I volunteered to march in the annual Chicago Gay Pride Parade with my organization, Tree House Animal Foundation. I marched in the parade before - when I was 15 - but it was on the last leg and I didn't walk far (well, I rode on a float). Though I was a bit scared, it was fun and treasured the experience as a once in a lifetime event. Well, I didn't know I'd be doing it again.
Chicago Pride is probably the largest event of its kind in the Midwest and probably the longest parade in Chicago. In popularity, it ranks second behind the St. Patrick's Parade (the difference between the two is fifty degrees hotter and more colorful). It begins at Halsted and Belmont, procedes north on Halsted through Boys Town to Broadway, then south on Broadway to Diversey and east on Diversey to Stockton where the parade ends. In earlier parades, the route wound south to Clark Street to Lincoln Park. I was relieved that it ended where it did - I was completely wiped out. The participants line up south on Halsted to Fullerton. I don't know many organizations participated, but it had to be over two hundred.
We were supposed to be at our spot no later than 12:30, though the march began at 12. I left at a quarter to 12, rode the Brown Line to Belmont, and already thousands of people were gathering. At Addison, where I live, people were already walking east as though it was a Cubs game day (the Cubs played the White Sox at U.S. Cellular Field on the South Side and lost 6-0). At Clark Street it was difficult walking through the crowd and by that time the parade was starting. I was forced to retreat to Clark and walked south to Halsted, where the floats were lining up. I asked a parade marshal where to find my group and she shrugged and pointed south. I walked south, taking in the show all around me.
There were politicians, businesses, radio stations, small groups. About every third float had dance music pounding from the loudspeakers. A gay rodeo group was square dancing and I almost got caught up in it. I had bought a small rainbow flag from a vendor for Madeleine, who opted to go swimming with Daniella, and now I was finding other trinkets - a rainbow wristband and beads. I found myself dancing as I walked, to cheers from the other participants amused by a fat lady dancing (I won't call myself old yet, though I turn 46 in a couple of weeks). I finally found Tree House by Wrightwood, almost missing their blue van parked on the side. Though we had to be there no later than 12:30, it would be an hour and fifteen minutes before we finally moved.
The van had words painted on there - "BREEDERS SUCK!" "ADOPT A PET, DON'T BUY" "WE LIKE PUSSY" "PET OUR PUSSIES". I totally got into it then. I made up my chant when we started walking - "COME PLAY WITH OUR PUSSIES!" I had brought an umbrella to shield myself from the sun when we started walking, but I traded it in for a sign - "ADOPT A PET DON'T BUY". By then I acquired four rainbow necklaces and with the flag and wristband I was sufficiently decked out. Some of my fellow participants went further - rainbow "Stray Pride" t-shirts, feather boas in pink and purple. A couple of people wore roller skates and darted in and out between us when we marched. Inside the van was candy to pass out to the crowds, bottled water for the marchers, a stryofoam cooler filled with ice, beer and Mike's Hard Lemonade (brought by one of the marchers, who was the only one drinking). I had an iced tea when I arrived but had finished it. There was a liquor store a few doors down and I dashed in to buy a large bottle of Diet Pepsi. I was already regretting not bringing a camera - definitely next year, and Madeleine said she wanted to go next time for sure. We passed the time waiting underneath store awnings for shade, sipping cold drinks and (myself) dancing to music by Michael Jackson. I realized that I had to pace myself or I'd be worn out come marching time.
Then at a quarter to two the floats in front of us started moving. It was time to line up and start marching. We got in front of the van (but quickly behind when one of the roller skaters told us to do so), and started walking. Then we had to keep up at a steady pace - no leisurely walking was allowed.
People were watching from balconies and rooftops while we were waiting to march. But people started lining up around Wellington and Halsted, and it was a steady crowd throughout the parade route. We cheered and screamed with the watchers. When we paused at Barry and Clark, we started shouting "WE HAVE THE BEST PUSSY!" to cheers from the watchers and police guarding the route. The cops, who had historically been hostile to the LGBT community, were friendly and supportive. Some were wearing necklaces and carried rainbow flags. One female officer led the cheers when we passed by.
The van was going too fast and we had to walk faster to keep up. By the time we were approaching Addison, the van was almost a block ahead and we had to run. I couldn't run fast and I worried that I would be left behind, but we caught up. I was able to get a water bottle then and started sipping. Then when we got to the northernmost point before we had to turn south on Broadway, we got ahead of the van and stayed that way the rest of the parade.
I was already tired but had to keep smiling, cheering, chanting for the crowds. It was a friendly crowd, with some chanting "Take off your top!" (I didn't, but some ladies watching were topless). We starting interacting with the crowds - going up to skake hands, hug, kiss (I kissed a couple of guys, including a friend of my mother's at Belmont and Broadway), pose for pictures. After a bottle or two of water and some more dance music I got my second wind and began interacting with the crowds. Often I found myself marching with the Office Max float in front of us before backtracking with my group.
Then we got to Diversey and headed east toward the lakefront. The crowds got thinner but still enthusiastic. A group of young women spanked us with paddles they got from the Pleasure Chest. I shook more hands with onlookers. Then at the end of the parade route the wingnuts were there, shouting "GOD HATES FAGS" and "GO HOME FAGGOTS". By then I was too tired to muster a "Fuck You" and merely flipped the bird at them. Fortunately that crowd was only a handful and insignificant to the marchers and onlookers alike. Earlier at another group talking about sin and sinners I had shouted "You can count Mark Sanford among them!" but this time I was too tired. But I survived.
Getting home was another adventure. I had to walk, limping, to Belmont and Sheridan before I could get a bus and ended up at the Berwyn Red Line stop. There had been a raucous crowd on that bus who was cheering at a couple of guys simil