Thursday, July 15, 2010

It's Time to Stop Goody Tossing at the Parade

One of the great things about living in North Ogden is my city’s annual Independence Day celebration. While the size of the celebration has grown over my lifetime, it still enjoys a hometown feeling.

Each year we make an effort to get to the parade. Both sides of the main street are lined with viewers. There are usually about 100-120 entries in the parade. You see the same kind of entries year after year: a Boy Scout troop carrying the American Flag, the city’s emergency vehicles, the high school band, local politicians, vintage cars, high school and junior high sports teams and cheerleaders, small businesses, church groups, horse riders, local clubs, etc.

There used to always be a Shriner chapter that had a band playing Middle Eastern music and men driving these crazy little cars. I haven’t seen them for a few years. A few entries come and go each year. There are fewer horse groups than when I was a kid, but the essential nature of the parade entries is not much different than it was decades ago.

Over the past two decades, however, I have noticed a marked increase in one parade activity that used to be rare. Years ago, small pieces of candy would occasionally be tossed from parade entries to viewers on the side of the road. When my oldest kids were young, a kid at the parade might hope to get two or three pieces of some kind of taffy.

The practice of throwing treats to the crowd at the parade has steadily proliferated over the years. Nowadays it is rare to see a parade entry that is not tossing some kind of goody into the crowd. It’s mostly candy, but there are also T-shirts, balls, flying discs, refrigerator magnets, popsicles, water bottles, coupons, and more.

No doubt this practice adds to the fun and excitement of the event for many parade goers. But it has spawned crowd behavior that is problematic. In days of yore, children used to occasionally dash a few feet from the curb to gather candy on the pavement. Now, crowds of children spanning the entire mile-long route surge further and further into the road each year. Carrying bags like Halloween trick-or-treaters, they sometimes go right up to the passing vehicles.

This is an injury waiting to happen. It’s amazing that we have not yet experienced a headline grabbing incident as the result of this practice. I guess it’s a good thing that there are emergency responders in the parade, but the issue should never have reached this level.

In an effort to counteract this increasing problem, the city this year enlisted a number of motorcycle and bicycle cops and an entire LDS stake of volunteers clad in emergency vests. While the cops rode up and down the parade route encouraging people to stay back, the volunteers on foot each patrolled a segment of about 50 feet of road front.

The police officers and the volunteers were overcome by the crowd simply ignoring them. Children, often with the encouragement of their parents or even with their parents in tow, surged around the would-be protectors to approach the goody distributors.

Beside the safety issue presented by the goody distribution practice, the parade viewing experience is marred for those that play by the rules and stay back at the curb. Their view of the parade is now obstructed by throngs of youth standing in the street in front of them.

In recent years, the city has developed rules for parade entrants and viewers. Officially, entrants are not supposed to toss anything to the crowd. It’s OK for them to have people on foot that walk along and hand items to parade attendees. But nobody is supposed to toss anything. Despite putting this rule on paper, it has never been enforced in any meaningful way.

I like to have fun as much as the next guy. And I like it when the children have fun. But the goody tossing at our local parade has reached the point that it is out of control. I can think of only two ways to effectively deal with this issue. They could be implemented separately or together. But it is unfortunate that either should be needed at all.

The least expensive method is to play the heavy. Simply prohibit the practice of distributing anything of any kind by parade entrants. Create an actual statute and make it clear to entrants that it will be strictly enforced. Then have police along the route actually issue citations to violators. This may seem nasty and harsh to parade goers. But what else are you going to do?

The city could also do what many other cities have done: incur the expense of putting up crowd barriers all along the route. In most places, this consists of stringing bright colored rope held up by temporary stanchions. It’s amazing how well a flimsy physical barrier of this nature actually works.

But if crowd barriers are put up without eliminating goody tossing, it will do little to solve the visibility problem. Crowds of standing people would push up against the barriers, obstructing the view of those behind them. The surging crowds would also endanger the safety of the small children among them.

It seems that crowd barriers would be unnecessary in North Ogden if the practice of distributing items from parade entrants were eliminated. How many would venture out into the street if there were no goodies to be gathered? Most would simply sit on the sidelines like they used to years ago. At any rate, prohibition of the practice could be tried first before spending anything on crowd barriers.

Are there other suggestions for feasible solutions to this problem?


designated conservative said...

Blanket prohibitions rarely have the intended effect. If the rule against throwing stuff from the float is clearly stated, then those who violate it should lose their parade slot for the following year.

Having volunteers hand out items along the fringe of the parade makes good sense - those that choose to toss stuff are just being lazy or foolish - the consequences should apply only to them and not to those who follow the rules.

Next year, have the parade organizer send out a specific warning that those caught violating the rule will lose their parade slot for the following year - along with a reminder of the option to hand out treats. Then, have those stake volunteers videotape the parade and make note of specific entries where people are tossing stuff off the float.

Scott Hinrichs said...

Those are all good suggestions. Most have been implemented. The official rules state that nothing is to be tossed from floats, but nobody enforces it. There are no consequences for violating the rule. I think that's the problem right there.

A guy I know videoed the whole parade and posted an edited version on his Facebook page. He shows all of the problems discussed in my post, including the crowd ignoring the police and the volunteers. He even has commentary from parade goers. It's pretty good.

Yesterday I sent an email to the mayor and city council members. So far I have received one response. The responding council member said that they have been contacted by a fair number of people with similar concerns and that the whole policy will be reviewed and revamped before next year's parade.

As the planning for next year's event gets underway, I will be following this issue to see what is done about it.

By the way, the rules also encourage parade entrants to have walkers distribute items to the crowd by hand. A few did this, but only with coupons and political ads. Treat items were always tossed from floats. I think some are concerned that treat distributers walking along the route would be mobbed.

Anonymous said...

I see this as classic example of a few ruining it for everyone else. Riverton's Town Days parade (held around the 4th of July) allows for the tossing of candy. In my opinion is has always been very civil. My kids come home with more candy than they do at Halloween (but it is mostly taffy and Tootsie Rolls). Because of this, I think that the "fighting" is subsided. There is no need to fight your neighbor for a taffy, because you already have 500 (a little hyperbole there).

Perhaps the Liberterians are right on this one. If you remove the restriction, it will make it less problematic. I disagree with this sentiment mostly, especially when used with drugs and alcohol. But it seems to work for the Riverton parade.

If you happen to be near the announcers booth by city hall, they will usually make an announcement that states, if you want to keep candy tossing in this parade, please be civil.

I remember that every year that I attend the Riverton Parade, and I have only heard it once. We as parents now work to instill that principle in our children.

rmwarnick said...

At the Sandy 4th of July parade (held on July 3 according to Utah custom), the goody-tossing was under control.

However, I observed a sad scene as Republican politicians and their supporters threw candy to white kids and ignored minority kids who were left empty-handed.

Stay classy, right-wingers.