Tuesday, July 04, 2006

Idaho State Centennial - July 3, 1990

Yesterday was the 116th anniversary of Idaho statehood (July 3, 1890). The State Centennial, back in 1990, was particularly memorable for me. As I start out a blog titled "Idaho Spud," I s'pose it's appropriate to share my memoir of that day, as spent by my family and me.


July 3, 1990

Well, the day had finally arrived that we had anticipated for months, perhaps even years. The downtown streets had been scrubbed and the State Capitol festooned with banners and flags. July second had been uncharacteristically overcast and rainy, but THE day dawned bright and clear; perfect weather for a celebration of grand scale.

My employer, perhaps during a moment of weakness, declared that all employees would get the afternoon off, to join in the revelry. So, with a photocopy of the events of the day in hand, I descended upon my household.

"Hey, you guys! If we hurry, we can be there in time for the 'Parade of Antique Automobiles Carrying Dignitaries'!" I exclaimed, trying to muster enthusiasm among the troops. My children hesitated. Old cars? Dignitaries? But Dad, can't you see we're watching The Flintstones!?

I should have injected a "little white lie" about ice cream in my pitch. Hollie, age 9, Kellyn, 6, and Erik, 4, can move with surprising speed when there is ice cream at their destination. But otherwise, it is difficult to generate any momentum. Robin prodded the kids to put on their shoes and go to the "baf-roon," and hastily put the finishing touches on a picnic lunch. I changed out of my work clothes and put the camcorder in the car, and finally.. we were off.

The hub of the event was doubtlessly the Capitol building, but there were activities, and throngs of celebrants, all along Capitol Boulevard. And the first event on OUR agenda, the old car parade, was scheduled to proceed along the Boulevard to the Capitol at 2:45. We got there at about 2:47.. surely the parade wasn't punctual; these things NEVER go on time. We parked in a motel lot - right by a sign which reads "Unauthorized cars will be towed," and Robin smeared the kids with sunscreen.

We waited five minutes, then ten. Finally I asked some people who had obviously been there for awhile (they had seats!) - they said, "Oh, the old cars came by a while ago!" And so.. we were suddenly in no big hurry any more.

We walked up the Boulevard toward the Capitol, about a mile away. Crowds were everywhere. In fact, I haven't seen so many people in downtown Boise since the new indoor suburban mall opened! Just like the good old days.

We detoured to the Convention Center and listened to Gib and the Kings of Swing. We observed the new Centennial Fountain in the center courtyard.. the spray looked cool and inviting. Everybody else seemed to be milling about, so we tried that for awhile, before once again moving toward the Capitol.

The Parade of Dignitaries had arrived ahead of us; the antique cars were lined up in front of the Capitol Building. An army band was playing Sousa marches, and a throng of pilgrims like ourselves waited for the blessed event.

The dignitaries and their spouses, dressed in period regalia, strutted down the Capitol steps as the master of ceremonies did the introductions. Current governor, former governor, former governor before him, trade representative from Taiwan, the Congressional delegation, Boise's mayor, Boise's former mayor, Chief of the Shoshones, businessman from North Idaho, Head Lawnmower Operator for the Parks Department - you get the idea. I got bored quickly, but the kids NEVER tire of endless streams of important people, so it was difficult to drag them away. When we finally DID leave the Capitol, we slowly made our way back to the car, observing the celebration en route.

The next stop was the Union Pacific Depot at the south end of Capitol Boulevard. A large crowd had gathered there to observe "Old 844," a '40's-era steam locomotive traveling across southern Idaho as part of the centennial celebration. Most of the folks were standing in line to go through the "rolling railroad museum," which supposedly contained, among other things, the original golden spike on loan from the Smithsonian. We decided against the 45-minute wait. The locomotive really was impressive- the driving wheels must have been eight feet in diameter! Big greasy wheels- Erik in particular was enthralled by the choo-choo train. And.. we weren't late for it, either - it lasted from 2pm on, so it would have been hard to get there too late.

We ate Robin's picnic lunch in the shade near the depot. In retrospect, that picnic lunch was arguably the most enjoyable single event of OUR family's centennial celebration. In any case, it was probably the only event that didn't involve a large crowd and a long wait. It was a warm day.. the lemonade was particularly enjoyable.

At 5:30 I announced, "Let's hurry - Mickey and Minnie will be on stage at the park band shell in a half hour!"

Hurrying is a physical impossibility for our family, with the exception of Christmas morning (or for ice cream, as mentioned earlier). We gave it our best effort, and pulled in at about 6:10. No Mickey or Minnie.. it was some banjo guys playing centennial pizza parlor music. So I asked the guy running the sound system. "Uh.. Mickey and Minnie? They already left." Oh, well.. we just about made it!

We DID make it to one other event - the fireworks! There was an Idaho State variety show staged at the BSU Stadium, featuring Indian dancers, Basque dancers, and the inevitable stream of politicians (after all, this IS an election year!) We avoided the variety show, but had good seats for the fireworks.

On your "normal" fourth of July, the local yokels do the fireworks. The normal pattern is: Firework No. 1 - ten second pause - Firework No. 2 - ten second pause - Firework No. 3 - ten second pause, and so on, for ten or fifteen minutes. But this year was special, so they hired the Grucci Family, who are world-renowned for their fabulous firework displays. I believe they are from either Japan, or Italy, or China.

It would be interesting to know how many people actually watched the fireworks. The stadium, which seats 25,000, was filled to capacity. And everywhere you looked in the surrounding area, people were seated on lawn chairs, coolers, blankets, or on the ground, waiting in anticipation. The streets were lined with motor homes, campers, and pickups as folks held "tailgate parties." The air was filled with the smells of the big holiday - barbecue smoke and the acrid smell of fireworks as families lit off their "safe and sane" fountains and cones while they waited.

We were seated near Federal Way, about a half-mile south of the stadium. And we "oohed" and "aahed" along with thousands of spectators as the Grucci brothers maintained their reputation, which was earned at such prestigious and historic events as the Statue of Liberty 100th anniversary (1986), and the BYU "Stadium of Fire" (EVERY year!). The sky was filled with pyrotechnics for close to a half hour.

We were quite a distance from the stadium, and the car was parked even further away. But despite my meticulous planning, we waited 45 minutes to get into the traffic and headed for home. Where, after a brief "private safe-and-sane" firework display, we hit the sack.


July 4, 1990

The local Kiwanis Club serves a traditional pancake breakfast at Julia Davis Park every Fourth of July. They start at 2 or 3 am, and go 'til noon. After my morning bike ride, I was as hungry as the kids. We figured the best way to avoid a crowd would be to get there late, when everybody else had already been served. (Besides.. we get EVERYWHERE late, or so it seems!) So we went to the park at 11 a.m. or thereabouts.

The line was as short as it had been all day, I s'pose, but it was still about a half mile long! I suggested what I thought was a brilliant alternate plan. "I heard they're serving breakfast buffet out at the truck stop! Shall we go there instead?" The kids were wildly enthusiastic, and extremely hungry. Normally, they've had two meals and three snacks by 11. So our next stop was the truck stop.

It looked crowded. We seated ourselves, as instructed by the sign, and waited about 20 minutes for our waitress. It wasn't too bad, though.. there was country music blaring, and interesting people to observe while we waited. Finally our waitress arrived.

"All of us would like the breakfast buffet," I told her.

"Sorry, honey," she replied. "Breakfast buffet is over. Lunch buffet starts at 11 o'clock."

Back to the drawing board. A truck driver walked by with a big plate of ribs and mashed potatoes with gravy. "I'll have the lunch buffet," I said. Robin and the kids opted for breakfast food, and placed their order.

I went and got a plate of food, and the kids all watched with hungry eyes as I ate, and they waited. Poor Kellyn, in particular, looked like one of those starving kids on the African relief posters. She looked like she barely had enough strength left to hold her head up and watch me. I was thinking I should have suffered along with her! Finally their food arrived and they gobbled it hungrily.

From the truck stop, we drove out to the dog pound to pick up a farm dog. This questionable action might make some sense after an explanation.

All summer long, I have been deeply involved with the Simplot Centennial Float. My employer has spent a rumored $50,000 - I believe it - to build and operate a fabulous parade float commemorating the state's centennial. The float is state-of-the-art - it has running water, 53 live pine trees, a water wheel, a 14-foot-high mountain with waterfall, corn and potato plants, grass and flowers, livestock (calves and sheep), etc. And I have been riding on the float, portraying an old-time prospector. Kim Hilliard and Keith Harkless have been the lumberjack and farmer. The farmer has a glamorous farm-wife and two respectful, hard-working farm children.

We won the grand prize in the Nampa parade, and in the Pocatello parade. But the Boise parade - today's - was "The Big One," the main reason for the float's existence. And Mister Blackwell (not his real name, but that's what we call him - he's the "float fashion consultant") thought the farm should have a dog, just to make SURE we won the grand prize. Mr. Blackwell even suggested that I should have a bird riding on my shoulder, but that was voted down as totally unfeasible. Anyway, I got the job of locating a farm dog. The humane society was glad to give me a loaner for the day.

So, I took the kids in with me to pick out a dog. Robin gets depressed seeing all the sweet doggies and kitties, so she waited in the car. We walked up and down the kennels, looking for the ideal candidate. The din was unbelievable.. almost as noisy as our home was during the recent family wedding gathering.

Erik is particularly "sensitive" to bad smells, and there were plenty of bad smells at the pound. He walked along, holding his nose. But then, Hollie shouted, "Dad, Erik is spitting up!" I looked.. she was right. He was walking along the sidewalk behind us, enthusiastically barfing up his recently-eaten breakfast as he went! And boy, wasn't that just the crowning touch?!! I asked Hollie to take him back to the car, but she was lost in the maze that makes up the kennel. So we ALL headed for the exit.

"Did you find one you liked?" the dog pound lady asked.

"Not yet," I replied, and explained that I had to return my child to the car.

Once Erik was back in the arms of a sympathetic mother, we renewed the search. "We have a nice sheep dog," the lady said. She was obviously growing impatient with our window shopping.

"We'll take it!" I was tired of looking, and sheep dog sounded good for our purposes.

The sheep dog was big, and enthusiastic. And after I loaded him in the car, I noticed that he smelled like .. a dog! Plus, he had about a week's accumulation of saliva dripping from the long hair under his chin; definitely a repulsive creature. If Erik had had anything in his stomach at the time, I'm confident he would have lost it!

Hollie loved the dog! Kellyn was a little more wary, and I can't really blame her. After all, they stood eye-to-eye.

The kids played with the dog in the back yard, and he took them for a walk (!) in the park, while I donned my prospector costume.

We drove down to parade headquarters, on University Drive in front of the BSU campus.

It wasn't hard to find the Simplot Float. The mountain on it is as big as many of the houses in that neighborhood!

Mister Blackwell took one look at the sheep dog, and said, "We can't use this dog! It's too 'contemporary'!" That caused a rumble of dissent among the crew, who were collectively tiring of Mister Blackwell and his impeccable eye for design. (And the stogie which he was constantly puffing on - part of his "image," I guess.) Somebody mumbled to me, "HE should have picked out the dog, if he had a particular type of dog in mind."

The farm kids loved the dog, as did the rest of the float people. So Mr. Blackwell reluctantly backed down, and agreed to let the sheep dog participate.

Not long after the dog controversy died down, the judges took their long look at the float, while we stood in our appointed places. The judges must have approved of the dog - they awarded the float TWO prizes, the GRAND Prize (!!) and the Sweepstakes Award. So the pressure was off. Our float definitely deserved the recognition, from what I observed. It looked almost out of place in what could have accurately been called the "Tournament of Crepe Paper" Parade! Nobody else even came close.

Shortly before the parade started, Jack Simplot (THE MAN himself!) put in his appearance! He was slated to ride in an old car, directly in front of his float. He shook hands all around, posed for pictures, inspected the float, and mingled with the "common people." What a guy he is! One of the most personable billionaires I know!

It was interesting to observe how Mr. Simplot drew politicians like a magnet. They were literally standing in line to shake his hand and introduce themselves. He seemed to take it all in stride.

Mister Blackwell had sternly admonished us NOT to wave at, or even acknowledge, the crowd. He wanted for us to all look as "authentic" as possible.. Kim inspecting trees for disease (?!), me panning for gold, and the Farm Family looking stoic. But once the award was in our hands, and the parade underway, we pretty much disregarded his wishes, me in particular. There's just something exciting about hollering out, and having a thousand or so people holler back! A rare experience! My fellow float riders congratulated me afterwards for my masterful job of "working the crowd." I ought to get into politics, or professional wrestling!

The parade was like none Boise has ever seen before! There were 260+ entries, and the route went straight up Capitol Boulevard. They say that 50,000 spectators lined the route, and I believe it. Our float was the 20th entry, and after going 'round, which took 2+ hours, there was still a long line of entries waiting to BEGIN the parade!

I poured the sheep dog a cool drink of water from my prospector canteen into my prospector gold pan, and then went back to the parade route to find my family. They had seen all the parade they needed, or wanted, to see. So we headed out. We returned the sheep dog, which made Hollie cry. (I think the other two kids were relieved to be rid of him.) We went home, and as soon as it was dark enough, we had our own fireworks display in the street out front of our home. They probably weren't as spectacular as the "Grucci" fireworks of the night before, but they were up close! And they were just for us!

And thus ended a memorable occasion in our life, and in the life of this great state of Idaho! Robin said it was one of the best July 4th celebrations she could remember. I hope my children are able to treasure up some memories that will last them a lifetime.


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