You may arrive at this year's 24th of July parade right on time, lawn chairs in tow, ready for the grand marshal's whistle and the drum majors' first beat, only to discover you've arrived too late. You'll be relegated to a patch of dirt near Liberty Park, while the primo spots on Main Street are filled with enthusiastic daughters and sons of Utah pioneers who have shown up ready to play, pretty much 12 to 16 hours before go time.
This parade, after all, is part of the emphatically celebrated anniversary of the Latter-day Saints' arrival in the Salt Lake valley. Few states have such a rich history that it warrants a day off and a parade of this magnitude.
But snagging key parade spots, and the modest revelry that ensues up and down the town's main drag, may not be unique to Utah-we all love a parade, after all-but the vibe, at 6 p.m.-ish and on into twilight's last fading on the 23rd... now, this is essential Utah.
First, there are the teens, up late with a good excuse for prowling. But "prowling" is too sinister a term. These are the Archie-comic, suburban-parallel-universe versions of the bridge-and-tunnel crowd. You'll meet a fleet of good-natured Davis County teens, enjoying nothing more intoxicating than Mountain Dew and a pass to be out past curfew, thrilling in the Urban. While mom and dad, and extended families, dutifully GUARD THE SPOT, with elaborate systems of coolers, lawn chairs and Honda generators, the young crowd is free to roam Main Street. And if Mom and Dad are not physically there, this is Pioneer Day Eve, after all. The Holy Ghost stays up late tonight.
Next, there are the Bible Bangers. Limited most often to the "protest zone" just off Temple Square, this ragtag fleet of Jesus Freaks and End-of-Timers is set free to carry its fire-and-brimstone message to the gathered throngs. Everyone's up all night, and schizophrenia never sleeps after all. So, John 3:16 it is.
Combine earnest, mostly LDS-mission-bound teens from the suburbs, all hopped up on sugary sodas, with wild-eyed prophets representing The Lord Savior Jesus Christ "hisself" on one long Rocky Mountain Las Ramblas, and now you're in Utah, baby.
And by 2 a.m., after the SLCPD has shooed away the antagonists in the debate over the Trinity, it's proper family time. Bring on the card games, laughter and anticipation of the Grand Marshall's whistle, which means salt water taffy for all. It's going to be a good morning here in Utah.
In other words, arrive early for a good spot. Very early. Click here for this year's route.