Dot Day: Dy-na-mite!

By Jason Campos

By Jason Campos

Jason Campos

Like the old song says, I love a parade. Apparently so do the denizens of Dorchester, who for the past 39 years have gathered together on a day in early summer to celebrate the diverse associations and institutions of their community with an annual event affectionately nicknamed the Dot Day Parade.

The crowd that filled the sidewalks along the parade route (which stretched down Dorchester Ave. from Washington St. to Columbia Rd.) was large and excited. At least, that’s how it looked to me from my position at Fields Corner, where families and friends stood and strolled along the packed sidewalks holding animated conversations punctuated by the bursts of small Pops fireworks, thrown by children into the streets.

The line at the local Dunkin’ Donuts was long when I went to get my requisite iced coffee; small groups stood and discussed their parade-watching strategies and plans for after-parties, the smart ones gathering armloads of bottled water to last them through the day. Next-door at Tedeschi’s, I overheard one of the women behind the counter voice her excitement-“I want to get out there and represent!”

It was a grand day for the local balloon merchants. Making the most of the fleeting balloon season and carrying far more balloons than they could ever hope to sell (along with an assortment of Spider-Man dolls, funny hats, and a disturbing collection of plastic “police weapon” toys), the merchants flooded Dorchester Ave. with their helium-lightened shopping carts long before the parade began.

Other aspiring local entrepreneurs got in on the act, some selling obscurely titled rap/hip-hop CDs, others marketing candy bars from cardboard boxes. There were pretzel carts, cotton candy carts, and the blessed Frosty Ice Cream truck, but a saddening lack of food vendors over all (I was really looking forward to some old-school fried dough).

Pamphleteers wove through the crowd, dispersing various advertisements for businesses and political agendas; one woman walked by dispersing that most useful of parade accoutrements, the key-chain bottle opener.

Even with all the hustle and bustle, one couldn’t miss the start of the parade. Grabbing the crowd’s attention with a barrage of piercing sirens, all wailing at once, the vehicles of the Boston Fire Department moved majestically over the hill down Dorchester Avenue. The procession included some vehicles you don’t usually get to see, like the Communications vehicle, and some you don’t want to see outside the context of a parade, like the Hazardous Materials Response.

There was a lag of about twenty minutes before the next procession, during which the sky threatened to rain (the weather was on and off all day, sometimes cool and sprinkling, mostly warm and sunny). Finally, I heard my friend say, “Look! Nature’s most beautiful sight…the convoy.”

Sure enough, the Boston Police were next in line. First came the motorcycles, then the cruisers, then the horses, then the bagpipe players and drummers of the Boston Police Gaelic Column in full uniform including navy blue kilts (I didn’t even know the Boston Police had a Gaelic Column). It was an impressive display, followed by the slightly surreal presence of McGruff the Crime Dog riding by in the Boston Police Youth Services Racing Team mini race car (I didn’t know they had one of those either).

Various military groups were represented, keeping up the uniform theme. The Marine corps of the U.S.S. Hayler DD97 marched by, looking very sharp in their dress whites, followed by the Honor Guard and Band whose rousing marches were only slightly dampened by the sobering presence of an entourage of imposing camouflage-painted Humvees fitted with large (and I mean large) machine guns manned by members of the Massachusetts National Guard.

Also represented was the Disabled American Veterans Department of Massachusetts, as well as the J.R.O.T.C groups of, in quick succession, Dorchester High, Brighton, East Boston, and West Roxbury. Ah, there’s nothing like youth in uniform…yeesh! All the same, it was nice to see the look of pride on their faces as they passed by the applauding crowd.

There was plenty of music to keep the bystanders entertained. In addition to the many marching brass bands (one apparently sponsored by Budweiser) and pipe and drum bands (like the Brian Boru Pipe Band of Falmouth, Ma.), The New Liberty Jazz Band rode by on an antique fire truck, playing hot Dixie-land jazz and pulling behind them the biggest fire hydrant this reporter has ever seen. “Tropical Harmony”, a steel drum and percussion band laid down a cool Caribbean vibe, and the Spartans Drum and Bugle corps was there as well, all the way down from Nashua, NH.

Not to be outdone by the rousing showing from the Spartans, the Northeastern University Huskies cheerleading squad did their part, thrilling the audience with impressive displays of acrobatics.

UMass Boston got into the act as well; members of WUMB drove by in their van, distributing Frisbees to the crowd.

Many (too many, in my opinion) politicians made appearances, using the event as an opportunity to do a bit of campaigning. While the presence of Mayor Menino and unofficial “Mayor of Dorchester” Richard “Roscoe” Shea seemed appropriate to the occasion, the obvious attempts by others to do some local schmoozing came across as just a little cheap. There were some amusing moments however: the sight of Stephen Lynch in the company of Elmo and the Cookie Monster (“What a triumvirate!” exclaimed my friend) was worth seeing, as well as was the inclusion of a couple of make-shift clowns in the party of Martin J. Walsh (who apparently is bidding for the highly influential clown vote).

A procession of real clowns, The Jolly City Klickers in proper clown attire, came by in between the stream of politicians.

The presence of several cultural groups kept the parade interesting with their eye-catching presentations. One of the best of these groups came dancing down the street in extravagant, colorful Mardi Gras costumes to the backbeat of loud, driving Latin music.

Grooving to a different kind of beat, that of festive drums, The Vietnamese Community of Massachusetts made an awesome display of soldiers, women in traditional costumes, and dancing dragons. The Vietnamese community is quite large in the Dorchester area, around 30,000 strong, according to my neighbor on the curbside.

Representing the medical side of the community were the Inman Square Health Center van and the Carney Hospital bus.

Last to march were representatives of the Dorchester Community Center for Visual Art featuring students from the O’Hearn School and Brengle Academy who drew loud cheers from the crowd with their beautiful paper-mache puppets and hand-painted flags. It was an absolute pleasure to see such creative displays from these young artists, and it was a fitting end to a parade that was all about celebrating the achievements of a thriving community.

As the parade wound down, and the street-sweepers took over, the crowd remained, lingering along the streets, talking and laughing. Despite the length (over three hours) and slow pace of the parade, and the uncertain weather, the members of the Dorchester community had stuck by their fellow inhabitants and cheered them on with an unflagging energy. Everyone there genuinely appeared to be into the whole thing.

And that was the most rewarding aspect of being a part of the celebration. What makes community parades like the Dot Day Parade more fun than those nationally celebrated institutions like the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade (where you pretty much know what you’re going to see from year to year) is the element of surprise. There is always something new and unexpected, and often quite amusing.

More than that, there is a unique feeling of heartfelt community support that comes from a crowd that gathers to cheer on it’s own friends and neighbors, a feeling that this year made the Dorchester Day celebration feel like one big family party. It was the pleasure of experiencing the vibe of this crowd, even more than the many interesting facets of the parade itself, that made Dot Day really fun. I’m already looking forward to next year. Dorchester, you just keep on rockin’!