Have you ever actually stood next to one of those sound trucks? We got a chance when one of them was exiting the West Indian American Day Carnival Parade route today. “We makin’ a right,” called the DJ as the big rig rolled out. He started singing, “Watch de’ RIGHT, watch de RIGHT, watch de RIGHT” in time to the music but was soon inaudible to us as the giant speakers swept our hair back and fluttered our clothes. There was enough bass in there to take down a building.
Fortunately during the parade itself a huge crowd — Runnin’ Scared estimates it at a billion — lined the Eastern Parkway route from Utica Avenue in Crown Heights to Grand Army Plaza and absorbed some of the shock waves.
The day was bright and hot and everyone was into it. Some created little dance eddies in pockets of the crowd; some stood as near the curb as they could get with washcloths on their skulls or fanning themselves, craning for a peek at the floats and dancers; some — mostly older folks, sometimes with grandkids buzzing around them — sat in lawn or folding chairs near the porticoes and stoops of bigger buildings, sipping and chatting. On the traffic islands and anywhere else there could find room, some sold roti, jerk chicken, skewers, black pudding, curries, cotton candy, punches, water, flowers, flags, beads, black consciousness books and DVDs (“The Kongo Art of Babysitting”) and shirts that commemorated the event on the front and said I WAS THERE AND YOU WASN’T on the back.
As usual the parade got backed up — particularly late in the afternoon and by the reviewing stand across from the Brooklyn Museum — and there were long waits. During the longueurs the dancers, dressed as spectacularly as they could manage without concealing much of their flesh (it’s a carnival, after all), cantered in place, said hi to folks in the crowd, drank soda, or posed for photographers.
When the parade revved back up, they spread their arms and stomped, flaunted, and shook, unless they were on stilts, in which case they just gracefully loped along. When their time in the spotlight was up, you could see them on the sidewalks, often in full costume, chatting on cell phones or eating ices or leading their children by the hand
There were politicians there — Chuck Schumer, Marty Markowitz, and various candidates for local office. Governor Paterson, whose parents are of Jamaican and Guyanese descent, was the Grand Mashal. There were floats for other official entities, too, like the UFT and Parade sponsor American Airlines. We missed those, but we didn’t miss them much. The sound trucks, festooned with ads for local businesses (“Flatbush Avenue — we have it all for less”), the dancers, and the vast array of spectators, whether local or imported, in doo-rags or pork-pie hats, were parade enough for us.
UPDATE: Much, much better pictures here.