Friday, March 19, 2010

Saint Patrick’s Day Parade

Until last fall, the office I work at was located on 46th street, twixt 5th & Madison. I have a sort of flexible deal. I don’t have to be in the office every day and can work out of my home office; I always make sure I was there on Saint Patrick’s Day. I like to be in New York to witness the festivities.

Not everybody had this attitude. The streets are crowded and noisy; more than few folks in the throngs have been drinking. But there’s an energy I love. Walking around and seeing all the green is fun. Every Deli serves great corn beef.

Before the current office gig, I of course had been to the parade a few times. I wear some green and have a drink or two on St. Patrick’s Day, but it is not an event I would go out of my way for. Due to happenstance, working in that part of Manhattan, I now find it a pleasant diversion and also a good excuse to have a few whiskeys after work with cohorts. Why not raise a glass, pay some tribute, give props as the kids say to the Irish?

I don’t really see too much of the parade. The parade itself is kind of gross. What is great is walking “behind the scenes,” on the feeder streets. My office was located on one of these feeder streets. The parade seems to start around 42nd and goes up 80th I think, although there are plans afoot to shorten the parade route. The viewing stand is at 50th street, St. Patrick’s Cathedral. On the feeder streets—the streets between 42nd & 49th (or so), you see the marchers, bag pipers and such, but especially the kids, the high school marching bands. Their energy is infectious. They have so much enthusiasm and giddy anxiety. I think about how they’ll always have this memory of coming into NYC from whatever small town, be in the Midwest or in Long Island and being in a parade. It isn’t half as much fun watching them march, as it is watching them wait, watching them anticipate the moment they put all those after school practice times into motion.

I did notice that fewer contingents were on the feeder streets, one maybe two formations of folks ready to march. Not the three or four I recalled from years past. Another sign of the recession? Had schools cut the Saint Patrick’s Day trip out of their budgets, or cut the band budgets? Or did the parade get shortened. I was up there around 1pm and it was already winding down—I passed street sweepers already in formation at like 43rd. That darn thing used to run at least until 3:00 pm. The sanitation department was ready to go before 1 pm. Cut this short, no overtime pay for anybody. I guess the parade can withstand some austerity—they still don’t let gays march under their own banner which is nothing less than pure bigotry—but it is kind of messed up that because of Wall Street greed and Republican enabling of the greed, our economy is in such bad shape we tell kids, sorry, your marching band cannot be Irish for one day. It’s not in the budget.

I noticed an interesting contingent of young Asian kids wearing white t-shirts for the Old Saint Patrick’s Cathedral, which is down there by Little Italy and China Town. One of the oldest churches in the U.S., it’s where the Irish first got organized in the New World. Changing demographics have made the congregation Asian. The irony is touching and relevant, if you think about it, the standard bearers of some authentic Irish-American tradition being off spring of another group of immigrants.

I went to the parade when I was in College, we did some serious partying—like getting a case of beer, sitting down on the sidewalk and drinking the whole thing. Several years ago, they started putting tighter controls on the open air boozing, a good thing. Drinking went on, just not as blatantly. Well, those controls have now lapsed. I noticed kids and more drunken kids than parades of recent years. Many groups of tipsy young adults and older teenagers wandered about. They weren’t brandishing beers but they had a lot of plastic mugs and drinking cups, with the straw and lid. They were obviously a wee lit up. Luckily, I was back in the office by the time most of the vomiting began. I noticed very little rowdiness. Kids should party. It is a good thing. I wish I could still sit on the sidewalk.

By the same token, the cops were imposing more security. They were not stopping the kids for boozing it up some, but they were stricter about walking down streets, keeping some sidewalks clear. I felt they were over doing it. I think it was part of plan to wrap this up early. Eliminating freedom and limiting your fun—that’s been Bloomberg’s New York City policy, making that city safe for Rich White People. He seems more intent on that now that he has been able to purchase a third term.

The bars were all crowded and we encountered a waitress attitude. We’re only serving tap beer and you have to eat if you want to sit at the tables. No appetizers, just a $20 corn beef on rye. After work? Places were packed of course. There are these Irish bars around this area, Grand Central and of course do a booming business on St. Patrick’s Day and this being New York, business could always be better. Anyone can be shyster in NYC, and it may soon be mandated into the Municipal Code of Manhattan. Wound up having the traditional few at a TGI Fridays of all places. I drink Jameson on this day, so no worries.

I’m part Irish, on my mother’s side. My feelings about this heritage can be
ambivalent, especially when it comes to certain parades. I was in a good mood though on Wednesday, where we had a sudden burst of spring and some long wished for sunshine. The Irish are known for drinking, and yes it’s a stereotype but the truth is few cultures are so closely aligned with alcohol as the Irish are with Whiskey and Lager, Ale, Stout and drinking is part of the St. Patrick’s Day celebration. If you grow up around here, a rite of passage is checking out the NYC parade. The young adults were well represented and it did seem more of them were boozing it up some. I think the older adults who are aghast and appalled about this forget what it was like to be 21. Drinking is fun until it isn’t fun and it is something we should not take lightly. I’m lucky, I go for weeks or months even without a drink, I never feel I have to a drink, never had mood changes or black outs. Everyone who knows me knows that I have never not drunk like a gentleman. Well, maybe when I was in college… but that’s all about learning how to drink. By 30 or so, if you are unable to drink like a gentleman (or a lady!) you will have already quit drinking, and if you haven’t quit and you have a problem, you’re dead or homeless or enduring some other devastation. You’ve either come to grips with your drinking problem or have learned to live in denial about your alcoholism. Who knows why someone gets that disease and someone else does not. I do now that having a few drinks with friends is still one of the best things in life. As you get older, it is something that happens less and less often, thus you appreciate those times more and more.

Seeing those kids drinking and being intoxicated—I did see an actual hurling upchuck walking towards the PATH—made me sweetly wistful. They were drunk but not disorderly. Some may learn to drink responsibly and some will not and they will suffer the consequences. No one knows what your life has in store for you. New York is a great place to learn how to drink. St. Patrick’s Day Parade is like freshman orientation—not everybody will be here when you graduate.

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