Judging by the crowd at the George Washington Birthday Parade in Alexandria yesterday, the Father of His Country would beat Redskin Mark Moseley in a popularity poll, but E.T. would put them both to shame.
Before the parade started, Moseley, the National Football League's Most Valuable Player last season and parade grand marshal, looked to be a sure winner. Three-year-old Zachary Hubbard of Gaithersburg, solid and silent in a Redskins jacket and cap, modeled what seemed to be the uniform of the day.
The tide began to turn in Washington's favor just before the 2 p.m. start, as the concessionaires hawked their wares up and down Royal Street.
Bobby Rose, pushing a fistful of gold Redskin pennants for $2 each, grouched, "They were going for $15 in L.A." But vendor George Cushmac, with a brisk business in tricorn hats ($3) and "all-weather" hard plastic swords ($2), said, "You need to be an octopus in this business."
Admittedly, Washington had the advantage of more exciting PR. Moseley's famous kicking foot wasn't even visible as he was driven by. Washington, impersonated for the 10th time by look-alike Dick Hills, on the other hand, was backed up by uniformed members of the Continental Army, bagpipers and drummers, and even a 30-pound cannon, fired to startling effect by the red-coated First Virginia Regiment.
But 45 minutes later, as a float full of famous non-human and superhuman heroes rolled by, the cry went out: "E.T.! E.T.!" Even Spiderman paled by comparison.
It was a great day for a parade, 60 degrees and sunny, and an estimated 15,000 to 20,000 spectators lined the 15-block route. With about 140 groups participating--including Scout troops, modern and Revolutionary military units, high school bands and Shriners--there seemed to be as many walkers as watchers.
Actually, nobody walked. They strutted, shuffled, rode, slid, marched, danced and even jived. They rode horses. They drove classic cars, jalopies, go-carts, motorcycles and scooters. One man rode in an open coffin towed by the Magnus Temple hearse.
Vending at parades, like just about everything else, is a matter of supply and demand. This year the recession was felt. Cushmac pays 15 cents apiece for the plastic American flags he was selling yesterday for 50 cents. Last year he sold them for a dollar.
Small children along the route provided a lesson in informality. "Hi, white dog!" one small boy called as the Alexandria Police Department K-9 unit marched by. "Hi, Mark!" he saluted Moseley, and "Hi, Donald!" in a democratic recognition of Alexandria City Council member Donald C. Casey.
Perhaps the real hero of the occasion was the gentleman in the chauffeur-driven white Cadillac who cleaned up after the palominos, ceremoniously shoveling manure into the trunk of the Caddy, and then grandly touring on.