Iwanted to talk to the two people in charge of the huge Days of '47 Parade and figured it would be easy enough to find them: just look for anyone with a muskrat-in-the-spotlight look in their eyes. And maybe a facial tic or two.
But when I found Jodene Smith and Jim Williams at the Float Preview party this week at the South Towne Expo Center, they were the picture of calm. They sat at the information desk and they weren't shouting at anyone. They might as well have been whittling.
How could the co-chairs of one of America's largest and oldest parades look so relaxed just hours before the big day?
The answer, it seems, lies in two numbers: 159 and 90.
The 159 refers to the number of consecutive years the parade has been held in downtown Salt Lake City. The first one was on July 24, 1849, exactly two years after the first contingent of Mormon pioneers entered the Salt Lake Valley and claimed it as home. Why there wasn't a parade on the first anniversary of the pioneers' arrival, no one seems to know. But on the second anniversary, the idea was born and, like the population, it's only gotten bigger ever since.
According to Smith and Williams, having 159 years' worth of momentum and planning underneath you makes for an extremely solid foundation.
"It's the tradition that makes it work and that keeps it going," said Jodene.
Then there's the 90, as in 90 volunteers on parade day who show up at 4 a.m. and make sure everything starts smooth and ends smooth.
"The volunteers," said Jim, "they're the key." Without them, he'd start running out of town and never look back.
All Jodene and Jim have to do is tell their volunteer army where to go and they go there. This includes 14 volunteer announcers and dozens of walkers who escort the parade's 155 entries, sheepdog-like, and make sure there aren't any embarrassing gaps.
There are also volunteers who drive three trucks that rescue any floats that break down and stop moving. The trucks are donated by the Ken Garff Auto Dealership, and it's part of parade lore the year the Larry H. Miller Auto Dealership float broke down and had to be escorted along the route by a Ken Garff truck.
Basically, though, Jodene and Jim said, the parade runs without a hitch.
"The city is fantastic to work with," noted Jodene. "The police, the fire department, everybody involved, they're just great."
And it doesn't hurt that the streets are wide and the traffic signals are high enough to allow floats to pass underneath unimpeded.
It's as if Salt Lake City was laid out specifically to handle a huge parade that every July 24th attracts 250,000-plus live spectators and a regional TV audience.
Jim and Jodene don't argue with this notion, or the notion that they're standing on more than a century and a half of tradition.It doesn't make their job entirely stress-free they won't be getting much sleep tonight, that's for sure, and there's always the weather to worry about but there's something comforting about knowing that ever since 1849 the Days of '47 Parade has run its course, no matter who was at the controls.
Lee Benson's column runs Sunday, Monday, Wednesday and Friday. Please send e-mail to [email protected] and faxes to 801-237-2527.