Sunday, March 16, is the most beautiful day of the year thus far. Sixty-five degrees, blindingly sunny, a whisper of spring in the breeze. It’s the 45th annual St. Patrick’s Parade in Corktown, and legions of green-clad metro Detroiters swarm Michigan Avenue.
Parade day is a time-honored tradition in Corktown, Detroit’s oldest standing neighborhood, founded by the Irish. Today, it’s a melting pot, drawing the old and young, the drunk and sober. Children wearing shamrock deely-boppers dart around adults who stumble down bumpy sidewalks, clutching plastic cups brimming with Guinness.
Officially, the parade begins at 2 p.m. at Third Street and winds down Michigan to 14th Street. Unofficially, the libations and celebrations commence before noon and don’t stop until the wee hours of the 17th.
Some parade goers are slurring as early as noon.
Most families set up camp east of Trumbull. John Donahue of Livonia has brought his clan of seven children, dressed in varying shades of green. When asked if they like Detroit, each nods affirmation eagerly.
West of Trumbull, where bars increase in frequency, things begin to look a bit like an Irish Mardi Gras. An infant, merrily sucking away on a baby bottle, is pushed along in a green baby carriage by his mother; an inebriated man corners the baby, makes goo-goo noises, and then tries to convince the mother to put some of his Guinness in the bottle. “It will be good for him!” he shouts, spittle flying from his mouth. The mother quickly wheels the carriage in the opposite direction.
As the parade commences, the crowds venture forth into the streets, grasping for beads and candy thrown from floats. Judging by the number of humans, dogs and horses with green hair, every beauty supply store in metro Detroit must be wiped out of temporary green hair spray.
Governor Jennifer Granholm is marching in the parade, decked smartly in a green blazer. As she waves and smiles, the crowd roars, “Yay, Jennifer!”
The Detroit scenester contingent has converged in front of the Lager House, and most of them are completely bombed. A quick, informal poll of the crowd reveals very few of them have any true Irish ancestry. Tom Schoenberg, who describes himself as Italian and the least Irish person present, wears a green T-shirt that says “Freedom for Ireland — Brits out now!”
Despite the fact that the only cohesive element to the celebration appears to be alcohol — and a lot of it — spirits are high, and everyone is remarkably friendly. While the nation is immersed in crisis, the people today appear to be taking a break from all the worrying and political arguing, and are singularly bent on having a good time.
Several “No War” signs are spotted; one is printed on holographic green paper, trimmed with shamrocks.
“I think people just want to forget about everything they’re seeing on TV right now,” says Sue Johnson of Royal Oak, who wears a “No War” pin on her emerald coat. “This really brings the area alive. It’s wonderful.”
Johnson, and her husband, Bruce, who claim Irish heritage, have been coming to the Corktown parade for 20 years. They say this year’s is the most crowded and elaborate they’ve seen.
“We didn’t go to the parade in Royal Oak,” admits Sue. “We just sort of forgot about it. This is the best one.”
Detroit police are out in full force, yet remain relaxed and nonchalant, thanks to a generally well-behaved crowd. An officer brandishes a huge smile as she waves from her patrol car, a plethora of green beaded necklaces nestled in her uniform.
“I’ve never seen any problems down here,” says an officer who has patrolled the parade for several years. “Mostly people just want to have a good time, and it’s a nice family event.”
The final float in the parade belongs to the Lager House, and it’s a tow truck with a flatbed holding a live band, Give Up Solution. The crowd roars as if it’s St. Patrick himself.
As I traipse home to my Corktown apartment, a drunken man attempts to plaster me with shamrock stickers and green beads, despite my protests that I haven’t a lick of Irish in me.
“Doesn’t matter,” he slurs. “Everyone is Irish today!”
While dodging repeated similar attempts, I carefully step over the piles of trash, broken glass, and the occasional puddle of vomit on the sidewalks. I venture it will all still be there tomorrow morning.
And when I leave my apartment Monday morning, there is a puddle of vomit on my sidewalk and a shoe in the middle of the street. Neither belong to me.Sarah Klein is a Metro Times staff writer. E-mail her at firstname.lastname@example.org