One of the things I like about living in the Town of Vienna is its frequent attempts at maintaining its small-town feel, despite living cheek by jowl with one of the DC Metro’s largest commercial suburbs – Tysons Corner. Harried Tysons’ commuters would love to turn the town into a mere short-cut on their drive to and from work, but are thwarted by speed bumps, frequent stop signs and a pernicious 25mph speed limit on all but the most major thoroughfares (not to mention an alert police force). A resident having an issue with another resident’s oversized vehicle blocking visibility is advised to take it up with the owner of the vehicle, rather than bother the traffic board (and as the aforementioned resident with the issue, I swear this is the truth). Go into Vienna’s Freeman House (an historic building) some nice day and you might actually find yourself chatting with the town’s mayoress.
If you drove through Vienna in the past couple of weeks, you would have seen this banner stretching across Maple Avenue, the town’s main drag. If you’d been alert, you might have noticed that the town’s name is misspelled, but what the hell. Maybe they got a deal on it. More important is the event the banner advertises. The Annual Halloween Parade is about the most fun you can have for free, particularly if you enjoy people-watching. Yesterday afternoon I bolted home from rehearsal and practically shoved John out the door so we wouldn’t be late.
We parked in a lot just off Maple Street and walked a few blocks to the spot that’s served us well in the past – right where my trusty W&OD Trail crosses Maple. There’s a flowerbed with a raised edge to stand on so that you can see over the heads of the early arrivals. And I do mean early. The really experienced and canny parade watchers put their lawn chairs and blankets out the morning of the parade, to mark their spots. The chairs and blankets sit on the curbs all day long, and no one touches them. I find this unbelievable. The chairs in the photo at right were there when we got there, and even as the crowd thickened and no one came to occupy them, they remained exactly where they were. Come to think of it, I don’t think anyone ever sat in them. I think they belonged to a somewhat vexed-looking young woman wearing a dog suit, who lingered near the chairs passing out flyers that said KEEP VIENNA KIDS IN VIENNA. This made me wonder what sort ordinance was so heinous as to snatch children from the bosoms of their families and cause an otherwise a perfectly nice-looking woman to don a Dalmation costume to protest it. The Dog Lady wandered off just before the parade started and didn’t come back, so I never got to ask her. But her chairs stayed empty and untouched even though people were crowding the sidewalks as the 7 PM start time neared.
John and I spent most of our pre-parade time looking at the costumes. Any kid who shows up in costume is invited to march in the parade, so lots of children were giving their outfits a pre-Halloween tryout. This year there was a preponderance of witches. Witches old and young, tall and short, male and female, all with the requisite pointy hat. I wondered whether the popularity of the musical “Wicked” has made witches popular with the Halloween set again; I certainly noticed a lot of them last year, too. I thought there would be a lot of pirates due to the release of the new “Pirates of the Caribbean” film this year, but I didn’t notice a particular upsurge in eyepatches and hook hands.
With the littler kids, Pooh Bear seemed to be the winner. There were those who bore their Poohness imprinted on their costumes; others were more generic but there were still an awful lot of little bear children this year. I also saw a few babies dressed as pumpkins (too young to do anything more than drool on the costumes in protest) and a mixed bag of superheroes – Superman, Batman, Power Rangers and the lot. I didn’t see any Incredibles this year, although a few Nemo fish suits made it into the mix.
People were standing three and four deep on the sidewalks by the time the parade kicked off, pretty much on the dot. Leading the parade were a bunch of cops on motorcycles, mostly from the Fairfax County police force (I guess the Town’s Finest were busy blocking traffic). They were followed by a bunch of fire and rescue trucks from Vienna as well as its neighbors – Fairfax County, McLean, Falls Church and as far off as Arlington. Behind the flashing lights and the vroom-vroom of high-powered engines came the real reason for the parade: the kids. They marched behind a banner that read simply: KIDS IN COSTUME. Kids and kids and kids. There was an absolute glut of witches. A plethora of bears and bunnies. A flock of fairies and angels, and a devil or two. A double handful of Darth Vaders. John and I always try to pick out the really creative costumes; this year my vote went to the boy dressed as a Twister game. He’d poked a hole in the middle of a vinyl Twister sheet and was wearing it as a poncho, with the Twister spinner fastened to his head like a hat. Now that’s creativity on a budget.
After several hundred KIDS IN COSTUME went by, the agenda part of the parade started, which is not nearly so much fun. There’s always a bunch of politicians with their supporters and their balloons and cars and floats in themed colors (although it seems to be de rigeur for the politicos to pretend to be normal and walk, rather than ride in cars). We saw George Allen and Jim Webb and didn’t applaud either of them, although our sidewalk seemed to be solidly in the Webb camp.
The Chamber of Commerce was there in force, along with the local American Legion. The Town Council made their appearance in the back of an old truck. Vienna businesses made the most of the advertising opportunity; my favorite was Bikes @ Vienna, with a great display of recumbent and tandem bikes. A couple of dance troupes bounced and wiggled past. A local florist was represented by a truck and a convertible beautifully decked with fresh flowers. There was a Tai Kwan Do group and a Karate group. There were four marching bands. There was a handsome young guy who did acrobatics while rolling on a giant wheel, and his mere appearance made a teenaged girl across the street shriek with such abandon that her fellow teenagers finally got embarrassed enough to tell her to shut up. The Shriners were a big hit with their little go-carts, as was a group of horses. My two favorite groups were the Red Hat Ladies (I’m beginning to identify with them) and a Great Dane rescue group. One rescue person brought her dog up close enough to be petted; it was like patting a large, calm pony.
Dogs on the sidelines weren’t nearly so happy with the proceedings. This black Lab had a flashy collar with a strobing red light, but he looked as if he’d rather be home, curled up next to the kibble. A yellow Lab accompanied by another black Lab were tied to a sign nearby, and they expressed their displeasure by howling until their owners took them away. A lady with a border collie mix on a retractable leash stood near us for a while; the dog was so frightened of the noise that several times I found him leaning against my legs for comfort. When a group of motorcyclists on their choppers came by, the dog bolted for home, dragging the lady with him.
The parade took two hours and the temperature plummeted during that time. The crowd that had been so full and enthusiastic at the beginning of the parade had thinned out considerably by the time the event wound to a close. John and I had the sense to bundle up in fleece pullovers, parkas and gloves, but by 8:30 my nose and chin were freezing and my toes felt like they’d turned into ice cubes. In this photo I’m grinning but I’m also trying to keep my chin warm by tucking it into the parka collar. John, on the other hand, seems to have plush-lined skin and was still full of piss and vinegar, although he was moaning about wanting dinner. At about 8:50 we could see the police cars that finished up the parade, followed by a line of regular headlights signifying that Maple Avenue was about to open back up; we took advantage of a lull between the last couple of parade groups and bolted across the street to Whole Foods. It was warm inside and a number of tastings were going on. We sampled some Dominion beer and some cheese and I fell in love with a kind of iced pumpkin cookie they were hawking. We bought some meat and salad and several desserts and then walked back to our car. Traffic was already moving steadily along Maple.
I can’t wait until the next event: the town’s Annual Christmas Walk and Tree Lighting. Meanwhile, to you folks that try to race through Vienna on your way elsewhere, slow down and have a look around. Vienna may be a small town, but it’s got a big heart.