The Floral Parade in Mobile, Alabama, is one of the unusual parades because it rolls through Mobile twice during the Mardi Gras festivities. We caught it both times, though the first time, it was a total wash out. Literally.
We arrived a few hours before the parade began, timing our arrival between that morning’s marathon and the parade going crush. My father set up our spot near the beginning of the parade route
An hour before the parade began, the skies opened up in a torrent. It seemed to do its worse and then quit and the skies lightened up. It looked like everything was a go.
This year was the first in a very long time where not a single Mardi Gras parade had been rained out. In fact, it had been sunburn weather for the past three weeks with nary a drop in the sky. The nights were cool and the days warm.
The floats started lining up outside of the Civic Center and the children began to arrive.
Only a few people started lining up along the route, disheartened probably by the earlier rain, so my father and I were prepared to collect ALL the loot with less people to compete against.
Twenty minutes before parade time, the rain moved in again. The closer it got to starting time, the heavier the down pour. Almost as soon as the clock struck noon and bells began to ring out in the nearby Cathedral, everything went dark and lightening started slapping the sky.
The children who has spent the last 30 minutes standing on the floats dressed up in rain proof ponchos and gears, and the small crowds all ducked under umbrellas, knew that this was going to be a mess. The paint was starting to run off the floats and the flowers were melting under the water.
I headed down towards the front of the line of floats, wiping water off my camera and trying to capture what I could, and arrived in time to catch the parade official beginning his march down the line advising each of the float captains that the parade was canceled. Cancelled not so much due to the rain, but the lightning potential for striking the floats built out of wood but resting on metal flat bed wagons isn’t a good idea.
With the word coming down the line, the kids and the crowds ran for cover as the skies exploded in rain.
My father and I, moss on our backs, rust in our blood, and webs between our toes from growing up in the Pacific Northwest, slowly walked under one umbrella back to the car, drenched to the skin. Both of us could hardly find the car for the streams of water rolling down our glasses.
We debated waiting around for the next parade in an hour and a half but decided that we were too wet and the weather didn’t look like it was going to lift that fast.
We made it out onto Highway 10 among the other exiting parade-goers and within seconds our speed was down to 10-15 mph. My wipers couldn’t keep up with the volume of rain coming down, even at high speed. Big trucks, small cars, we all had our emergency lights on and crept along the highway which usually hosts a minimum speed of 65, typically 80 mph.
My little car’s defroster couldn’t keep up with the condensation building up as soon as I wiped the inside of the window, so I knew we had to get off the highway. My father and I stared through the torrent for a green sign along the highway, pleading for a quick exit.
The first sign was for Michigan, the exit to the regional airport and Brent’s office. It is also a back route along the airport to our home. Once off the highway, we rolled through flooded streets, some more like rivers than puddles as the water raced along towards drainage ditches.
In one swift current about 10 inches deep, I had a terrible time controlling the car as it plowed through the water. This was now more about getting to safety than getting home.
I turned down the road to Brent’s office, the road ahead of me a total white out with a foggy window on the inside and sheets of grey water pouring outside. My father finally found a wad of tissue paper and I swept a swath of clear on the window to find that I was seconds from driving off the road into the four foot deep ditch. I straightened out and made turn into the parking lot.
My dad and I raced to the office door and stood inside the warm office, dripping puddles.
Brent was surprised but more worried that we had been out there in the storm. We were okay, but decided to sit there and eat the picnic lunch I’d prepared, waiting out the storm.
It ended about an hour later. Outside, the rivers had turned back to deep puddles and the wind had died down, but the skies were still dark. We made it home and peeled off our wet clothes with steam coming off our bodies.
When I checked in with my dad an hour later about heading back out for the parades that night, for the first time since Mardi Gras began here in Mobile, he decided to skip the evening’s fun and head out tomorrow, after some much needed rest and recovery. I agreed.
The Floral Parade and the one immediately after it were the only parades rained out this year. The next three days of parades and festivities were met with boiling sunshine and no clouds.
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