Ashland's Fourth of July

It begins every year a few days before the Fourth of July.

People from all points elsewhere head into the back streets of Ashland, eager to secure curbside parking for their cars, vans, motor homes and trailers as they set up for a long weekend of glitter, bands, revelry, patriotic expression, social activism, personal interaction, dancing, family gatherings and general genial frolic.

The pressure of expectancy continues to ratchet up, punctuated with the popping sound of antique cars backfiring and bottle rockets streaking upward. The smell of barbecue wafts through town, even when the sky is full of smoke from wildfires, which seem to be our inheritance from a economy and lifestyle that seems much more focused on the past than the future. The present can take care of itself, as long as we live fully in it.

Kids laugh, babies cry as the adults set the direction and trundle toward downtown loaded down with folding chairs, coolers, sunscreen and cameras &

enough to supply a small army of paradegoers. People are pretty good about leaving their pets indoors with food and water to sustain them. The best pet owners leave the radio on to distract the dogs from the sounds of fireworks, which they hear only infrequently.

Historically, our parade is a reflection of small town Americana, though seen through the lens of the constantly changing moods and reflections of the residents of a cultural burg that is anything but typical in rural Southern Oregon. Entries range from the inspired to the mundane, but it all seems to break down to half the town watching the other half march and take the spotlight. The morning begins with a 10K run, which, from experience, is not for the faint of heart. After the parade the onlookers flow through the Plaza and into the many food and crafts booths set up in Winburn Way. During the afternoon the band shell becomes the focus of speeches and entertainment. 10 p.m. the fireworks begin while dogs hide as best they can.

Military jets from Kingsley field in Klamath Falls usually signal the beginning of the parade, which for decades has been started by Jack Mills, who somehow manages to make sense of the multi streams of cars, floats, bands, dancers, horses, pets, dignitaries and other entries that make up the headwaters of the parade as it flows together and swirls down Siskiyou, past the Plaza, then is directed downstream by way of Water Street.

Some entries, such as the Firehouse Five, possess a grandfathered position and ability to re-enter the parade stream several times as they lay down some hot jazz to the devoted who have witnessed their antics and have enjoyed their music over the course of many decades. The suspense is that we really don't know what entries will be present, who will be in the floats, if jets will do a flyby or what we will enjoy the most.

It is this great unknown that keeps us coming back.

As I watch the parade I seem to blink into an all-encompassing awareness of every parade since 1972, somehow blending decades of history with each new parade. Where once Dancing Wontons from Geppetto's twirled and whirled their way down the street I now can see them perform once again. I also can easily experience again the mermaids of mobile hot tub Wetward-Ho, as they swim, dance and engage in wardrobe malfunctions to the roar of a fun-loving crowd. I see this through the eyes of Miss Piggy, my costume of the day, as I drove the water-logged unit slowly through the parade route.

It is time to let down your hair and enjoy a full day of entertainment that should please most, except those straining to see the Naked Lady, should she make her appearance.

Lance was last seen mingling about town, getting ready for Ashland's best-known single event. Give a buzz and inform him of your most memorable moments of the Fourth.

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