The parade wasn't quite as grand as imagined. Instead of an army of trombones and tubas leading floats from America and Europe down Main Street, there was one high school band in front of a short stretch of politicans, postal service jeeps and Washington Redskins quarterback Joe Theismann.
But if last week's parade to honor Zip Code Day in Vienna was a bit short on pomp, it couldn't have been more dependent on circumstance.
The idea for Zip Code Day "bubbled up" within Robert Swortzel two years ago. Swortzel, a professional fundraiser who lives outside Vienna in Fairfax County but gets his mail through the Vienna Postal Service, realized that Vienna's 22180 zip code became, with the addition of two diagonal slashes, the date 2/21/80. Swortzel began planning a winter carnival.
"I talked and I talked and I talked," said Swortzel, who tried for two years to interest Vienna officials in the zippy concept.
But it wasn't until two months ago that Marie Kisner, the town's information officer, saw the public relations possibilities of the coincidence.
Swortzel said he was surprised by the early lack of interest because Vienna loves parades. At least four times a year the town of 18,000 residents finds an occasion to close Maple Avenue, better known to thousands of Virginia commuters as Rte. 123, for a celebration.
Parades are a small-town trademark, and Vienna prides itself on having kept its small-town flavor despite being mixed in the huge stew of Fairfax County.
Vienna, which this year celebrates its 90th anniversity, is the kind of town that decorates Maple Avenue with American flags every Friday afternoon during high school football season.
It has its own mayor, town council, police and fire departments. To pay for those services, it also has its own property tax. But residents of the solidly middle-class town rarely complain about paying tax to both Fairfax county and Vienna, says town councilman Vince Olson, because "for the most part they get what they pay for."
Vienna's civic leaders brag that their town is not only a friendly place to live but a safe one. Except for vandalism and traffic problems, Vienna has one of the lowest crime rates in the metropolitan area.
"Our cases-closed rate is the highest (67 percent) in Northern Virginia," says Mayor Charles Robinson. The burglary rate, for instance, has been declining for each of the last three years. And except for the notorious disappearance and death of 12-year-old Billy Viscidi in 1978, the town has not had a murder committed in more than five years.
"A few years ago there was a body found behind a motel," admits information officer Kisner. "But we found out later he had been killed somewhere else and dumped there. So he wasn't our homicide."
Kisner and Vienna's Chamber of Commerce president Phyllis Elkins orchestrated the Zip day. A pilot was hired to pull a banner across the Vienna sky. The James Madison High School band was invited to provide marching music ("I've never heard of any music written for a zip code," said band director Jeff Bianchi). The headliner was Redskin quarterback Theismann who, like Swortzel, lives outside the town limits but gets his mail delivered by the town post office.
The parade was originally planned for a less traveled road that Rte. 123 but, said Elkins, "we were ashamed to have Joe Theismann on a side street for just two blocks, so we moved him out onto Maple Avenue." Theismann led the parade in a yellow Corvette -- just in time to snarl the early rush-hour traffic on the busy commuter route.
"I don't know why they had to pick rush hour to have this thing," said one of the town police holding back traffic.
But shopkeeper Ty Brooke was more appreciative: "This is the kind of stunt that makes it a small town."
The postal employes, whom the parade was supposed to honor, understood Theismann and the band preceding them. That's show biz.
But a few of the town's letter carriers wondered why they were behind the politicans. Answered a rural route deliverer, "That's politics."
The parade ended at Freeman House, a 120-year-old museum of sorts that was the town's first post office. Jimmy Marr, a 10-year post office veteran, was named Zip Code Postman of the Day. Speeches were made, including one by Theismann with the curious statement, "Very few places in the world have the zip code that we do and we should be honored by it."
It was ironic that on the same day as Vienna's celebration, the U.S. Postal Service announced that next year the five-digit zip codes will be scrapped to make way for nine-digit numbers.
No matter, said Vienna residents. There will always be good reasons to parade. As for the letter carriers, they said they expected no change in their natural order of early mornings, rainy days and nasty dogs.
Before the last speech had ended, in fact, one of the volunteers at the Penny Wise thrift shop across the street from Freeman House put the postal service back in perspective:
"They're good delivering the mail, but you still have to wait in line to get stamps."