There’s one in every crowd, and this crowd happened to be a Christmas parade made up of those who were in it and those who came to see it.
I was among the latter on this unseasonably warm Saturday afternoon, standing roadside broadcasting live via smartphone and Facebook for an audience that numbered in the dozens. Small-town newspapers have to go above and beyond the call of duty these days to satisfy readers, viewers, customers and critics. On this day, duty was providing a live stream that tended to go in and out of focus because we were far from any Wi-Fi connection.
This was an unincorporated community parade, one that has grown in popularity over the years. One reason for that, I believe, is that there are few rules to ruin the fun. With the big parade in town, there are rules to obey for participants. Those include only one official Santa Claus (no bearded outlaw imitators), one bus per church (must be decorated) and no throwing candy from fire trucks, floats and shiny classic cars that comprise the bulk of the lineup (you’ll put an eye out). Participants walking along the route can gently hand candy to onlookers but tossing a Tootsie Roll puts one on the naughty list.
At the community parade outside town, the only rule I could discern is that everyone had to go in the same direction – south – except for a guy on a go-kart who could maneuver expertly in all directions much to the delight of everyone in attendance except the horses.
Police cars and ever-present fire trucks kicked off the festivities, lights flashing and sirens blaring. They were followed by four-wheelers, dune buggies, ambulances, classic cars, Boy Scouts who had apparently lost their way at some point because they lagged far behind the participants in front of them and a large inflatable character from a movie or TV show who tipped precariously close to the ground at one point in what was the parade’s Hindenburg moment.
But his handlers righted him and he continued south with all the rest, except for the multi-directional go-kart driver who played by no one’s rules.
Through it all, candy filled the air. It was tossed left and right and here and there much to the delight of the crowd. Volunteer firefighters did a fine job of keeping overzealous candy-seeking children from being crushed by four-wheelers and farm tractors.
Then came the one in every crowd. The mischief maker. The rule breaker, even when there are no clear rules to break. Some say it takes one to know one.
He looked to be about 10 years old, a seasonal cap pulled low over his eyes, riding on a float with several other kids. As the crowd waved, and shouted “MERRY CHRISTMAS!” he went into a Major League windup, yelled “AND A HAPPY NEW YEAR!” and zinged a piece of candy as hard as he could toward onlookers.
It appeared to be a peppermint that whizzed by the ear of a woman on my left. Then the little rapscallion wound up again and let another fly, this one clipping the shoulder of a fellow in a VFW hat.
“ Why, you little --”, I thought, digging into my pocket for the caramel I had picked up off the pavement earlier. I figured if I hit him just right, I could knock him clean off the float.
But, even with the slow pace of the parade, he was quickly out of range. I could risk no collateral damage.
I got a good look at him, though, and I think I can ID him if he participates next year. I’ll be ready. He’s going to learn that not only is there one in every crowd, there might just be two.
Scott Hollifield is editor/GM of The McDowell News in Marion, NC and a humor columnist. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.