Belle of Liberty

Letting Freedom Ring

Monday, September 19, 2011

Raining On Our Parade

Our band was looking forward to the annual N.J. Firemen’s Parade in Wildwood this past weekend. Initially, the forecast was for very pleasant weather. Sun, low humidity, temps in the lower seventies; perfect parading weather.

By the time we got down to North Wildwood, the weather and the forecast had changed. The wind was starting to blow a gale, the temperature was only in the high sixties, dark clouds were approaching, and our spare rain jackets were back in the storage facility up north. Corps rules: if one member is missing a jacket, everyone has to go without a jacket.

By the time we took our annual group photo, the first raindrops were beginning to fall. One here. Another there. Pretty soon, they were joined by their fellow raindrops. As we got to the line-up street, the drops were increasing and by step-off, it was a genuine show. This wasn’t one of those gentle, summer showers though; the wind was blowing stiff and the rain ate right through our skin down to our bones. We’ve marched in cold rains before, but not without our jackets.

Our very first Firemen’s Convention parade taught us the value of having jackets. We were way down south in Wildwood Crest by the bay, about as far back in the line-up as we could get; the place of honor for new parade participants. We huddled up against a fire engine and the larger men (and women) surrounded us as a windbreak. That night, we all went to the boardwalk, had clam chowder and bought cozy Wildwood sweatshirts.

This year, by the time we got back to our hotel, where we do our traditional two-block triumphal march, our hands were so frozen, musicians in each section had to take turns playing while their partner warmed up their hands.

There was a lot of excitement, too. On Friday night, the North Wildwood F.D. was called out, in earnest, no less than three times. Each time, they came charging up our street (23rd Street). The first time, we learned later, was for a stabbing murder(!). The second time was at 2 a.m., when the company responded to a boardwalk fire. Someone (rumor has it a car was seen with Pennsylvania plates) set fire to Go-Kart garage on one of the amusement piers. Another set of engines came charging up the road a short time later, which means a second alarm. The authorities have been mum about how this fire was set.

Most, if not all, of the northern counties were missing out of the parade. The fire apparatus must be absolutely spotless in judging, and word is the northern fire companies just couldn’t be bothered trying to make their trucks ready for the white glove inspection. Since 9/11, additional mandatory training requirements have doused the enthusiasm and time volunteer firefighters have for such things as parades.

Wildwood built their new convention center in better times, before September 11th and before this permanent recession. Residents were assured the local tax increase would only be temporary. But the giant new hall sits empty, for the most part. Corporations prefer the adult amusements of Atlantic City to the family-friendly fare of the Wildwoods.

At least, the Wildwoods are trying to keep their boardwalk family friendly. The teens and twenties gangs who roam the boardwalk have different ideas. The shops offer an infinite variety of tee shirts from the merely vulgar to the downright profane and sexually explicit. The activity keeps the Wildwood boardwalk police busy.

My “gang” and I had stopped at Kohler’s Custard stand. We stood on the south side of the building to get out of the wind. I have an American flag pin that says, “I Am A Proud American.” Walking along the boardwalk, I noticed the cops giving me queer, angry glances. Now, at Kohlers, a pair of them joined us. My friends thought it was to get out of the wind. However, the first thing they did was read my pin. They didn’t say anything though. Once they got a good look at, they must have realized it was inoffensive and didn’t look again.

There attention was soon claimed by a group of teenagers who demanded an apology for their First Amendment rights. One of them was wearing a profanity-laced, sexually explicit hoody. The cop was very terse. “I don’t care,” he said. “Take it off.”

The teens simply laughed and skipped away into the midst of the boardwalk crowd, filled with parents leading little tykes in search of kiddie rides that were actually open and running. How to explain all the lewd and profane apparel to a four year-old?

“Mommy, what does F&*@ mean?”

“It’s Greek for 'idiot', dear.”


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