TWENTY YEARS ago when Berkeley last played in the Rose Bowl, I went to Pasadena with a group of fellow undergraduates, where, as part of the festivities, we sat up all night on a curb to get a good view of the Rose Parade on New Year's morning before we went on to the game.
Thousands of people still show up early New Year's Eve to stake out choice spots along the parade's fivemile route. They wrap up in blankets or snuggle into sleeping bags, fortifying themselves with hot coffee or liquor to keep away the night cold until dawn brings a warming sun.
After all these years, I still remember that night as one of the most miserable I have ever spent. It started out as a lark shortly after midnight, with plenty of beer and wine to go around. We sang Cal fight songs and watched others settle in around us. But as the dark hours wore on and the alcohol wore off, the penetrating cold and the need for sleep took the joy out of things. Finally, with my feet in the gutter of Colorado Boulevard, I lay back on the sidewalk and managed to catch a little sleep - when somebody wasn't stumbling into me.
For all of that, when the parade finally did begin, our group - tired, hungry, uncomfortable - was all but trampled by newcomers who swarmed in front of us, blocking the clear view we thought we had assured ourselves with our vigil.
That's the memory of the Rose Parade I retained when my wife, Sandy, who had seen the parade only on TV, suggested in mid-October that we take it in while on a trip to Southern California this past New Year's. Well, all right, I agreed, since the parade really is quite glorious, but there's got to be a better way.
And, of course, there is - for a price.
Gray Line Tours of Los Angeles, we learned, offers two package tours to the Rose Parade each year: We could be picked up at our hotel, delivered to reserved bleacher seats on the parade route and returned to our hotel afterwards for a cost of $30 per person. If we wanted also to go to the Rose Bowl, the package included a box lunch and game tickets for $100 per person.
A bit expensive for parade tickets, we said to ourselves, but what was the alternative? We could rent a car, but what a bother, and the problem of trying to find Pasadena on those notorious Los Angeles freeways - let alone find a parking space or a place from which to watch the parade - seemed insurmountable for strangers to the area.
Anyway, I wasn't going to spend another New Year's Eve on Pasadena's curbs. We also decided to skip the Rose Bowl. Twenty years ago, Berkeley had been crushed by Iowa. Yet another bad memory. We sent in our $60 in October, got a return receipt, and in December the tickets arrived by certified mail.
On New Year's morning, our day at the parade went as smoothly as we could have hoped. The only painful part is that the parade buses must depart at 6 a.m., which comes much too quickly after any midnight celebrating.
Shortly before 6 a.m., we showed up at the front of the Disneyland Hotel in Anaheim to find six busloads of our fellow guests (and local residents) with the same idea. The hotel coffee shop had opened at 5 a.m. for early breakfast, and we picked up box lunches of fried chicken we had ordered the day before.
The buses arrived on time, and we left for a sleepy hour's ride through the still-dark freeways to Pasadena. By the time we got there, the sky had lightened and the traffic was very heavy. Still, we weren't delayed as our driver appeared to take a back route into the city.
We were dropped off about two blocks from our bleachers on Orange Grove Boulevard at the start of the parade route. The buses could get no closer because of the jam of people. Gray Line aides with signs directed us to the bleachers where ushers showed us our seats, which (except for a slender tree trunk in front) gave us a fine view. We sat in Row M, and the alphabet climbed well beyond us.
In front of the bleachers, vendors sold helpful souvenir programs for $1.50, coffee, soft drinks and snacks. Behind were portable restroom facilities. And everywhere, the people who had camped out all night were beginning to stir awake. Some had brought chairs and even couches. Others had hauled in portable barbecue pits for warmth and hot food. One large group had torn up huge paperboard boxes and built a fence around their enclave.
We were in our seats at 7:30 a.m., with an hour to go before the prompt beginning of the 90th Rose Parade. The temperature was in the mid-40s but warming fast as the sun climbed in the clear sky, and we were reasonably comfortable in sports jackets and sweaters. Crowd-watching kept us occupied until the parade began. Directly across from us, NBC-TV had set up a camera platform, and among the personalities waiting to go on were Olympic champions Bruce Jenner and Rafer Johnson, who kept busy signing autographs and responding to friendly calls from well-wishers in the throng.
The parade, once under way, was the spectacle we had anticipated. The flowered floats, some humorous, others elaborately mechanical and all of them beautiful, drew mass oohs and aahs from the crowd, which this year was estimated at more than 2 million. The 119 units, including floats, bands and horseback groups, passed quickly in about 2 1/2 hours.
Afterwards, we had about a 30-minute wait while the streets cleared until the buses could get to the bleachers to pick us up. We were whisked a couple of miles to a Pasadena-area park where the Rose Bowl-bound ticket holders ate their picnic lunches and the rest of us were sorted out for buses that returned us to our individual hotels. We were back at Disneyland shortly after 1 p.m.
This past New Year's morning Gray Line picked up about 6,000 people at 26 Los Angeles-area hotels or other locations in 173 buses. For ticket reservations next year, or additional information, contact: The Gray Line Tours, 1207 West Third Street, Los Angeles, Calif., 90017, Attn: Bernard A. Johnsen.
Ticket requests for next year already are coming in, and are sold on a first-come, first-served basis, according to Gray Line. Next year's prices and additional information will be mailed out about June 1 to those who have requested tickets by then.
Believe me, it beats sitting up all night on a cold curb.