Pinellas County (the county in which we reside) is comprised of twenty-four incorporated municipalities and twenty-one other "wide spots in the road" that to date have opted not to embody a stand alone government. It is the most densely populated county in Florida. Not the most populous. That distinction belongs to Dade County in which the City of Miami and the new Republic of Cuba co-exist. There are approximately 608 square miles of land mass in Pinellas County where one million of its residence fight daily for an available parking space. And right in the middle of this hustle and bustle sits little Kenneth City, its official name, I suspect, a well-intended misnomer. Calling itself a "city" is an exaggeration of gigantic proportions considering that only 4,400 folks reside within (give or take a birth or death every so often) the total town limits that only measure 7/10ths of a square mile. But boy howdy, do they put on one heck of a Fourth of July parade!!
Wishing to be the "first city" to roll out it's parade, Kenneth City slated its event to kick off at ten in the morning. We arrived around 9:30, set up our folding lawn chairs beside 58th street among a growing throng of other fellow attendees that numbered slightly above double figures, and settled back to await on what the pre-event promotions promised to be "a one of a kind event." And we waited. And waited some more, chalking up the delay to the admonition that one can't rush perfection. Uninterrupted vehicular traffic continued to travel the parade route, making us wonder whether some technical difficulty had befuddled the otherwise well-choreographed planning, or worse, the entire gala event had been unexpectedly canceled...perish the thought. Finally arriving at the intersection to our immediate left, a Barney Fife look-a-like emerged from his vintage 1960s squad car and proceeded to halt traffic from entering from the adjacent cross street. The festivities now appeared to be just moments away.
With a barrage of blaring horns and screaming sirens in the distance, Judi and I detected discernible movement among the larger parade units making their way slowly in our direction. Slowly they approached...creeping along. We calculated that at the rate they were flying down the parade route it would be close to noon before the first unit passed in front of us. The entire length of the route was perhaps a half mile in length at best, and that was spotting them a couple of hundred yards for good measure. The typically hot July sun was bearing unrelentingly down on us when our waining patience was rewarded with the arrival of the first unit in the parade; "His Honor The Mayor," riding in an open topped convertible that appeared to be in desperate need of a good washing. As the mayor waved enthusiastically to the on-lookers thinly dispersed along both sides of the road, his driver was engaged in tossing out rolled up pieces of paper that were tied with red, white, and blue ribbon. Several landed in our general vicinity and, upon closer inspection, turned out to be a 10% off coupon to His Honor's local barbershop. 15% off if you brought a friend. Such a deal!
The next convertible in line behind the Mayor's displayed a hand-lettered placard that announced the occupant was the Vice-Mayor of the city. However, unless the good citizens of Kenneth City were very liberal in the age limits as to whom they approved to hold office, the person listed on the sign was not the Vice Mayor. Instead sitting gaily on top of the back seat was a very young girl who was engaged in the fine art of blowing gigantic, pinkish bubblegum globes, her cheeks bulging like an over-inflated innertube. (We learned later that the Vice Mayor had been over come with another attack of gout and, rather than pull the entry from the parade, had solicited his 12 year old niece to fill in in his stead). Be that as it may, she was, nevertheless, quite the expert at blowing bubbles. She received several sporatic rounds of approving applause for her efforts.
The final automobile in line contained, according to the printed placard, the whole of the city council. Apparently they didn't warrant a convertible, but were consigned to a sedan wherein appeared there were a half dozen sweating and disheveled men and women trying with minimal success to extend their arms and hands out the windows to wave at we on-lookers. There seemed to be a goodly amount of jostling and heated disagreements among the vehicle's occupants. So much so that the distracted driver was having some difficulty in attempting to maintain the car pointed in a straight line.
We were expecting a marching band. What kind of a parade is it without a marching band? But there as no marching band in this year's Kenneth City Fourth of July Parade. We later learned t the tuba player had taken ill, the trumpet player had been arrested the previous night for getting an early head start on the up-coming holiday festivities, and the chief majorette had eloped with the drum major, who absentmindedly had packed the band's music in his luggage along with the couple's tickets to Bush Gardens. Substituting were two children dressed in clown suits who were more or less twirling batons, followed by a third smallish child-clown leading a pony in tow with a monkey on its back. The monkey was waving an American flag and perfoming back flips. Judi and I made side bets that the band, had they been able to perform as planned, wouldn't have been able to hold a candle to the monkey.
Then the blockbuster segment of the parade came rolling by, comprised of two firetrucks (one of which belonged to an adjacent municipality) with their emergency lights ablaze. The Public Works Department followed next with their entry, a garbage truck festooned in patriotic bunting. What these units lacked in originality they more than made up in noise. Both the firetrucks ceaselessly blared their horns and sounded their ear-piercing sirens. The garbage truck, not to be undone, answered with a steady blast of its window-shattering air horns. None of the onlookers waved. We were too busy covering our ears.
We were spellbound. What could possibly be next? Apparently nothing. The end of the parade was unceremoniously concluded with the arrival of another early model Ford police car driven by the town's Chief of Police. The Chief had an enormously large, lit cigar between his grinning teeth and his regulation uniform cap pulled two inches down over his ears. His sideburns flapping in the breeze was a nice added touch. Undaunted, he went determinately about his assigned task to clear the street of parade revelers so to open the road once again to commerce. That was it! Unless you count the little old lady that was still driving the very first car she had ever owned, a 1949 Buick, and who appeared hellbent on passing the Chief's car at the very first opportunity that presented itself. We were pretty sure it was a little old lady, or else a very short elderly man wearing a blue wig.
All Judi and I could do was look at each other...and laugh. Nothing ventured, nothing gained. We were all set to return to our car and head home when a loudspeaker announcement came from across the street. "Join us in the Kenneth City picnic shelter for free hot dogs and lemonade." "Why not," we thought. What's a Fourth of July celebration without a good hot dog and a cold glass of lemonade?
Post Script: Kenneth City didn't have a fireworks display scheduled for later that evening. Based on the parade, it's probably a good thing.