If you're looking for floats with hydraulics, Olympic-size helium balloons hovering 20 feet above terra firma or celebrities with million-dollar smiles, you're waiting at the wrong parade. In fact, the closest thing to a musical number at this year's Fourth of July celebration in Arlington's Douglas Park neighborhood may be a boombox strapped to the hood of someone's car.
And that's just the way they want it.
This year's 17th annual community parade will wind its way through six blocks in South Arlington before dropping off about 250 flag-waving, streamer-wielding participants at Douglas Park for a picnic. The gathering of neighbors and friends, babies and bicycles is intimate and down-home. No small feat in a bustling urban landscape like Arlington's.
"There's a nice small-town feel to it," said Reid Goldstein, a former Douglas Park Civic Association president who is co-chairman of this year's event. "The more cosmopolitan and metropolitan an area gets, the more people are trying to carve out a piece that's identifiable to them. There's something nice about the neighborhood's connectedness."
And why not? Neighbors in the community, which is bounded by Columbia Pike on the north, Walter Reed Drive on the east and south and Four Mile Run Drive on the west, have their own old-fashioned approach to bringing people together: Doesn't take glitz. Doesn't take glamour. All that's needed is a couple hundred hot dogs, some red, white and blue and a lot of community spirit.
"It's like the corniest thing you've ever seen," said Ann-Marie Taranto, who is organizing the event with Goldstein. "And it's so much fun. Down-home, simple fun. No hype. There's nothing artificial about it. Just everybody in their own element."
Last year, hundreds of residents turned out with their children in tow to share the morning parade. Some dressed in costumes. Children decorated their bikes. Dogs were trotted out on their leashes, and antique cars were dusted off for a spin around the neighborhood. Of course, the fire station--fire engine gleaming--made an appearance, as did the Arlington County chief of police, who toured in a convertible as grand marshal.
And there were floats. Last year's grand prize winner was a life-size stuffed replica of George Washington.
You can expect all the same homespun pageantry during this year's festivities. Grand marshal honors go to Randolph Elementary School kindergarten teacher Judy Rundle, who is celebrating her 36th year with the school.
Organizers are hoping that a fife and drum corps will be on hand to lead the parade. However, if the musicians don't show, planners will simply move to Plan B and strap a boombox--one blasting John Philip Sousa music--to the front car, and off they go. It's been done before.
Nothing is too informal or obscure. Two years ago, Elaine S. Furlow, then a candidate for the Arlington School Board, made an appearance on the back of a pickup truck, lounging on a lawn chair. She was elected.
The Douglas Park Civic Association has kept the party low key. Advertising is done with fliers posted in community laundry rooms and handed out to schoolchildren.
Word of mouth is key, and the instructions are simple: Come out and enjoy. Bring your family. Bring your friends. And for heaven's sake, bring food.
After the parade, organizers put on a free hot-dog lunch for the crowd. But how do you feed hundreds of people when all you have are 300 wieners and Martha Stewart is not on the planning committee? Simple, really. If your last name starts with the letter A through P, you're asked to bring a side dish. If you're not on that list, bring dessert.
"Depending on when the Fourth falls, people don't necessarily have time to prepare something from scratch," Goldstein said. "We get a lot of three-bean salad right out of the can. I know. I've done it, too."
Those in the parade assemble at 10 a.m. at Monroe Park, at South Monroe and South 14th streets, where watchful judges will give each entrant the once-over and hand out awards. Marchers step off about 10:30 a.m. and end up, about 20 minutes later, at Douglas Park, where, in addition to lunch, children can play on a moon bounce, take pony rides and pitch balls at a dunk tank.
"It's a great opportunity for neighbors to meet each other," Taranto said. "After the parade, we walk around and talk and have a great time."
CAPTION: Diana Dean, left, 4-year-old Tess Guthrie, Linda Dye, Hannah Guthrie and Gus Guthrie ready the sign for the 17th annual Douglas Park Fourth of July parade.