Invitation to a Parade

When you are young the pursuit of fun is second only to breathing and you spend all your days seeking out adventure and recognition that cannot be found with any type of planning. You can plan a vacation, you can plan a party, and you can even plan a funeral but there is no way you can plan a real adventure. Adventure is something that finds you, as long as you keep moving forward.

1975 was mood rings, pet rocks, and Disco but we were not interested in those things because we sought out a much more immersive experience.

I and several of my companions for an entire week before the 4th of July had been seeking out something to do, something epic maybe, something that needed no explanation or permission and that pursuit came to head on the 4th of July 1975.

Ground zero that day was Roger Sullivan’s house as it had become the launching off point for many of our adventures back then and now on the 4th of July it had become party central as the Sullivan’s had opened their house for the celebration with lots of good food and drink. Mrs. Sullivan always made sure she stuffed us full before any of our adventures and today was no different. The backyard pool was full of people and there was a constant flow of party goers in and out of the house and of course the epic games at the ping pong table in the garage and everyone was either smiling or laughing.

But it was not enough for us, something was missing, there was something we had to do but none of us knew what it was. But we knew we had to find it, and we had to find it now!

During this time I was working at a Lincoln Mercury dealership as a salesman. When you were a car salesman back then they normally gave you a new car as a demo but in my case they had doubts about me and for good reason I’m sure. So instead they would give me a used cars to drive, and to make it an even more unique experience they would give me a different used car every day. They did that so I didn’t add a lot of miles to any one car and besides it was a lot of fun to drive a different car every day.

It must have been the alignment of the stars on that Thursday before the 4th because the used car manager handed me the keys to a bright red 1971 Ford Mustang Mach 1 that I had the use of for the entire 4th of July weekend!

We had eaten our fill of hot dogs, ice cream, and soda and played enough ping pong to last us a lifetime and even though there was this wonderful vibe and everyone was happy and having a good time, it just wasn’t enough for us.

We had to move, go, search and find something somewhere and the only way to do that was to get in a car and drive because we needed to be seen and heard!

So we all piled into the Mach 1 and headed off to a local park looking for this thing, whatever this thing was!

The Ford Mustang Mach 1 is probably one of the coolest cars to come out of the seventies because just standing still it looks like it’s going a hundred miles an hour. Unfortunately this Mach 1 had a six cylinder automatic with no AC and an AM radio. It was a sad reflection of what it could have been and probably why they let me drive it in the first place.

But it had a few imperfection that allowed this car to somewhat shine for us that day. First off the rear end of a Mach 1 is so light you could probably chirp the rear tires with a 4 cylinder and it was cinch to do it with an automatic and a six cylinder by just hitting the accelerator hard in first. Second it had rust holes in the exhaust system so it “purred” like a V8 with a wonderful womp womp womp.

We slowly cruised in first gear through the park filled with people celebrating the 4th as we sat back in the Mach 1 letting the broken tailpipe speak for us with its womp womp womp and I’d hit gas and get little chirps from the rear tires and we thought we were cool. I even stopped once and revved the engine in neutral and slammed it into drive and almost got a burnout! We circled the park several times but no one gave us a second look.

Nothing, no one was paying attention to us because they were all having their own fun and we were just some background noise.

We had to step up our game.

Someone in the car had some firecrackers so we cruised one more time around the park and threw lit firecrackers out the window.

Nope, no one cared and it fact several people thought it was a challenge to do battle and started throwing lit firecrackers and aiming bottle rockets back at us.

Not the kind of attention we were hoping for so we headed back to Roger’s house.

I can’t recall how it actually started but I think we knew we needed something that made noise that people would respond to and firecrackers and a Mach 1 with a rusty exhaust system just couldn’t pull it off.

We ended up in Roger’s basement because it was cooler and I started playing around with his drum set kicking the base drum pedal and it had this most wonderful low frequency sound that is hard to ignore and in that moment there was clarity of purpose and we knew exactly what we had to do. It took us seconds to disassemble Roger’s drum set and each of us grabbed a drum and found straps and drumsticks and we started to drum!

I grabbed the bass drum and some mallets and

THUMP, THUMP, THUMP

ThumpThumpThump-AH-Thump

THUMP, THUMP, THUMP

ThumpThumpThump-AH-Thump

Roger started playing one of the snare drums

TIC TIC TIC
PiddldeeSnap – PiddldeeSnap – PiddldeeSnap – Pow – POP
TIC TIC TIC

PiddldeeSnap – PiddldeeSnap – PiddldeeSnap – Pow – POP

Jeff Focht grabbed the other snare drum and

RiddleDee RiddleDee
Snap Snap POW

RiddleDee RiddleDee
Snap Snap POW

We all stopped for a second and looked at each other and we knew that we had to take this show on the road. But there was no way we could all fit into the Mach 1 with the drums until someone suggested Jeff’s panel van and without hesitation we all piled in and headed right back to the park.

We cruised the park again with our ensemble of drums in the back of the van we got a completely different reaction this time as I bashed out

THUMP, THUMP, THUMP

ThumpThumpThump-AH-Thump

And Roger banged out

TIC TIC TIC
PiddldeeSnap – PiddldeeSnap – PiddldeeSnap – Pow – POP

That got their attention and everyone was looking around trying to find where the source of this slightly syncopated sound was coming from. I say slightly syncopated because my drumming skills were more in time with that “March to the Beat of a Different Drummer Guy” who was not in the van with us at the time and I didn’t sync with Roger’s drumming and so they had to take the bass drum away from me.

We circled the park a couple of more times and realized that we needed to get out and mingle with the people because we were getting some serious response to our subsonic thumping.

We headed over to Ridgewood because the whole town was one giant 4th of July party and we parked a couple of blocks down from the park where most of the town was gathered. When we got out of the van Mike got the bass drum and Jeff and Roger got the two snare drums. I pulled our my trusty Recorder and tried to find all of the notes to Yankee Doodle and started practicing as we headed up the street towards the park.

Remember when I mentioned that adventures are not planned? Well there was no plan for whatever this was and I can assure you that we had no idea what we were doing but we just kept doing it as we walked up the sidewalk.

We started to sound better with each step as the drums were now in sync and I had found almost all the notes to Yankee Doodle on the Recorder and it was like John Philip Sousa himself had joined our group and all of a sudden we were marching.

Yes, we were actually marching in time to the drums and we though we sounded great until this woman came running out from one of the backyards yelling and waving her hands at us. We all thought, no way are we going to stop now because we had just found our marching groove and we will push through anything or anyone. That was the plan until we realized that she wasn’t yelling at us, she was trying to direct us into her backyard.

So what the hell, we made a right turn into her backyard as she waved us on in and when we entered the gate there was a crowd of people partying who went nuts when they saw us. They all started clapping and began singing Yankee Doodle and offering us beer and food. “Here take a beer” one offered “Put this hot dog in your pocket for later” another said. But we just kept on playing and marched once around their backyard and then back out the gate to the sidewalk again.

I don’t know about the rest of the guys but I did end up with a hot dog in my back pocket, just the hot dog and no bun.

Now emboldened by our first successful debut in front of an inebriated audience we had no fear and our group began to coalesce into a tight revelry of sound like nothing else ever heard on earth before. Several of the low notes in Yankee Doodle continued to elude me and I filled those in with pantomime and the hope that the drums were loud enough to hide this minor deduction from the tune. It wasn’t until many years later that I found I had been playing the Recorder wrong as my hands were in the wrong position to play those notes even if I could have found them back then.

We pressed onward and now with even greater purpose but still with no destination in mind. We just kept marching forward until we entered and marched across Veterans field and all the people reacted like we had hoped with smiles and cheers which egged us on even more. I even found the pitch on the Recorder that didn’t squeal too much and we actually sounded like we knew what we were doing.

We marched past crowds of people picnicking in the park and they all smiled and waved. We marched past the firemen selling beer and got several drunken hurrah’s from red-faced firemen. We marched right up to Maple Avenue and not one person questioned our purpose or what hell we were doing!

We marched over the curb and onto Maple Avenue and took position in the center of the street at the very end of the parade and we acted like we belonged there as we marched forward.

We joined the parade and Yankee Doodled the entire way with the snare drums rat-a-tat-tatting and bass drum woomp woomp woomping and me on the Recorder playing at least 7/10ths of Yankee Doodle.

The crowd didn’t know what to think but as we passed them along the parade route they let out a cheer and it was like a wave of happy crazy and the people in the parade in front of us kept looking back at us trying to figure out what was going on.

And we marched the entire length of the parade route and then kept on marching right on back to the van.

When I think back on that day I know that there is no way we could have planned this with such precision because not only were we not challenged the whole time we marched through the streets and the park, we arrived at Maple Avenue at the perfect moment to join the tail end of the 4th of July Parade.

We went looking for adventure that day and adventure found us. It was like something reached out of the vortex we call life and gave us a perfect moment in time that will probably never happen again.

Somewhere deep within a family photo album there may be images of four guys marching down Maple Avenue in Ridgewood New Jersey bringing up the rear of the 1975 4th of July parade and I imagine there might even be a notation or two beneath those photos that may read something like “Who invited these guys to the parade?”.

The answer of course is, life.

Life invited us for an adventure, and we answered!