The Grand Marshal of the WILI "Boom Box Parade," WILI's Wayne Norman wrote this summary of the 2002 parade the next day:


The 2002 WILI "Boom Box Parade" was easily the biggest and best yet.  And the hottest (99F) too.  And while it didn't generate the kind of national media coverage (i.e..Washington Post/L.A. Times in 2000) that some of its 16 predecessors did, it got some good in-state coverage.
 
It ran 91 minutes--topping the previous record of 75 minutes set last year.  And the 99 degree Willimantic temp topped our old parade record of 93 (at BDL) set in 1999.   BDL was 98 yesterday.   Even though I backtracked a portion of the route after I finished--socializing with spectators and marchers--the heat didn't get to me until about 12:15, and I was pretty wiped out (and drenched) when I returned to the radio station.   But I heard very few heat-related complaints.  Most comments were very positive about how big and fun the parade was.
 
People always ask about my "schtick."  While it wasn't as gaudy as some years (ie..roller blades pulling a "boom box" bus, UC uniform pulling a husky in a dogsled after the 1999 mens NCAA title, or last year's Uncle Sam on a scooter), it was effective.
 
Since I backpacked the Grand Canyon for 5 days in May, I elected to "hike" down Main Street.
 
With an American Flag T-shirt, and the oft-used white drum major hat (with a WILI logo on front with big flags sticking out the top), and the return of the somewhat beaten-up "boom box" shoes (people still like those and constantly ask how I can walk in them), I walked Main Street with the same backpack which I used in The Canyon, and I used the same hiking stick I came to rely on in The Canyon. 
 
But I had a good late addition because of this week's brutal heatwave (I was one of the thousands of local residents who lost power 3x for long periods earlier in the week--losing everything in my fridge/freezer and had no a/c or fan) and the hot/humid parade conditions, I decided to fill the pack with 8oz bottles of water, which I tossed out to spectators at random.  I began with 64 bottles--about the same pack weight I toted in The Canyon.   That turned out to be a good/fun/appropriate idea.
 
But a surprise even to me was when my four Grand Canyon hiking companions joined me--unannounced--about 1/3 of the way into the parade route.  They were in full hiking gear--with fully loaded packs, sleeping bags, etc--and carrying a stretcher and a hand-made sign saying "Wayne's rescue crew."  And the "A" in Wayne was more like an H....their pun on "Whyne's rescue crew"s--an in joke relating to my whining in The Canyon.   While the early spectators in the parade never saw it, I'm hoping the rest of the route did note my support unit walking right behind me.   And other than from what I later said on the air, I'm certain none of the spectators knew this was unexpected.
 
All the media stuff was early--The Chronicle, Bulletin, Channel 3, and the local Charter Cable (which shot the entire parade for rebroadcast several times next week), so none of them saw my unexpected paramedic team.
 
The parade itself was HUGE.  Waves of groups seemed unending.   Newspaper stories (click hereto read)  summarize some of the marching units.   There was remarkably little 9/11 reference (perhaps some were unsure how to do it in a festive way), but I do think that 9/11 was an inspiration for more people to get involved.  However I really liked the Windham Tech float--two five-foot high WTC towers about one-foot square mounted on a golf cart, with some smaller WTC neighborhood buildings nearby.  The North Tower even had that radio antenna on top.  Apparently it was a class project for an earlier competition, but I was pleased they put it in the parade.
 
As for the regulars:  The Traveling Fish Head Club of Northeast CT had a "school" of fishes with a "kiss the fish" theme.  They would edge up to the sidewalks and get people to smooch.   Cute.   And the Haggerty family--about 90-100 strong--had a hillbilly theme, complete with goofy teeth and an outhouse float.   They started making large, creative entries about 5-6 years ago.   Alcohol may be involved in the creative process.  But they have become one of the biggest hits.
 
Mansfield entered it's huge 300th birthday cake and the Mayor of Mansfield called me this morning to tell me "what a wonderful time the big group from Mansfield had."  Bev York from the Textile Museum had a Betsy Ross look and was sewing a flag.  Great stuff.  The Chronicle noted its 125th birthday and their group of marchers included my pal Patty as a 125 year old woman.  I kissed her and got a mouth full of rubber as a reward.  In reality she's only 75....
 
Lots of people were squirting water, which for the most part was welcomed--except when it got my red boom box wet!
 
We had the usual youth and senior groups, candy throwers, some clowns, and some great human-sized puppets. 
 
If the 9/11 theme was absent, there did seem to be more of a "peace" theme this year.
 
I was kicking myself this afternoon when I thought--too late--that we should have left a moment of silence for 9/11 before starting the parade.  I think that would have been very effective.
 
I can honestly say that as thrilled as I was about the length of the parade, I was equally disappointed at the spectator turnout.  Oh, they were there--particularly in the shady spots, but there were some stretches which are usually filled with people that were just empty sidewalk.  Again, the heat probably was a factor.  Then again, the marcher/float turnout was so good, I think some of those who were formerly spectators have elected to march--which is fine with me.
 
Another problem is the holes in the musical coverage.  Too many people miss the point about bringing a radio, and leave that task for others.  I think that's happening more now than ever.  We promote the heck out of telling marchers and watchers to "bring a radio and tune it to 14/WILI."  But a lot of people simply don't do that.  We may have to take strides to enhance the music along the parade route with big speakers.
 
My friend Nick's son Steve was in the parade and wrote me this later in the day:
 
 

OUTSTANDING parade today...told you the buzz was strong!  Nice work.
 
Those holes in the crowd were interesting.  But where there were lots of folks (ie the shaded spots) folks were 7-10 deep!)

Everyone had a blast.  And a friend called tonight...they noticed Stephen on Channel 3 news at 6:00.

He's all pumped up for his journey now.

The following needs polishing, but I will be sending to The Chronicle.  I know you like these great stories:

Letter to the Editor
The Spirit of Northeastern Connecticut

We wish to share an anecdote from the fantastic Boom Box Parade on July 4th. 
 
For all of you participating and watching, you witnessed the spectacular, tireless work of Mark Paquette, Wayne Norman and countless others.

But a special, quiet moment in the midst of this boisterous extravaganza evinced the spirit of the people of the region.  On his morning show of July 3rd, Wayne Norman did his research (as usual) and asked our son Stephen
about the family connection to the incredible athlete Babe Zaharias.  Well, in the midst of the Boom Box Parade the next day, as we were towing Stephen and his "Team USA" soccer float, a smiling face rushed our Jeep and asked "Are you the Zaharias Family?"  We thought that maybe the bill collectors had finally tracked us down!

This kind gentleman handed us an envelope, and said "it's a little something in
celebration of Stephen's soccer trip to Europe."  Ends up it was Jeff Curtiss of Curtiss Coins & Jewelry, an obviously attentive listener to WayneO.  In the mysterious envelope were mint collector stamps of Babe Zaharias, circa 1932.  By the time we opened the envelope and looked up to thank him he was long gone.  Jeffrey, your kind gesture really pumped our son up for his European
trip.  Thank you.

Jeff is but one example of the great, kind-hearted people who make Northeastern
Connecticut the special place that it is!


Nicholas & Patricia Zaharias
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