All the usual suspects were rounded up yesterday for Alexandria's annual hometown parade to celebrate adopted native son George Washington's 254th birthday: beauty queens, clowns, marching bands.
And, there were surprises enough to delight the estimated 60,000 persons who lined Old Town's cobblestone sidewalks for 16 blocks and two hours, especially the small set: gowned and gloved, Miss Piggy waved grandly from a convertible, a walking soda bottle passed out green and yellow Frisbees, pencils and soft drinks, six unicyclists swayed bravely above the crowd, and Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs, none of them older than 10, smiled from a white pickup truck.
Fife and drum corps, powdered white wigs and colonial costumes were the order of the day. No fewer than three versions of George and Martha Washington paraded by in classic, horse-drawn carriages, prompting one onlooker to quip, "Will the real George Washington please chop down a cherry tree?"
People and puddles lined the streets as a breath of spring seemed to burst -- briefly -- through Washington's winter, melting its weeks-old coverlet of snow. Minutes before the parade began at 1 p.m., the temperature peaked at 51 degrees, according to the National Weather Service. Early in the parade, fathers stood with arms full of fat little winter parkas; before it ended, mothers were bundling children back up as the air chilled and clouds darkened the sky.
Paul Maiden, a 31-year-old social work teacher, stood on a yellow and white fire hydrant, making it his personal grandstand. His 5-year-old son Christopher, his face sprinkled with freckles and flushed with excitement, dashed up to the parading soda pop bottle and grabbed a pencil to match the Frisbee his father held.
Maiden, who moved his family to Laurel from Texas last year, said Texans don't make much of a hoopla on the third Monday in February, the official holiday honoring George Washington's birthday, which actually falls on Feb. 22. "They don't even know it's his birthday, I don't think," Maiden drawled, balancing on the hydrant. "Well, maybe they have a sale."
One effervescent teen-ager giggled as she greeted friends with hugs and held a bewildered brown puppy. But most owners leashed dogs, adhering strictly to a central rule of parade etiquette: the bigger the dog, the tighter the lead.
Spiffy and proud in their black, white and maroon uniforms, the Marching Panthers of Hine Junior High School in Southeast Washington thrilled the crowd with what could best be described as "breakmarching," a jolting variation on traditional marching band moves. Rambo-like in red berets, camouflage fatigues and green windbreakers, the troops of the Magnus Temple Youth Corps of Alexandria also broke ranks with a sprightly combination of marching and breakdancing.
Shriners stuffed into curb-high orange minicars stopped the show long enough to race around intersections. Brownies, Bluebirds, Girl Scouts and Campfire Boys and Girls carried badge-decked banners, many with rainbow themes.
"I think it's neat the way they have all the scouts parading around, it really gets the community involved," said Flo O'Donnell, a 54-year-old grandmother from Annandale, with Timmy, 4, and Kristin, 8, in tow. The three had picnicked on sandwiches, cookies, lifesavers and apples beneath the brown -- and heated -- awning of a St. Asaph Street restaurant.
"Heck, I didn't know it would be so easy to find a great place to watch the parade," O'Donnell said.
Timmy giggled at a clown named Troop who broke away from the parade to tweak his nose and wish him a "Merry Christmas." "Do you know what she did-ed?" he asked, his jet-black eyes wide. "She made it honk," he answered and demonstrated by pressing his nose flat with his finger.
Back at a balconied apartment overlooking the corner where the parade had started, the Rev. Raymond C. O'Brien, a Catholic University law professor, proclaimed his sixth annual George Washington Birthday Parade Bash for students, alumni and friends as big a success as the parade.
"The people really seemed to get into it this year. This parade is so important to this city, but it's growing up," O'Brien said as he waved good-bye to his last two guests. "You're seeing a city that's so ensconced in traditional festivities like this but that's growing so fast into the 20th century. The club that he [George Washington] belonged to, The Old Club, is going to become another Clyde's," the 43-year-old priest said, shaking his head.