Thursday, March 16, 2006
The theme of the 2006 Mal's St. Paddy's Parade is "Cat in a (Chef's) Hat," in honor of the parade's grand marshall, Jackson native and Iron Chef Cat Cora. Since Hurricane Katrina, Cora and the non-profit foundation Chefs for Humanity she founded have fed many of those affected by the storm, as well as those working on the Mississippi Gulf Coast in its aftermath. She's tickled pink—oops, make that green—to head up the parade.
Working tirelessly behind the scenes with his three crews will be Charly Abraham. Curious about his view of this Jackson event that draws people from all over the country and the world, I recently sat down to talk with him in his office at Hal & Mal's.
How many years have you done the parade?
I don't know. A lot.
What's the best advice you could give to first-time parade-goers?
Here's the advice I'd give to everybody—bring an extra five bucks with you. That way when they do the city sweep 15 minutes before the parade starts, you could put that into the buckets for the (Blair E. Batson) Children's Hospital.
What about parking for spectators?
Parking, there isn't any. You are on your own. Anywhere you can find in downtown Jackson, park. Just know that certain areas you park, you won't be able to leave until the parade is over. There should be a street-closing map published in The Clarion-Ledger Saturday, March 18.
What's the insider scoop on the best place to stand?
I've never been to the parade, so it's hard for me to tell where the best place to stand is. I've never been on the parade route. However, I'd say some place after the turn on Capitol Street is probably the best place.
You've never been to the parade? What about when I saw you on State Street last year, wearing a headset, as the Sweet Potato Queens rounded the corner from parade line-up to parade route?
I start the parade. I go out about 15 minutes before the start. Chuck Bryan does the line-up at 7:15 a.m. I don't go down there until just before time to start, then I come back here (to Hal & Mal's) once we get the parade going. I have several events going all at the same time. The headsets are the only way to communicate with the Children's Festival on the grounds of the Old Capitol, the parade and the Street Festival at Hal & Mal's. It's so loud, the headsets are the only way to hear. I have three staffs working that day, and that's the only way to communicate with each other. On the other end of one of those headsets is Chuck Bryan—he's in charge of parade line-up and the parade; another one is Marianne Dixon in Hal & Mal's; Bob McFarland is the other one, at the Trustmark Children's Festival.
How many floats will there be in the parade?
It's limited to 50, so I assume that's how many it'll be. We had years ago allowed up to 200, but it got way out of hand. It's got to where we want 50 quality floats, and we've had real success with that.
What does that mean, quality float?
In the old days, two kids in the back of a pickup would qualify as a float. Now floats submit their designs and they're approved ahead of time.
What about the walkers in the parade? How many will there be?
Walkers don't have to be attached to a float to walk, but they have to be an organized group. We think that's the best way to be in the parade. You're down with the crowd; it's safer for you and safer for the spectators, too. There are three basic walker groups—the Green Ladies, O'Tuxers and Krewe of Kazoo, about 250 in all. The Green Ladies are the newest group; they're about eight or nine years old; the O'Tuxers are Malcolm's group—they're originals—and the Krewe of Kazoo has been in every parade, too. Then there's the Sweet Potato Queen Wannabes. There's upwards of a thousand of them. They all walk.
What about bathrooms?
We put a few bathrooms in the parade line-up area, and we put a few out on the street. Hopefully, a few local businesses will allow people to use their facilities.
How many people do you expect at the Street Festival on Commerce Street, out front of Hal & Mal's?
Last year, it was between three and four thousand paid admissions.
What tops your wish list for the parade?
More barricades. In fact I wish for 350 more which is about $70,000 worth—metal ones eight feet long that look like bicycle racks. I'd use them to line the rest of the parade route that isn't already barricaded. (The city owns the barricades.) That would make the whole parade so much safer. That would keep people out of the middle of the street. That's one thing I can't understand, why people let kids be where they shouldn't be. It makes us extremely nervous; I don't know why it doesn't make the parents nervous. If I were a parent (at the parade), I'd have my child on a leash or I'd hold on tightly. I wouldn't let a child get into the street.
What have I left out that you'd like to tell our readers?
The Children's Hospital takes care of 90,000 statewide, and it's growing since Hurricane Katrina. People moved here from New Orleans and other areas. It takes more than ever, so please contribute. That's the point of the whole parade.
It's raining... Any clue if the parade will go on as planned, be delayed until it clears a little, or....?
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