Tuesday, January 8, 2019

The Mummers

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New Year's Day in Philadelphia brings a tradition.  Groups called Mummers, who prepare all years for their glimpse of fame, strut along South Broad Street, reaching City Hall which lies on a plaza where Market and Broad Streets intersect.  There is a set of bleachers for which people can buy tickets, while judges make some assessments and present awards.  They then strut, never march, around the corner.  A local TV station usually covers the parade from beginning to end, which in recent years includes some indoor presentation as one of the divisions, The Fancy Brigades, have costumes that are not weather friendly.

Having lived in metro Philadelphia the vast majority of my adult life, I had never attended the Mummers Parade and rarely watched much of it on TV.  I had seen them perform off season, which they often do to raise money for their ornate costumes or rental of a practice facility.  But the full parade, never.  Legitimate excuses abound.  Cold weather, having to work the next day, out of town that day only happened once, too much champagne the night before.  But for 2019, unseasonably warm weather, dry skies, a split of bubbly instead of a bottle, left me without excuses.

Getting to Center City Philadelphia has a few options, but the commuter rail seemed the most suitable.  Fare $5.25 each way, holiday rates.  Since I boarded the train at its onset, various revelers, some with New Years hats or similar insignia, joined in at each stop.  Some were annual revelers who knew exactly where to get off.  Our train pulled into Suburban Station and everyone exited.  I thought I could just follow everyone else, but the station is a big place, spanning several blocks of underground.  By asking a few people dressed as either policemen or Mummers, I eventually found my way to the parade route, at a site after the judging.  Getting to the front of the crowd barricade proved rather easy.  I stood next to a small post which would allow me to steady my camera, the adjustable one with zoom lens and the cell phone accessory which would allow me to transmit the movie or still images quickly.

Before long the brigades started coming.  Far from military discipline, the participants semi-danced along the parade route, stopping along the barricades to give High 5's or to place beaded necklaces on the little girls.  A new set of strutters would appear about every 10 minutes.  There was music from times gone by, though I left before the popular string bands had their turn.  Gaudy costumes, painted faces though the blackface tradition had long since been banned, small trucks to receive the gear at the end of the route.  Stayed about an hour, maybe a little longer, called the kids to wish them a happy New Year on their cell phone answering devices, then headed home.

I had not been to Suburban Station in many years.  Work days bring a lot of communter traffic, served by Dunkin Donuts and the like.  Since the underground comprises several blocks, some of it far from where people enter and exit their trains, some of the areas have gotten seedy.  For the vagrants the rent is cheap, mainly keeping an eye out for the police, rest rooms too much of a bother for some, and the price of some underused psychotropic medicine too high.  Nobody seemed drunk despite the night before being a prime night for intoxication, nobody panhandled, and nobody appeared aggressive.  It was an eyesore just the same but off the path for which the desired tourists to the city would walk to get to the glittering buildings that rose from the sidewalks at street level.  Mummers are unique.  People who prosperity has passed by are not.

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