A Tale Of Two Cities.

Posted by admin on July 21, 2014 in Pirate Adventures |
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I wrote a RobZerrvation some time ago entitled “I-I-I Don’t Love A Parade.” I thought this was true, largely because I’ve done more than 300 over the years and believed that they have absolutely no entertainment value, either for the audience or myself.

Well, surprise, surprise, I was wrong – again! It’s not that I like parades any more than I used to, but I have come to learn that I am a really good street pirate. It’s a gift, a unique skill set that very few people are blessed with.

To achieve it, you have to be part ham, part court jester, part improvisational comic, part inventor, and part entertainer. You have to be able to read the audience on the fly, think up things to do to make them part of the show, and leave them smiling as you head off down the road, all in about 10 to 15 seconds.

It’s not easy. It is very easy to scare a kid. It’s also easy to be mean to them. I know one guy (I won’t use the word pirate because he’s not, and it would be an insult to the pirate entertainer profession at large), who would steal bags of candy from the little kids. That was all he had in his arsenal. It’s not entertaining. It is just plain mean.

Me? I learned from the best. I learned from eight guys who were magical on the street, striking that careful balance between terror and mirth, switching between the two effortlessly to suit the moment.

As I said, I was reminded of this during this past weekend. Somehow, I managed to do two parades this Saturday and Sunday. One was in the tiny town of Wilkeson in Washington, the other in the International District of Seattle.

As with any small town, Wilkeson was going to be fun. Small town people love it when something new comes to town, and a bunch of weapons-wielding pirates can certainly be classified as new in a town of 480 people. They loved us there!

The parade itself was about four blocks long. You barely get into the rhythm of the parade and it ends. The crowning moment was when I told Sloe Gin to run into a thrift store and buy an old parade trophy we had seen earlier. She carried it triumphantly down the street, and I had to laugh when the announcer looked at it and said through the P.A. system that we had won the Judges Award… in 1990.

I also had my radio control shark with me. It’s a hilarious gimmick, speeding up and down the street. For some reason, kids are startled by it, even though it is just a blow up shark on a bright orange, radio control car.

I had to go old school for the second parade of the weekend, as I had used up all the batteries for the shark.

When I was a younger pirate – in my 20s – I could run with the best of them. I would run at full tilt, scraping my sword for a full block, perilously close to the kid’s feet, screaming all the way.

I’m too old for that now. Or so I thought. Chinatown was my first chance to see my old pirate club, the Seattle Seafair Pirates. I was doing the parade with the Pirates of Treasure Island, another pirate group in town. Kat is their Captain, and being a supportive fiancé, I told her I would do all the parades with her.

I don’t really know if it was the presence of the Seafair gang or the people stacked five deep on the parade route, but suddenly I was in my 20s again. I pulled every gimmick out of my pirate playbook – sword scraping, knocking ball caps off kids when I go to shake their hand (telling them afterward that “pirates are mean, read a book, you’ll see”) – and countless others.

As I said, it’s very old school. I’ve been in parades in other parts of the country and no one plays at this level with the crowd. Most don’t play with the crowd at all, choosing to stay in the middle of the street instead and wave. How piratical.

While I could just rely on all my known shtick to do a parade, I keep coming up with something new. With the shark in Wilkeson, I started to do the “do, do, do, do” theme from Jaws and then yelled “Lawyer” as the shark swerved from one side of the street to the other in attack mode.

In Chinatown, it was balloons. We were waiting for the parade to start when an errant balloon crossed my path. Without thinking, I drew my sword and popped it. After paying the little girl off for her now dead balloon (I didn’t know it was hers), I knew I had a new gimmick.

The group just ahead of us was passing out the balloons. Everyone seemed to have them. I took off down the street, warning children that every balloon had a clown inside. It was a clowncoon. I hate clowns; everyone does, so I had them all in hysterics as I told them the tale of accidentally popping the little girl’s balloon at the beginning of the parade, only to find that a clown had popped out of it.

Between that and the horribly obnoxious conch shell (which sounds beautiful and amazingly loud when blown under an overpass, by the way), I was in my element.

If only the parade had ended at the end of the street. We went under the huge Oriental arch that marks the border of the International District and I thought we were done. We weren’t. Around the corner, the parade started up again. Another damned parade to run. And uphill at that.

Thank goodness I thought I was 20 again. Off I went, shticking my way back up the hill, finding that I’m not as old as I sometimes think I am, still able to pull rabbits out of that hat of mine. Hey wait, another gimmick.

In the Emerald City, a little worse for wear, but still invincible,

– Robb

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