On March 16 the city was battered by a fierce blizzard and an ice storm. Trains and flights were cancelled, drivers skidded and slid off the roads and pedestrians ran to the nearest store, stocked up on bread and milk, then scurried home and locked their doors.
But for those who wait all year for the wearin’ o’ the green, winter’s last gasp was a mere inconvenience; nothing could stop the 246th New York City St. Patrick’s Day Parade. This is the city’s largest and most popular parade, typically drawing 2 million spectators and 150,000 marchers.
In New York the tradition is older than the nation; our first St. Patrick’s Day Parade was organized by Irish soldiers serving in His Majesty’s service more than 10 years before the Declaration of Independence was drafted.
The St Patrick’s Day Parade is one of the few that allow no cars, floats, trucks or other vehicles; anyone who wants to participate goes up Fifth Avenue, from 44th Street to 86th Street, on foot.
So, despite the day-long storm that nearly brought the city to a halt, city sanitation crews worked throughout the night to clear the route of ice and snow for today’s big parade. Other municipal agencies were busy, too, as subway and railroad schedules were adjusted to accommodate parade goers, the surrounding streets closed and barriers erected along the parade route.
The weather prevented the work crews from painting the traditional green stripe down the middle of the street, but everything else was as usual. Pipers and marching bands from around the country (and a few from the auld sod) nervously fingered their instruments. Firefighters and police officers assembled in their full dress uniforms. Souvenir vendors loaded themselves up with green balloons, green hats, green beads, shamrock stickers, Irish flags and badges saying “VIP: Very Irish Person” and “Kiss Me, I’m Irish.”
At the stroke of 11:00 the parade began, and it didn’t end until about 4:30, when the last red-headed, green-shirted boy giddily heard the applause as he crossed 86th Street. I hope your St. Patrick’s Day was as happy and exciting as his.