Wednesday, March 25, 2009

Goodbye, South Side Irish Parade

Chicago's South Side Irish Parade, founded in 1979 by the Hendry and Coakley families as a celebration of Irish heritage, is no more. Parade planners cite the volume of spectators who flock to the Beverly area (in excess of 300,000 this past year) as well as the increasing amount of resources needed to launch the parade as the catalysts for the decision to end the parade. Parade planners insist that other, smaller events, more in-line with the original purpose of the parade, will be planned in the future. As it stands, though, the largest neighborhood run parade in the country will be no more.

I've spent a number of years going to the South Side Irish Parade, and I can tell you that City Hall has been frowning upon the parade for as long as I can remember. Some would say that the excessive displays of public intoxication were the reason. Others would vehemently argue that this particular parade frequently outshone the "official" Chicago parade, thus setting it up to be canceled in some sort of back room political shenanigans. All I have to go on are my own experiences and the experiences of the people I know who experienced the parade first hand.

It was my old friend Larry who first introduced me to the parade back in 1999. Previously, all I had heard about the parade was that moving around was akin to trying to swim through a human sea and that the whole experience was like a giant block party. I was in. Our friends Jason and Nicole (not to be confused with my current pals of the same names) were our guides and led us up the parade route. I met a number of extraordinary people that day, including a woman who made the best corned beef sandwich I have ever had before or since. She just had a bunch of them stuffed in her backpack and was giving them out to people who took the time to talk to her. She was gone before I even had the time to thank her or ask for the recipe.

Certainly, there was quite a bit of drinking involved. As we made our way up the parade route, we stopped in nearly every bar along the way and knocked a few back before continuing on. Although most of the people we encountered seemed to be on the drunker side of tipsy, we didn't, to my recollection, see anyone being unruly or even notice much of a police presence back then. Maybe we were just too caught up in watching the parade, celebrating and chatting up random revelers to notice. And, sure, not everybody there that day was of Irish decent, though it was said that everyone there was Irish for the day.

My most recent trip to the parade was in 2008 with my brother Chris and my fellow Pub Scout, Jason. I hadn't been to the parade in a number of years, and what we experienced was vastly different than what I had previously undergone. The police, while much more of a visible presence than they had been in previous years, didn't seem to be doing all that much. I've got a number of pictures of officers just standing around in a large group talking amongst themselves. Aside from forcing public drinkers to ditch their booze or busting up the occasional booze bus, the officers didn't seem to be at all concerned with preventing any of the debauchery that supposedly runs rampant at this event.

One officer actually took the time to berate a man for holding his daughter up on his shoulders so that she could see the parade better. The officer told the man that what he was doing was not only unsafe, but illegal. He protested calmly and she threatened him with arrest if he didn't comply. Perhaps holding one's young daughter on one's shoulders in a parade atmosphere is more dangerous that I'd tend to believe, but I can't help thinking that the officer's time would have been better served controlling the crowd. Still, I don't feel that a great deal of police intervention was actually needed. While there were a few incidents of public consumption and probably a number of underage drinkers, the overall drunken atmosphere seemed much more in control than it had been in previous years. Gone was the notion of hopping bar-to-bar along the route. The lines to get into the bars were so long that such an action was impossible. Had it not been for us catching the owner of a booze bus early, we'd have gone beerless for the parade. I can't help but feel that if the officers would spend a little less time nit picking offenses and put in a little more effort towards managing the parade, the whole issue of crowd control would be a moot one. That, of course, assumes that what the parade planners have been saying is completely free from spin.

In speaking to a number of current and former Beverly residents, I was told tales of things that happened over the years in the aftermath of the parade. One shouldn't have to deal with drunken strangers pissing on your lawn, barfing on your driveway, randomly entering your house or shoving empty liquor bottles into your shrubbery. One former resident described having to keep the kids inside the house and in the upstairs bedroom lest they be exposed to seeing some drunken reveler attempting to shoot bottle rockets out of his ass on the street outside. With each one of these tales, however, came the general sense that, even though it sucks to have to deal with the closed roads, the traffic, and the host of issues that come in the wake of excessive drunkenness, the parade itself was a much loved tradition that they are sorry to see coming to an end. There is, however, a vocal minority of current residents who are happy to be rid of the parade. They challenge any protestor to hold the parade in his/her own neighborhood and deal with the onslaught of revelers. To them, I say that the size of the violin I play for you is inversely proportional to the amount of revenue the Beverly area receives from hosting this parade.

In the end, maybe Daley finally cracked and ordered a halt to the parade. Maybe Alderman Rugai took leave of her senses once again (having learned nothing from her attempt to ban pit bulls within the city limits). Maybe the various hassles finally became too much for the current organizers to handle. And maybe we need to step back a little and re-evaluate the whole thing. Still, I'll tell you this much: They may be able to cancel the parade, but they can't stop me from walking the parade route on the Sunday before St. Patty's. It may even be a little easier to stop in some bars along the way for a few celebratory brews while chanting "Go hifreann leat! Ta me are meisce!" to those unseen poopers of the parade party.

1 comment:

  1. I cant believe that you have those pics. Gotta send me copies! I think that the people that organize it are actually people from the neighborhood of Beverly and at a certain point.. its just too much. I think my first sign of bad newws was my uncle telling me that his neighbor had put a port a john on the lawn. When something thats supposed to become a little fun becomes BIG fun... someone will stop it.

    Either that or the fact that the cops were grosly outnumbered by a number of drunken irishmen was a bit too much for them to handle.