|(Virginia and Meredith decked out with festive shamrock antennae, earrings, hair pieces, beads and scarves)|
Meredith said, "If you're ever going to go to the St. Patrick's Day parade, this is the year. I'm taking the day off, and everybody else is working. You should come down."
Ever since Thomas, Marlie, and Meredith, moved to New York, I have talked about going to the parade. It either didn't fit my schedule, or it didn't really seem like the place for me. If the parade was on or near the weekend, both Thomas and Meredith knew that I wouldn't enjoy the huge weekend crowds and all the bar-hopping. With the parade on Monday this year, I couldn't refuse.
On a recent trip to Albany, Meredith had suggested we go to a party store and peruse the St. Patrick's Day supplies. She picked out colored hair pieces, and I spotted large shamrock earrings for $2.49. I fingered a head band that had sparkly shamrocks on antennae. "If you want anything," Meredith said, "you should buy it here. It will cost a lot more if you buy anything in New York." I figured I could swing the 99 cents for the head band!
Our first stop after my arrival at Port Authority, was for coffee and a bun in a nearby shop. The cashier, who had green fingernails, looked at us both and asked, "what are you dressed up for?" At first we thought she was kidding, but then realized that she really wanted to know. Meredith said, "It's St. Patrick's Day. There's going to be a big parade today." "That's cool," the young woman responded.
We took a seat in the little cafe. A middle-aged woman came up to me. My green accessories, along with a shamrock scarf that I had from years of playing St. Patrick's Day concerts, made me kind of obvious.
"Are you Irish?" the woman asked me.
"Well," I stammered. "I'm not from Ireland."
"I mean are you of Irish heritage?"
"Yes, but a ways back," I said.
"So am I. Where are you from?"
"Albany," I answered.
"No, I mean where are you from in Ireland?"
I was coming off pretty clueless so far, and it wasn't getting better. I thought of my father's family from Northern Ireland, and my mother's ancestors from the Republic of Ireland.
Meredith jumped in, "Just say Tipperary," she said. "It's nice there."
"Well," the woman said, "I'm from Dublin."
I laughed--one woman with green nail polish knew nothing about St. Patrick's Day, and another, who came off as 100% New York, considered herself practically right off the boat from the Emerald Isle.
We left the cafe and headed into the crowds near mid-town. Young people, laughing and shouting, jostled in bunched-up groups at the street corners. "How are you doing?" Meredith called to me above the din. "I'm fine, as long as no one spills beer on me," I said.
We made our way towards St. Patrick's Cathedral, where the parade groups gave special performances just as they do in front of Macy's during the Thanksgiving Day parade. I wanted to experience the parade at mid-town, but, before long, we decided to move on. "Let's get on the subway and go to the Upper East Side," Meredith suggested. "It won't be crowded there."
|(delicious green beverages)|
As a former Upper East Side resident, she knew from experience where to go. We found a spot near 77th Street. The crowd thinned out and we could stand at the curb. There was lots of room. "This will be a good place to spot Eddie, too," she said, "because we're almost where the parade ends." Eddie, a member of our extended family and an Emergency Medical Technician with the Fire Department of New York, was marching in the parade. It would be a while before he got this far north. After all, we had seen the beginning of the parade in mid-town, and it was just now arriving at 77th Street--deja vu!
Meredith reached into her hand bag. "I brought green snacks," she said, pulling out drinks and zip lock bags. I am always amazed at what the young women I know carry with them. Often, besides water bottles and snacks, there are the usual things like a wallet, phone, but also maps, or a book, even shoes. And whenever I am with Meredith, and I am awkwardly carrying something like a water bottle, she will say, "Put it in my bag. I can carry it," and it disappears.
I couldn't believe how tasty the juice was, made from kiwi, spinach, pineapple, apple, and broccoli. How festive! Then when she opened a bag of snap pea crisps, I could have eaten them all; they were that good.
|(yummy snap pea crisps)|
It was fun to be able to see all the bands and marching up close, and also in the distance for many blocks down Fifth Avenue. I was surprised at how often there were large breaks between sections of the parade. There could easily be a couple of blocks between one group and another. "It's like that at Thanksgiving, too," Meredith told me. "You just can't tell when you see it on television."
Meredith communicated regularly with Jocelin about Eddie's progress. Jocelin was still at her apartment and not planning to brave the cold and wind until Eddie was near the end of the route. Then she would arrive at our location, in time to see him pass by. Eddie had told Jocelin that everyone walks faster when the weather is cold, so, once he started moving, it wouldn't take that long to go thirty blocks on Fifth Avenue.
It was cold, and with a strong wind. My toes began to go numb and I hopped up and down to stay warm.
After a while, I left Meredith to take some pictures of people watching the parade. "I want babies and old men," I told her. I had visions of wealthy babies all dressed in green here on the Upper East Side, and old white-haired men in plaid caps smoking pipes--stereotypes for sure. I walked a few blocks north and south and found that babies and old men knew better than to stand out here and freeze. I did see some hardy girls and women, though.
|(This Irish lass looks familiar! Maybe she's from Tipperary....)|
St. Patrick's Day parades have engendered considerable controversy in recent years, especially in New York and Boston. We found it ironic that parade leaders, who would not allow gay people to march in the parade, apparently had no problem including the British army!
|(the Red Coats!?)|
It was fun to see other ethnic groups, too, in native garb. A Spanish contingent wore beautiful bright wool clothing. Their red dresses looked cheerful and warm on this cold gray day.
|(marching Spanish girls)|
A text came from Jocelin that Eddie was coming along, and that she and a friend were getting on the subway to meet us. A sea of American flags showed bright in the distance as the FDNY approached.
Sadly, there was one group of FDNY marchers carrying a banner that read, "Families of Fallen Firefighters." Children and adults carried pictures of their loved ones. It is good to remember that these men and women often risk their lives for the city's residents.
|(FDNY flag brigade)|
Jocelin and her friend ran up to us. "Eddie should be here in a minute," she said. "He was right; they did walk faster than other years!" We did not see Eddie marching. Instead, when his group arrived, Eddie and his friend, Bruce, dashed out of formation, just two blocks before the end of the parade, hopped the curb fence, gave Jocelin a kiss, and were ready to relax.
|(Bruce, Jocelin, and Eddie)|
We headed over to Johnny Foxes, a bar a few blocks away. Uniformed members of the NYPD and the FDNY were everywhere, walking, chatting with friends, laughing with one another, and on the lookout for good food and drink.
|(Meredith and Virginia at Johnny Foxes bar)|
Jocelin and Eddie, and their friends, were going back to mid-town where Bruce was hosting a house party. Although he invited us to join them, Meredith and I chose to spend our remaining time on the Upper East Side. A work colleague had offered Meredith use of her apartment on this day, so that we could warm up, sit down, and have the lunch Meredith had prepared (and was carrying in her hand bag).
It is always fun to see different apartments. This two-bedroom place had a highly desirable location and ample space. When we arrived at the front desk to get the key, the doorman teased us, saying that he would go out drinking with us after his shift. We still looked like revelers with my antennae and Meredith's colorful hair.
In the apartment, it felt great to sit down on the couch and eat a green lunch of pitas with spinach leaves, sliced Granny Smith apples, and cheese.
|(view from Meredith's friend's apartment, Upper East Side)|
Time was passing, and we needed to get the subway, so that I could go back to Port Authority for the bus home. There was just enough time to stop at Crumbs for a cupcake, not far from the 96th Street station.
|(oreo cookie cupcake with my scarf)|
Once on the bus, I texted with Meredith. After leaving me at Port Authority, she had gone to Bruce's apartment for the party. Eventually, Thomas and Marlie would also arrive at Bruce's from work, and then they would all go to see the Irish rock band Black 47.
I tucked my antennae into a plastic bag. I had gotten more than my 99 cents worth out of them! I would put away the shamrock earrings to wear on future St. Patrick's Days in Albany. This had been the year for a New York adventure!