Yellow Car Parade
by Helena Keeffe
There is no shortage of parades to attend in the Bay Area. When I moved here two years ago I made it a point to go to as many as I could. I love the idea of parades; people coming out to gather on the street and be entertained by a steady stream of bands, floats and talent troops. And yet, time and time again I am disappointed by the reality of the cheap costumes, half hearted dance routines and mass of advertising. With that in mind, I have to say that the Yellow Car Parade was one of the most satisfying parades I’ve been to .
When I arrived at 49th and Telegraph Ave, there was a small group of spectators gathered outside Temescal Amity Works (http://www.amityworks.org) waiting for the arrival of the parade, the majority of them wearing lemon-yellow t-shirts. A “Yellow Car Parade” banner of the same hue was hoisted, under-which the cars would soon pass. Local artist Jon Bromit served as the parade’s MC, attempting to woo unsuspecting passersby, particularly the ones who happened to be wearing the uniform. At this point I was feeling a bit nervous for the artist/organizer, Shane Montgomery, due to the relatively low turnout of spectators. My own work often depends on the participation of others and I wished I could beam in a bigger crowd to amp up the energy. What’s a parade without cheering masses?
After waiting for about 20 minutes, during which time we were given free apples collected from neighborhood fruit trees by Temescal Amity Works, the yellow cars could be seen queing up around the corner. The first vehicle was a yellow Harley Davidson. As the driver and his passenger pulled under the” Yellow Car Parade” banner the MC announced “And starting off the Yellow Car Parade Today is Lee and company, on the “Screamin’ Banana” a ‘98 Harley Davidson. He’s a scorpio, has several tattoos and scars, and likes animals! Thank you Lee and company!” After this brief introduction the Harley sped off and the next car pulled up. Each time this happened a similar set of stats were announced as drivers, some with passengers, waved to the small but incredibly enthusiastic cheering on-lookers. Judging by facial expressions, body language, and how quickly the car sped away from the center of attention, the participants seemed to range in their enthusiasm for the event. A family in a yellow dune buggy got my vote for the best showmanship as their entry was complete with a woman doing the official parade wave and a driver with incredible facial hair. The lineup of cars ranged from new and sporty to old and unremarkable and included a ‘55 Ford, a Thunderbird, a Lotus, a Corvet Stingray, a Fiesta, a Mustang and a truck with custom details including an homage to a dead pet pitt-bull. It’s probably obvious from my coverage of the event so far that I know very little about cars and was generally more interested in the people who decided to participate in this event than the wow factor of a yellow Lotus.
After the ‘formal’ presentation, the cars made a loop around the neighborhood, showing off their yellow solidarity on Telegraph Ave. I imagine this was, in some ways, a more rewarding, more exihlerating experience for drivers and the bewildered public. When the parade ended I was left feeling uplifted by the simple gesture of this public intervention into the otherwise quiet comings-and-goings of a saturday afternoon in Oakland. I was also curious to know more about these people who had decided to respond to random invites tucked under their windsheild wipers. About a third of the parade participants joined onlookers and organizers for a BBQ after the final lap. I met the dune buggy family and another driver who used the after-party as a chance to parade his cherished pet pitt-bull. It was during the BBQ that I started to get a sense of the power of this project. One participant wondered allowed if the drivers shared other character traits besides their choice in car color. Someone else remarked that there were lots of scorpios in the parade. Neighborhood residents who had stopped by to watch the parade were remind of relatives who had owned similar kinds of cars. The whole thing was an excuse to get strangers to come out and eat hot dogs together. That’s not to say the yellow cars were inconsequential. More and more we are afraid of our neighbors, hesitant to take risks whick involve strangers and out of the ordinary activities. So, in order for those safety boundaries to be crossed we need to feel we have something in common. In this case it was yellow cars.
As far as art projects go this was not a mind bending idea or a profound emotional experience, but it was a wonderful way to spend a saturday afternoon and a refreshing feeling of openness amongst strangers. I vote for more art like this.
For more images see http://amityworks.org/visit.html