|The Oh Boy! Oberto/Miss Madison,
star of the Regatta parade
It’s Independence Day in Madison, and all the exciting stuff is already over. Yes, Madison’s claim to fame, the Regatta, ended yesterday and so the actual 4th of July is something of a let-down this year, though, thankfully, it is a lot quieter around town with everyone gone (and easier to park).
For those of you who haven’t seen the movie, Madison, and are therefore not educated in Regatta lore, Regatta in its current incarnation is officially the Lucas Oil Madison Regatta. It involves very fast hydroplane boats racing up and down the Ohio River every 4th of July weekend. Picture the Kentucky Derby or the Indy 500, only on water and in a much smaller town. And without the large hats, mint juleps, or milk.
Let me confess at the outset that I have never actually been to Regatta itself, and only to Regatta-related events. This is sacrilege for many Madisonians, who will intone at you endlessly, “You gotta Regatta.” My parents in Kentucky have their own 4th of July party, and so I’m usually there during Regatta weekend.
Regatta has many institutions that have been passed down through the years. The pageant. The bed race. The fireworks. The battle of the bands. My husband’s favorite is the parade, though I will admit that even here, I sometimes require a little prodding. Thankfully, with some advanced planning and friends with houses close to the parade route, you can enjoy the parade with appropriate parade-viewing beverages close at hand.
If you should be wandering through Madison on the day of the Regatta parade, you might find yourself puzzled by the number of empty lawn chairs lined up along the sidewalks of Main St. A friend of mine said that Madison on Friday afternoon of the Regatta parade looks as if the rapture came and left a lot of empty chairs. But no, the good residents of Madison are not in heaven enjoying spiritual bliss, but saving their spots for the best view of the parade.
This level of dedication might lead you to believe that the Regatta parade is on a par with Thanksgiving in New York or New Year’s Day in Pasadena. You’d find yourself mistaken. There are floats in the Regatta parade to be sure, but most of them, my friend who has an office in the prime spot at the end of Main St. where the floats line up tells me, are constructed the afternoon of the parade, rather than weeks or months in advance. You would probably not look at any of the floats as they go by and think to yourself, “I bet they’ve been working on that for months.” I like to think this reflects the fact that in Madison, we have better things to do than spend a lot of time on floats. Like, for example, watching parades.
The Regatta parade is pretty much just exactly what you’d expect a small town parade to be like, with the addition of big hydroplane boats being pulled by on trucks, and the drivers of these huge vehicles being driven by in convertibles provided by local residents. I would say, though, what we lack in pageantry, we more than make up for in enthusiasm. Madison turns out for the parade. Madison, and then some. It is the social event of the summer, stretched out along the length of the town.
The theme for this year’s Regatta parade, which I know only because I read it in the newspaper the day after, was music! The highlight, besides the Shriner’s in their little race cars (my husband’s favorite part of the parade), was a float sponsored by Needful Things, our local sex shop. Yes, Madison has a sex shop. I haven’t been to it, either. But I thought it important to support all our local businesses and the kind of civic minded spirit that motivates folks to put a float in the parade. Because this is Madison, there was nothing risque on the Needful Things float and there were, in fact, children riding along. Why not? The other highlight of the parade was heckling our friend who was driving a small lawn mower as part of the antique tractor club.
|The Needful Things float, totally
Next year, hopefully our community garden will have our own float entered in the parade. Perhaps I’ll enlarge my knitted vegetables to parade-size scale. Perhaps we’ll throw vegetables off of our float into the crowd. Perhaps the crowd will throw vegetables back at us. The possibilities are endless. And the beauty of small town life….what do you have to do to get in the Regatta parade? Just fill out a form and show up. New York’s got nothing on us.
P.S. Not to say this is at all characteristic of the type of crowd you get at Regatta or anything, but a special shout-out to the drunk folks who almost hit our car and several people in the street, including one of their own passengers who had decided to disembark, perhaps out of fear? It was incredibly classy how you yelled at us out of the car as you were almost hitting us. Come back real soon.