We had to be.
There's actually two parades in Chicago in March. One, the weekend before St. Patrick's Day, happens on Columbus Drive near the Art Institute. Huge crowds come out for that one, and they have fancy floats. The big politicians attend, people bring their children, and it makes beautiful pictures for the six o'clock news.
Then there's the other parade. The one on the South Side. The South Side parade is nothing like the North Side. At the South Side parade, we're local. People walk down the street with dogs. Little people dress like leprechauns. There are floats, but they're not fancy, and they were probably used last year. And then there's the people.
For a while there, people thought it was the South Side's answer to Mardi Gras. You wouldn't believe it unless you saw it. All these people in their Irish wool sweaters drinking it up and puking all over the sidewalk. In 2009, there were 54 arrests. To give you a frame of reference, the Bud Billiken Parade, which goes through the streets of some of the sketchiest neighborhoods in the South Side, had one arrest, two years ago, and people still talk about it.
So yeah. South Side Irish. Bars on the North Side used to charter buses and cart their drunks down to the South Side to join our drunks. As the parade floats wound their way down the street, they'd shout for green beads until they got bored and then end up in one of the pubs on Western. Then they'd end up in the street, pissing everywhere and getting into brawls. It was a big beautiful mess, and the force pulled all the cops from all the bad neighborhoods to contain it.
I tell you, if I were a criminal, I'd do about ten jobs on the day of the South Side Irish Parade because there's no way I'd get caught. The police are all in Beverly.
The Beverly association that put on the parade got fined so heavily and they needed so many police that they might have actually been losing money on the parade.
So they decided to cancel the parade. And they did it. Nobody could believe it. My brother was getting home from somewhere with his daughters and a news truck rolled up and he told him that they could send their north siders back where they belonged. (All the locals blamed the North Shore.)
And for two years, everybody found something else to do that weekend. It was incredibly boring.
The Parade wasn't always this way. When I was a kid, it was a pretty small affair. My Granny lived in a townhouse on Artesian, and on the day of the parade, we'd go out her back yard, cross the alley, go through the parking lot of Keegan's, and end up on the street watching the parade. Those were the days where you had no problems seeing everything, where the parade participants were limited to a few Irish dancing troupes, the Pipefitters Union, and a couple of really big families who decided to represent. I remember a car rolling by with speakers on top blasting the South Side Irish song.
That's right. We have a song. Want to hear it? (Click on the link if you want to hear the whole thing. This is a multi-media experience.)
South Side Irish
We're the South Side Irish as our fathers were before
We come from the Windy City and we're Irish to the core
From Bridgeport to Beverly from Midway to South Shore
We're the South Side Irish-Let's sing it out once more!
So they finally brought the parade back last year because enough years had gone by that everyone forgot what it was like and everyone else remembered cutting through back yards just like I did to watch the families parade down the street. It could be good again. It could be neighborhoody again. We could do it.
And because we really wanted it to work, we were good. They made it clear that they'd arrest you for open containers and automatically fine you $1000. I certainly didn't have that much money lying around, and neither did anybody else. We're South Siders, not North Siders. Cops, firemen, teachers. That's who we are, and when somebody tells us we've got to behave, we know how to make that happen.
And? Only one guy got arrested last year, and nobody got arrested this year. Take that, Bud Billiken.
I'm not sure how long this will last. As my friend Brian said, a few years from now, people are going to forget that the parade was ever cancelled and return to their revelry.
People still drink, because they're Irish, and Irish people drink, but they drink in their back yards and front porches. And nobody knocks over port-a-potties or pukes all over a cop's shoes.
It's a bit tame, actually.
I'm not sure if I like it.