Thursday, January 13, 2011

The Boat Parade Wedding

The Boat Parade Wedding

For many years we participated in the Winterfest Boat Parade in Fort Lauderdale.

This parade consists of about 80-100 boats of various sizes from 10 feet to 100 feet, decorating with lights, props, music and in some cases costumes, cruising slowly from Port Everglades to Lake Santa Barbara on the Intracoastal. 

It takes about 1 ½ hours to travel the distance with thousands of people lining the riverbank.  The parade is broadcast locally and sometimes nationally.

People go all out decorating these boats.  Many of the larger ones hire professional designers.  This reached a peak in the mid to late 80’s when the boats were spectacular in design.   There was one boat that had a 20 foot King Kong head shooting lasers out of his eyes, with a large hand holding a live model, and with the NYC skyline in the back.  That was what we were competing with.                 

The people who run the parade set a theme for each parade, and offer prizes (not monetary) for best boat decoration, best sound, etc.  They divide the categories up by size of the boat.  We fell into the private entry, less than 40 feet category.

We started doing this in 1982 with 25 footer and some rope lights.  The next year we had 31 footer and the decorations became more elaborate.  Each year we made more elaborate decorations and lighting, adding 2000 watt sound systems and costumes.

We had a regular group who participated.  It was me and my wife, my brother in law Bob and sister in law Terri, our friends Alba, Richard, Manny, Ileana, and Steve Blecker.  Other people would join us, but this was the core group.

We took the decorations seriously.  Everyone was supposed to help decorate, but it usually fell on Bob and me and occasionally Richard to put on the lights and get the sound system on board.  Richard is in the lighting business so he supplied the lights.  I made props and everyone was supposed to contribute money for food and hiring a captain for the night.  None of us wanted to operate the boat during the parade.  It was nerve wracking and took away from the enjoyment.

The parade experience was great.  It was like being in a ticker tape parade with cheering and adulation from the onlookers, except we were on a boat and not in a convertible, and there was no actual ticker tape.

We had to pay an entry fee to participate and submit a form detailing what we were going to do.  We wanted to win.

This particular year, the theme was “Romance on the Water”.  We decided to stage a wedding. 

Someone had a wedding dress, the girls would wear fancy dresses as bridesmaids, the guys would be in white tuxedos and there would be a groom and a person to act as a rabbi or priest depending on who the couple were who played the bride and groom.

As it happened, my wife could fit in the wedding dress, so she became the bride and I was the groom.  Our friend Steve, who had a beard, was designated as the Rabbi.

I built a wedding cake out of Styrofoam, made an 8’ x 4’ marquee sign out of non-neon tube lights and flashing bulbs that said “Just Married”.  We decorated the boat with hundreds of feet of non-neon tube lighting that flashed different colors in sequence, we had floodlights to wash light over the sides of the boat, and we installed a 2000 watt sound system.

Two days before the parade, we got a call from a reporter for the Sun Sentinel Newspaper.  The Boat Parade committee had submitted all the forms to the newspaper and the paper had decided our idea was the most interesting that year.  The reporter wanted to interview the “Couple” who were getting married.

My wife panicked. 

“What are we going to say?  They think it’s real.    I don’t want to do this” she exclaimed.

“Don’t worry, I’ll do all the talking, just go along with what I tell them”, I said.

Not reassured, my wife accompanied me down to where the boat was docked to meet the reporter.

When we got there, we discovered the reporter had brought a photographer.  He was disappointed we weren’t dressed up for the wedding, but he took a picture of us sitting behind the “Just Married” sign I had made.

I told the reporter that we were renewing our vows for our 20th Anniversary (we had actually had our 19th in November), and would do so in front of the Judges Stand as we went by.  I may have exaggerated some of the facts with him (I think the politically correct term is: “laid it on thick”), but he seemed to like our story, and the next day we got a half page spread in the Living Section complete with a picture, description of the boat, what we were doing and the names of the other participants.  This was the major story about the parade that year.

The day of the parade, we all dressed up, boarded the boat, started our music and entered the parade lineup.  The parade started at 7 PM, we were partying and having a good time.  When we got to the Judges Stand, we played the Bette Midler version of “Going to the Chapel”.  My wife and I stood on the bow pulpit with Steve playing the Rabbi and our friends acting like groomsmen and bridesmaids.  We pretended to get married and went back to partying.

All along the route, women enthusiastically congratulated us, men not so much.

We came in second that year.

Two years later, we won first place by turning the boat into a castle with towers, castle wall made of lights, a dragon, knights, ladies in waiting, king and queen, Merlin and a jester.  It was Camelot and we used the music from the Broadway show.  We brought along the kids with us.  They were old enough by then.

Before the parade, my wife had sent a letter to the Judging Committee complaining that the same boat won every year in our category.  She felt it was unfair, since they never changed their decorations or theme, while we struggled to come up with a new idea in keeping with the new theme. 

At the awards dinner we sat next to the couple from the boat she had complained about.  They had come in second.  They were the nicest people and my wife felt very guilty for complaining.  In fact they said they were glad someone else had won.

In other parades we were Super Heroes, the Wizard of Oz, complete with a rainbow and tornado, a 50’s Rock and Roll theme turning the boat into a 57 Chevy, and we continued for a couple of years more.

We finally stopped when it became too much work for just Bob and me to do the decorations and lighting.

As an aside to this story and the part I think is the funniest, is the following:

The day after the parade with the wedding, I had to go to a committee meeting at our Synagogue. 

The Rabbi was at the meeting and during the course of the meeting he asked me: “If you were renewing your vows, why didn’t you ask me to officiate?”   I believe he had seen the parade on TV and/or read the newspaper article about us.

I tried to tell him it was all phony and it was my friend who was acting as a rabbi on the boat.  It wasn’t real.

He didn’t really believe me, and didn’t forgive me for 2 years.

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