It was Jeff Goldblum as Jurassic Park’s Dr. Ian Malcolm who said, regardless of how much control you think you have, “Life finds a way.” Parades are sort of like that.
Every Fourth of July for as long as anyone can remember, Bigfork has had a parade. For this parade, about 5,000 people line the sides of Grand Drive, Electric Avenue and Bridge Street to watch as a somewhat ad hoc collection of floats, marching groups, politicians, fire trucks and tourists traverse the roughly half mile of asphalt between Montana 35 and the old bridge, stepping off precisely at noon.
It’s important to remember that Dr. Malcolm was a proponent of chaos theory, the idea that many of life’s events are governed by, if not truly random processes, at least by processes so complex they can’t be controlled. Jurassic Park’s John Hammond defied chaos theory. This isn’t Jurassic Park, but in defiance of chaos, Michele Shapero has the John Hammond role.
The Bigfork parade is not so much a town function as a public entitlement. After all, Bigfork isn’t really even a town. It’s a Census Defined Place, which means it’s a populated space that otherwise doesn’t exist. But in the sense that life will find a way, so will government. Bigfork is governed, so to speak, by several quasi-governmental agencies, the salient one in this case being the Bigfork Area Chamber of Commerce. The chamber consists of a paid executive director, an unpaid board of directors and a cadre of unpaid volunteers, and the operating budget of the chamber is funded by member contributions and a few profit-making events; the parade is not one of them. And the task of managing the parade is delegated to an energetic volunteer, which is where Shapero comes in.
“We always have plenty of enthusiastic participants who want to march in the parade,” she said. “And, with many repeat participants, they know how to line up along the north end of Grand Drive.”
“But spectator parking is the big challenge,” Shapero continued. “The school parking lot is closed for construction this year so we’ve had to get creative about finding other places to park.”
Churches and athletic clubs are the main venues this year. Details are on the chamber’s website, www.bigfork.org, and shuttle service from the parking lots will be provided.
“Although we don’t really have any authority over the parade, we do seem to have the responsibility to make it run smoothly,” Shapero said. “The sheriff’s posse helps to direct the traffic, but the sheriff gets really annoyed when we get too many attendees and try to park cars along (Montana) 35.”
Obviously, the sheriff isn’t a person you want to annoy.
And then there’s the parade route.
“It seems natural for the parade to go in one end of town and out the other,” Shapero said. “But at the south end there’s the old bridge with it’s eight-foot height and three-ton weight limits.”
A little calculation suggests that a marching band of modest size, a convertible carrying the grand marshal or a small team of sumo wrestlers could handily exit the far side. But the fire trucks and the pontoon boats need special consideration.
“You probably heard about that pontoon boat that got stuck on the bridge earlier this season,” Shapero mentioned. “And this year there’ll be the Budweiser beer wagon drawn by a team of clydesdales.”
A little more calculation puts that entry about two feet and six tons over the limit. Enough to collapse the bridge? My mind wonders to the thought of half a dozen giant horses swimming in the Swan River.
With all this work and no revenue, I ask, why does it keep happening? Shapero’s response is a look I’ve come to understand: Why would the Pope be anything other than Catholic? How could the sky be any color other than blue? And the grass other than green?
Some things, apparently, are beyond question and, had I taken a moment to consider, it would have been obvious. Five thousand people come every year. This year it may be ten thousand, considering the Budweiser entry. (Maybe it’s the horses, maybe it’s the beer.) And everyone will have a great time, from the opening with the community band, the color guard and the barbershop quartet singing the Star Spangled Banner, to the last scoop of manure following the beer wagon. Yes, despite the lack of parking and the massive crowds, in fact maybe because of them, this might be the best example of small town Americana in the Northwest.
Now if they just had a T-Rex.
David Vale retired from the world of psychology and statistics and now owns the Pocketstone Cafe in Bigfork.