Preparing to shoot a few segments of Big Jon in 5 for BEER2WHISKEY in our upstairs studio at Barley's Taproom in downtown Greenville. That's owner Josh Beebe preparing for his closeup.

Monday, March 18, 2013

Getting My Green On at the Delray Beach St. Paddy's Day Celebration

Circumstances forced me to spend $3.50 on a 40-cent cup of coffee at the Palm Beach airport at 6:00 this morning. I don't like spending $3.50 on a 40-cent cup of coffee at the Palm Beach airport or anywhere else for that matter. It made me cranky right out of the chute.

On the plus side, a young guy who was sitting in the window seat in my row -- I was on the aisle -- thought his girl friend would rather sit in the middle seat in our row than in an aisle seat in first class where she was already situated. Isn't love grand? He asked if I would be willing to trade with her. He believed whoever had the center seat would be more than happy to trade it for my aisle seat when he or she showed up. I know I would. So I swapped seats with the girl friend in first class. Not a bad trade.

I am winging my way back to Greenville from my annual St. Paddy's Day Celebration and Drinking Contest. I've traveled to South Florida for this, the most important of drinking holidays, all but one year since moving up to Greenville, SC. It's a tradition of sorts; at least that's what my buddy Tim, who usually hosts the party, preached to me a couple of weeks ago when I threatened to stay in Greenville. It's such a followed tradition that Tim then missed it this year. But that's another story for another time -- maybe.

Because the traditional party suddenly lost its co-founder, I opted to go to the annual Delray Beach St. Paddy's Day parade that is always held the Saturday before March 17th. Back in my Boca News days, the parade was more of an event. Different businesses would each sponsor a float that its employees would decorate, and the floats were judged. I was part of the Boca News float's decorating crew for two or three years.

Not that we required one, but it gave my group of friends a reason to get together every night for a week, and drink as we decorated. Then the day of the parade, we would bring coolers of beer, board the float and drink our way down Atlantic Avenue, waving to the drunks lining the street.

One year we donned green football jerseys that someone bummed from the city's athletic department, and did a choreographed dance in front of the judging stand to the song the Chicago Bears released after winning the Super Bowl. I don't remember much about it -- a testament to the level of my alcohol consumption at the time -- but at one point in the routine we put our hands on our hips, yelled, "Pelvic thrust!" and pushed our pelvises toward the judges. Classy, no? We didn't win.

At least two of the years our float followed the float of a crap-hole bar called Fitzwilly's. It was a tired little joint that had 20 years of spilled beer in the carpet and that many years of cigarette smoke in the curtains. If you could keep your lunch down as you quaffed drinks, the beer was cheap and the place had a decent music selection on the jukebox. It was always one of the places we would hit after the parade. Fitzwilly's entry in the parade consisted of a white panel van with the bar's name painted on the side, the rear doors thrown open and a couple of bartenders dispensing beers from an ice-cold keg out the back. Every time the parade would grind to a halt for a minute or two, we would all swarm off our float, run up to the van and refill our beers. It was a blast!

The parade deteriorated over the years to the point it was 70,000 drunks lining Atlantic Avenue watching 1,000 drunks go by on flatbed trucks. Every once in a while a pipe and drum corps would march by, but that's it.

Here's a bit of parade history. This thing began about 45 years ago when an Atlantic Avenue bar owner, Maury Powers, was watching Boston's St. Paddy's Day Parade on TV in his joint. A patron came in carrying a pig -- I'm not kidding. Apparently Maury decided at that very minute that Delray Beach should have a parade. Borrowing the pig, he marched up Atlantic Avenue with the pig in tow. The Delray Beach St. Paddy's Day Parade was born. Powers's Lounge was an Atlantic Avenue institution until about 10 years ago. The parade outlasted his bar and old Maury too.

A couple of the Aussie firefighters who marched in the parade. My buddy Bongo and I gave them a few pointers on how to get lucky in Delray. I don't think they needed our help.

Sometime ago the city decided it could no longer afford to sponsor the parade. Hearing this, the firefighters stepped up to the plate and took it over. Now it consists of roughly 50 assorted fire trucks, 20 marching fire companies -- some from as far away as Australia, two or three half-assed floats entered by landscaping companies or local restaurants, a high school band, and a couple of pipe and drum corps. Now the curb dwellers number close to 200,000 drunks. It's a major zoo.

Several years ago, I would go downtown for the parade, but wouldn't see any of it. My friend Colleen worked the outdoor tiki bar at a spot called City Limits. A couple of friends and I would hang out at her bar all afternoon as the parade passed by about 50 feet away. We couldn't see it from that spot, but we could hear it. When the parade was over, some of the pipers would drift into the courtyard and play. It became a tradition. City Limits eventually closed and Colleen got a job as an office manager/bookkeeper for some company. So much for that St. Paddy's Day tradition.

Colleen, the bekilted Bongo and me at Kevro.

Well, Colleen got back into the biz, as they say. She now tends bar at some type of art bar called Kevro just a block or two south of the old City Limits. I'm not sure where the art comes in, but the beer was cold, the food was hot and Colleen was back.

We even made a cameo at the home where our usual party is held every year. Even without the Irish leader of the band to keep things on track, a small group gathered to keep the tradition going.

It'll be nice to just stay at home for a night and catch my breath.

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