On the (Nearly Lethal) Thrills of a Parade in Cleveland
On Sunday, June 19th 2016 I probably couldn’t have been more happy. A curse had been lifted: A Cleveland sports franchise had won a championship for the first time in 52 years.
Here in my native Columbus the city was full of celebrants all discussing LeBron’s huge block, Kyrie’s clutch three, Kevin Love’s tight defense, and what the reaction must be like up in the city of Cleveland. I hadn’t been that happy in some time and I wanted to keep that feeling going for as long as I could. I agreed to drive up to the parade with my friend Trevor, a native of northeast Ohio, so that we could see the city at it’s best.
That would be my first of several horrible decisions.
We left Columbus early Wednesday, the day of the parade, and made it into Avon Lake, where his mother lived, around three in the morning. She was excited for us. We talked about the city’s estimate of 800,000 attendees being too low. We talked about the last minute efforts to bring in toilets. We talked about not being able to bring a cooler on such a hot day.
We talked about heading out early to get a good spot so Trevor and I hopped back into his car, drove to a nearby RTA train station, and at 4:39 a.m. we had a couple of day passes and huge smiles on our faces. The train was full of smiling faces and you could feel a special kind of electricity in the air. This was going to be a memorable day. How I wish it hadn’t been.
Downtown Cleveland was cool that morning. Trevor and I walked around and found a nice spot on the curb right at the final turn of the parade. There were only a few dozen people around and we were all glad knowing that we’d be right up front. So far the only weird thing we’d seen all day was a possibly drunk person sprinting down the sidewalk, smacking balloons, and face-planting when he caught his wrist in one. We had a backpack with four bottles of water and some jerky. All was good in the world.
Around seven a.m. a police cruiser came by and told us not to sit on the curb as the streets needed to be clear. This was the last real effort that the police would make to keep the parade route open.
Around eight the sidewalks were getting packed. Also, car traffic on the streets still hadn’t been blocked off. I noted how alarming this was as the parade was set to begin at eleven. Compounding problems, more and more people were still showing up and there was nowhere left to go but the streets so not there are cars and people filling up every inch of space.
The first people to stand in front of me and Trevor were an older woman and a young couple. They arrived around nine. We informed them that they couldn’t be in the streets, but they assured us they were just waiting for someone and would be on their way.
After half an hour it was clear they weren’t moving so we again raised some objections, noting that we’d been here since five specifically to get a good, unobstructed spot. Our pleas went unanswered and because we didn’t want to resort to violence we did the next best thing we could think of to make the uncomfortable.
I began loudly telling Trevor crude stories about my sexual exploits, killing my grandmother just to claim an inheritance, and any horrible thing I can think of. Trevor replied with horrible insults about these three rude people with the full intention that they’d overhear. When I asked “Who do you think would win in a fight between this old broad’s dry ovaries and polycystic ovarian syndrome,” we got rude looks, but no movement.
I started to notice that it was getting hot. The entire crowd began to seem frustrated.
Around ten the streets still didn’t seem free of cars and the parade was in an hour. bodies were beginning to fill in all the gaps between traffic. A woman pulled up to the traffic signal with the intent to make a turn, but it was impossible. Her solution was to just stay parked until she got her way.
This began a huge backlog of traffic. Other people were getting out of their cars to scream and threaten this entitled woman. I noted that there had been a strange lack of any police presence since being asked not to sit on the curb four hours ago.
After about fifteen minutes an officer arrived and forced her to go straight. They asked the crowd to clear the road. There was no way for the crowd to clear the road. Those people weren’t going anywhere and even if the wanted to there was nowhere to go at this point.
I was asking Trevor for a time check after what I thought was every half hour, but I’d learn that only ten minutes had passed. It was getting hotter. We couldn’t move. We were surrounded by bodies. Once eleven came around I was ready for this to be over. We got excited for the first float.
Someone announced they heard drumming and the crowed cheered. Unfortunately is was a single slow moving motorcycle cop cutting through the middle of the crowd that had completely filled the street. He begged for them to clear the road, but as he passed the wall of people just closed up behind him.
The next supposed sound of drumming, which came half an hour later, was the same thing. Things got mixed up around noon when a wall of police mounted on horses managed to actually push through a decent sized path for the parade.
Trevor noted that if we’d gotten here at noon we’d have had the best spots. Also, that it was very hot. I said that I was beginning to feel nausea and a tingling in my hands and feet. Finally, around 12:30 the parade seemed to be starting.
The first thing we saw was, I think, a truck full of unidentifiable people. about ten minutes later the Ohio State University marching band came through, only able to march two by two, and not playing any music. This string of ten minute gaps followed by something disappointing was a running theme.
Maybe around 1:30, Cavaliers coach Ty Lue came through. That was nice.
After a bunch more filler we saw owner Dan Gilbert.
More filler and half an hour later we saw JR Smith.
Filler, time, Kyrie Irving.
People around us were asking if I was okay. I was clearly suffering from heat exhaustion. Fortunately we timed our trip to a medical tent with the arrival of Lebron James so at least this trip was all for nothing.
Finally out of the crowd my breathing became normal, but I could barely walk. We asked a group of five or six police that were standing around doing nothing where the nearest medical professionals were. They pointed to a fire truck and ambulance with flashing lights. When we got there there wasn’t a single fireman or EMT present. We decided to just walk away from the parade to find somewhere to sit down and get water.
After a walk that was longer than normal because I had to stop frequently to keep myself from vomiting we found a bar that was shockingly not packed and I collapsed down on the floor and chugged ice water. Trevor had a couple drinks and we decided to leave this hell hole.We walked back to the train station we’d come from, Tower City. It was five in the afternoon. The day went from bad to worse to outright terrifying.
It was significantly worse than this when we were in line. Imagine this with another loop going in the opposite direction.
The main open area of Tower City contained a line of people that spiraled around a large, oval-shaped fountain in such a way that there seemed to be three or four lines of people all facing opposite directions. Eventually finding what we guessed was the end of a line, we jumped in and asked what the line was for. A kind gentleman told us that he didn’t know. We hoped this would work out.
The line was grueling. It would speed up, move at a snails pace, or just stop for ten minutes. Everyone’s phones were dead. I began to feel the symptoms of heat exhaustion again so I sat down and just scooted along. After a seeming eternity we made it down to the platform for the redline and saw more bodies packed into one place than should be allowed by any fire marshal. Then our wait began.
The first train didn’t come for half an hour. People were getting antsy. Someone tried to start a “Let’s Go Cavs” chant but was met with the entire crowd chanting back “Let’s go Home!” Then we noticed that everyone on the platform across from us was springing away from the stairs that led to the platform, some jumping onto the tracks and fleeing the station. Panic set in all around. I was ready to die in what I thought was the inevitable terrorist attack.
A klaxon sounded and some people began to cry. The was a muffled message delivered over an intercom. We were all trapped and had no idea what was coming for us.
Nothing ever happened. More people walked down to our platform seemingly oblivious to everything. Finally trains seemed to appear with a regular frequency. Trevor and I managed to actually find seats on one of the packed cars after watching four other trains leave without us.
On the train, a visibly shaken woman told us about seeing shattered glass everywhere upstairs. She told us a man tried to pull her under a table for her safety and that police asked if anyone had seen a shooter. She talked about putting her hands up when police came back through with raised guns to clear out the place. Trevor and I were happy we missed that. We’d later learn that the garbled announcement was “Active shooter. Please remain where you are.”
Eventually, after dealing with a train conductor that thought this was a time to joke around on the intercom, we made it back to his mom’s place and shared our horror story. I drank nearly an entire bottle of the coldest possible gin I could create. We had a nice late dinner and I passed out as a horrible storm swept through.
I realize now that with a few key changes we could have had a nice time. We thought bags would be checked, you know what with the recent shootings and attacks in crowded places, but there was never any police presence. We should have brought a could of full coolers and threw in some booze to boot.
Because the police didn’t keep the streets clear there was no point in arriving before noon. That would have saved a lot of grief.
We very easily could have driven in instead of taking a train. Being stuck in an air conditioned car with a radio would have been fine. Though I now recall when we first put on the radio as we were driving back to Trevor’s mother’s house the first thing we heard was someone mentioning all the bad things that happened that day, but insisting that the parade was a success.
I fully blame the police for not having any sort of plan for the parade. The roads should have been clear of traffic by eight. They should have come through every fifteen minutes to clear the road, not once at six in the morning then again at eleven.
The actual planned needed the route to be three times longer. There should have been water and more restrooms for the public. There should have been a quarter as many “floats” as most were just a trolley full of uninteresting people, or a kid dancing on a car, or Cleveland’s arena football team.
About four times a fire crew carrying equipment walked by us asking if we knew where the fire hydrant was. I don’t think they ever found it.
Someone brought an old man in a wheelchair and just left him baking in the sun, unattended, for about six hours.
Lots of people openly smoking pot.
A man was asking around for a bottle opener. I always have one. He let me have a sip of his beer for letting him use it.
I now hate Cleveland.
The RNC is going to be a total shit show. There are already reports of the police not properly planning for it.
Polish people are nice.
Fuck parades. (But if the Tribe or Browns win it all I’ll probably be back.)