Saturday, March 11, 2017

We're all Irish on St. Patrick's Day, whether we want to be or not!

Saturday is the day we go overboard with the green, wearing shamrock symbols and even allowing our beer to be dyed to take on the tone of the Emerald Isle.
A past St. Patrick's Day, when Daley Plaza officials felt compelled to dye their water fountains green. Photograph by Gregory Tejeda.
It's St. Patrick's Day, and some of us will go about spewing stories about the Catholic saint driving the snakes out of Ireland. Most of us won't care about a "why" we're doing anything; we'll just want to eat, drink and be merry -- and perhaps get a peck of the lips  off some Irish lass who's in a particularly festive mood.

IN CHICAGO, SATURDAY is the day we'll get the official parade -- the one that ventures downtown along Columbus Drive (the Italian explorer gives up his ethnic character for the day to all the people who want to be faux Irish).

Personally, I don't plan to be anywhere near the parade -- and not because I'm experiencing some anti-Irish sentiment (if I did, there'd be no way I could bear daily life in Chicago). It's more because I just don't get into the idea of parades in general.

Although I will admit to twice having been at the St. Patrick's Day parade to see just how Chicago feels the need to celebrate those who come from places like County Mayo and don't feel compelled to make silly gags about sandwich condiments.

In both cases, I was out there as a reporter-type person. Back in 1993, I covered the parade back in the days when it was still held in downtown proper along Dearborn Street. In fact, that was the parade of which footage was included in the film version of "The Fugitive."

THE ONE IN which they felt compelled to use film snippets of then-Illinois Attorney General Roland Burris to show the idea of a political person bloating his ego -- which is one element of what the parades are all about.

I also remember the parade from back in 2002 -- which was the one in which then-President George W. Bush felt compelled to fly in from Washington, D.C., to participate in. To the point where I still remember the heavy security that Secret Service officials put parade spectators through (all those metal detectors and searches) to try to ensure that there wouldn't be a lone gunman-type amidst the green-clad spectators who would suddenly jump out and take a shot at the President of the United States.

Which, if you think about it, would truly be pathetic -- a leprechaun-clad assassin or some fool covered in "Kiss Me, I'm Irish" buttons suddenly wielding a pistol. Personally, I'd like to think that if such a situation had occurred, all the parade spectators in the area would have reverted to a drunken mob and would have jumped the attacker and beaten him silly.
Only place takes pride in its namesake river being green

That would have been a truly unique story -- instead of the one I actually wrote for my then-employer United Press International.

IN THAT STORY, Bush ultimately got into a car and drove off with then-Mayor Richard M. Daley to Gibson's steakhouse -- where they ate a lunch that was far beyond my income level to afford (even though I still remember my editor thinking it inappropriate that I tried pointing out that fact in my copy).

Enough of reminiscing, though. The biggest-name pol we're likely to see on Saturday will be Gov. Bruce Rauner, who likely will figure out pretty quickly that not everybody falls for his "Blame Madigan" rhetoric with regards to state government problems.

The real trick is to think of why we feel compelled to celebrate this particular Irish occasion, and not only in Chicago. I'm aware that Boston and New York also will feel the need to celebrate -- and may even have delusions of grandeur into thinking they "do" the holiday greater than we do in Chicago.

Although considering that we in Chicago do more than just the official parade (which will be from Noon to 2 p.m. and will be broadcast live on WLS-TV, for those of you too lazy to make the trip downtown to see Irish step-dancers galore or that of yet another young lass from Beverly or Bridgeport wearing the sash of the St. Patrick's Day Parade queen, I'd argue we can't be topped.

WE'LL HAVE THE South Side Irish Parade along Western Avenue through the Beverly neighborhood, or countless other celebrations that will take place in neighborhoods across the city and suburbs. I'm sure some will argue there are Pulaski Day parades to give Polish ethnics something to celebrate, and the assortment of Cinco de Mayo events for Mexican-Americans -- although I'd argue the latter have evolved into something so garish that it will rival all the St. Patrick's Day green for the Irish.
Parade became a plot element in film

Perhaps it is all good if it goes so far as to remind those of us in Chicago that we are an ethnic mixture. Which is something I have always felt added to what makes Chicago a special place.

In far too many places, people bellow out they are "American" without having any sense of where they're from or what they really are.

It almost makes all the green nonsense we're going to endure on Saturday just a bit more bearable.


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