Happy New Year? It’s 2023.
2023? What a nothing number.
Like they say in baseball, lots of crooked numbers, but it surely doesn’t roll off the tongue, does it? If we were at a dance, 2023 would be a wallflower.
Not fun like 2020, which sounded like a stutter or an eye chart.
A century ago, it was the Roaring Twenties.
What do we have?
The Infectious Twenties? The Depressed Twenties? The Twenties Gender Confusion?
To me, every New Year’s Day was memorable because of the Mummers Parade, which I had been attending since the ‘70s, when there might have been a half-million spectators. When the String Bands — maybe two dozen, down to 14 today — marched up Broad Street, you could not walk on sidewalks between Pine and City Hall. You had to use the concourse below. Crowds jammed the sidewalks from the curb to the building line.
That will never return.
Long after I was a mere spectator, and after I was a proud member of the King Kazoo Comic club, marching with Landi Comics, I covered the parade for about 25 years.
And in the ‘90s, I started sounding the death knell.
Not imminent death, of course. More like a lingering illness. A slow metastasizing cancer.
From memory, let me count some of the symptoms.
For long decades, the parade was almost never delayed by bad weather. It was almost a point of pride that the nation’s largest and oldest spontaneous folk celebration would march on January 1, in freaking Philadelphia, in sub-freezing weather. We weren’t no pansy Rose Parade hitting the street in the 80s.
Our parade started at 9 a.m. and sometimes would run until 9 p.m. Once upon a time, in the early 1900s, the parade marched from Oregon Avenue all the way to Spring Garden.
In the 1970s, as costumes became more costly, and more fragile. The String Bands didn’t want to have them ruined by bad weather because they had paid events during the year. Outfitting a String Band could cost as much as $100,000.
So the come-hell-or-high-water January 1 parade tradition died.
One year, early ‘90s, I believe, the parade started and several hours in, during the String Bands, it began to snow and several clubs declined to march and play music. Instead, they got in their yellow school buses and drove up Broad Street — silently passing their fans standing in the snow — to play for the judges at City Hall.
That was a horrible disgrace and a seismic shock.
That turned off how-many-I-don’t-know of their loyal base.
And attendance fell.
The Mummers several times experimented with marching on Market Street, a much shorter route, which meant the crowds would be compressed into 10 blocks and would seem like more.
It wasn’t a bad idea, but tradition won out, and it was back to Broad Street.
In 1997, the Fancy Brigades, with their show-stopping performances, were moved off the street and into the Pennsylvania Convention Center in a gamble that paid off for the Brigades, but reduced audiences on Broad Street.
In desperation, in 2015 the route of the parade was reversed from South Philly to City Hall, to City Hall to Washington Avenue, cutting the length of the parade by more than half and cutting off South Philly, the traditional heart and soul of the parade.
Insulted, South Philadelphians turned their back on the parade.
At about the same time, the Mummers got whacked by the Woke Stick.
You got 10,000 people in the parade.
You get two screw ups who smear black makeup on their face, which has been banned since 1963, and the twitterverse is calling the Mummers racist. All 10,000 of them.
Then there was the drunk who made a homophobic remark.
So all 10,000 Mummers are homophobic — including those who are gay.
Now, those are actual social crimes.
Then you get Social Justice Warriors — mostly Gen Z geniuses, I suspect — who see offense when there is none, often by Comic clubs whose very being is to make fun of anybody and everybody.
So there were complaints about a character labeled music impresario Jay-Z walking a dog labeled Mayor Kenney.
The motive behind that was that idiot Kenney wanted to move Jay-Z’s enormously successful Made in America concert off the Parkway. There was a fight and Jay-Z won.
He made Kenney his bitch and the man playing Jay-Z was actually an African-American.
Nevertheless, the skit was called racist.
Also characters dressed as Native Americans (cultural appropriation) and Chinese in cone hats and pigtails (offensive) and Mexicans in sombreros and colorful serapes (insensitive).
I never heard a complaint about Mummers dressed as cowboys in chaps, Vikings in horned helmets, Scots in kilts, or Popes.
Even though it is on Broad Street, the Mummers Parade is an entertainment that should not be held to historical accuracy.
If you do thst to the Mummers, you also ought to apply that test to Lin-Manual Miranda’s “Hamilton,” which cast nonwhite actors as Colonials.
Many Mummers volunteered for sensitivity training, but that was not good enough for our idiot mayor, once a Mummer himself, who has never led the parade, as had every mayor before him.
A total toad.
Once a civic jewel, the Mummers are now plagued by critics who scrutinize every inch of tape looking for something, anything, that might offend somebody.
It’s beyond sad. The joy has been siphoned out of the parade.
Returning to the flat-tire year 2023, my favorite year was 2000 — the Millennium! Remember that?
The city had planned 24 events in the 24 hours leading up to the Mummers Parade and I was on the press van that hit all 24 events all around the city.
Still in my 50s, I was easily able to go more than 24 hours without sleep, as long as I was active.
I’d link to my column but it’s behind the Inquirer’s paywall, so you wouldn’t be able to read it.
It was a good time.
Does 2023 have anything special planned for us?
Maybe a Super Bowl victory? Maybe a World Series victory?
We’re going to elect a new mayor, and if it’s the officious scold Helen Gym, you can kiss the Mummers Parade goodbye.
Having a shrill, woke mayor that might be enough to end the parade and drive me to Florida.