go. I was constantly watching the musicians around me to make sure I stayed in line with everyone else. We also had to listen to the percussionists, and vary our marching speed according to the beat they set. All those miles we marched in the Dodgers stadium parking lot were really paying off now.
As we turned onto Colorado Boulevard, I saw the television station posts above the stands, immense crowds of people in the grandstands and on the sidewalks, with the bubbles from the float in front of us sparkling in the air. It seemed appropriate that this year’s parade theme was "It’s Magical." I wondered if my friends could see me on TV.
Meanwhile, the nonstop rain was just terrible. I could not hit the high notes anymore because the sax was clogged with water. I had to "fake it" a few times to get through the songs.
Drenched but still marching
My uniform was soaked too. It was hard to move my heavy, slippery fingers in my soggy gloves. My shoes filled with so much water, they weighed my feet down, and I found myself struggling to stay in time. My glasses got foggy and stained with water marks, but I couldn’t take them off and clean them. And the uniform itself was getting smelly! This is what happens when you have rainwater interacting with sweat.
As I marched and played, and tried to keep my glasses from sliding off, I also kept an eye on the ground. The rain was washing flowers, seeds and branches from the floats onto the parade route. What if I slipped on something and fell? Plus, there was the horse manure from the equestrian groups. Our band director had told us just to march right through it. No way! I planned to step around it if I came across any. Luckily I didn’t have to step in any horse poop.
Within a few hours, the parade was over. I had never been so wet or worked so hard in a parade. Despite the rain and everything else, the band had pulled through. It was a pleasure to be part of such a motivated, talented group. We cheered loudly, proud of ourselves for accomplishing this great feat. The drum major dismissed us and we rushed to the buses to get out of the rain and have lunch. As we shook ourselves dry, our section leader told us, "Just remember that I love each and every one of you guys." We told him we loved him too, kind of in a joking way, but it was serious.
My parents were waiting for me when I got home. I could tell they were proud of me. Looking back on it, the rain was a minor problem. The whole day seems like a dream, the day I marched in one of the best parades in the world.