Monday, August 14, 2006

Stockyard Days Parade

Most of the suburbs of Twinstown have some form of annual celebration/festival/confab. In most cases, the celebrations have a theme that relates to something about the area’s present or past. I live in New Brighton, which generally qualifies as one of the most non-descript of suburbs. If you drive the streets of New Brighton, you generally find classic, Wonder Years-era suburban homes, generally on quarter acre lots, typically with well manicured lawns. It’s a tidy, unremarkable place bisected by two major expressways (35W and 694) and most people pass through my town without giving it a second thought, just as people pass through places like Elmhurst, Illinois, or West Allis, Wisconsin, to cite two similar places.

With not much to talk about now, New Brighton looks to its past. About 100 years ago, New Brighton was a rail town, one of the first stops out of Minneapolis, and its primary business was stockyards. There were often more cattle than people in town in those days. Around the same time, stockyards also sprouted in South St. Paul and this competition routed the New Brighton stockyards, which quickly faded from the scene. Despite this evident failure in the city’s past, the city chooses to celebrate this failed heritage with Stockyard Days. Like most of these festivals, a big part of the hoopla is the annual parade, which marches through “downtown” New Brighton (a non-descript New Urbanist invention that looks most like a small office park) and then down Old Highway 8 to the American Legion post. Ben and his Cub Scout troop marched in the parade this year, so Maria and I went to see the festivities. We plunked down in front of St. John the Baptist school with Maria’s grandparents and watched it happen.

There were three things on display – beauty queens, politicians and candy. Many, many suburbs have similar festivals and it seems that all of them stage beauty pageants. We saw lovelies from Hopkins, Brooklyn Center, Brooklyn Park, Fridley, Vadnais Heights, Little Canada, Hopkins, Lakeville, Woodbury, Richfield, White Bear Lake, Stillwater and other suburban enclaves, most wearing satin gowns and cowboy hats. We saw candidates for governor, Congress, the state legislature, the state senate, attorney general, secretary of state, auditor, school board, county sheriff and even more obscure administrative fiefdoms. And there was candy. Everyone was throwing candy to the spectators. Maria came home with more candy than she generally gets for Halloween and she was covered with campaign stickers from the various politicians and the mark of the Vulcans (of St. Paul Winter Carnival fame) on her cheek.

I find these parades oddly reassuring. They are a vestige of a simpler past, where communities were more than aggregations of people with similar demographics. The evident quirks you see on display are all too human and that’s hard to gainsay in a time where inhumanity is on the march.

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