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Dec. 05 2011

I love a parade!

By Dyana Neal | Posted in Host Blogs | 2 Comments

I truly do. That said, I have a confession to make: until yesterday, I’d never attended the annual Mayor’s Christmas Parade in Hampden. It tends to occur on or near my birthday- a time when we’re often away – but this year, our December travel is happening later, so when Maurice Lease, the owner of Dreamland, asked me to be on his store’s float in the parade, I was delighted to say yes. Dreamland is a Baltimore institution, at least among fans of vintage clothing & accessories. I’ve been a fan & customer of the shop since I arrived in Baltimore in 1993 & knew its former owner, Tim Potee, quite well. When Tim passed away last year (far too young; he was only 52) there was considerable concern about what would happen to the business, but Maurice is running it beautifully.

The parade began at 2pm yesterday & participants were to line up in the parking lot of Poly-Western high schools (at Falls Road & Cold Spring Lane, for those familiar with the city.) My husband, Jim, & I arrived at 1pm to check out the float as well as the microphone, amplifier & keyboard we’d be using. Yes, my husband played keyboard for me, a good thing as I am an appalling pianist – 8 years of lessons & I turned into a singer! He does both very well, but kept to the Casio on this occasion. I had the option of singing seated or standing, but opted to sit the entire time in case of potholes or other road issues. Also, my gown (a vintage Victor Costa from my own collection) is too long; sitting would reduce the number of opportunities for me to put a spike heel through my skirt while performing. A few of Maurice’s other friends were making last-minute adjustments to the float when we arrived – more Mylar! – & additional elves & fairies turned up shortly.

After we took our place in line, we had to wait quite a while to get going. It seems there were an unusually large number of entries on the parade this year & we were placed much farther back than Maurice had anticipated – he’d been told we’d be toward the front. Um, no. Everyone did their best to keep from getting grumpy; we chatted amongst ourselves & with the Brownie troops who were also in the parade. The kids loved our costumes – lots of gowns, high heels, & glitz. At least two of the other ladies were burlesque performers & as such very tired from their show on Saturday night, but all were troupers & had plenty of energy when our turn came.

We didn’t pull out of the parking lot until 3:15, which was quite disappointing as I knew that meant Jim & I would have to bail out of the parade early. Both of us were singing a Lessons & Carols service at a friend’s church that night – not only a prior commitment, but a paid one. Call time was 5pm & the church is out in Hydes, so we figured we needed to be off the float & at least heading toward Jim’s car (or better yet, in it) by 4pm. I hate letting people down, especially friends, but Maurice was very understanding & I don’t think the other ladies on the float hated the idea that they’d have a chance to be the “Ice Princess” when I had to leave!

Prior to this, I’d never sung on a float before & hadn’t been in a parade since junior high school marching band, so I was more than a little nervous. Would I, as vaudeville performers used to say, “lay an egg?” How would the crowd react to us? As it turns out, there was no need to worry. The people lined up along Falls Road were in a very festive mood, indeed, perhaps courtesy of an adult beverage or two in some cases, but they were definitely in favor of a shiny silver float, fun costumes, & holiday music. There was much waving, smiling, & even a bit of singing along. The day’s repertoire is probably best described as “holiday standards” – popular Christmas tunes including “Silver Bells”, “Merry Christmas Darling”, etc. Of course, “Santa Baby” got the best reaction from the crowd, so we must have performed that one at least six times!

Alas, as 4pm approached, we were still on Falls Road, & I knew Jim & I would have to “abandon float” soon in order to make our other call time. I’d so looked forward to serenading the crowd on The Avenue, but that wasn’t going to happen. After one last rendition of “Santa Baby”, we said a hasty goodbye to Maurice & the rest of the crew, then made our way back to Poly-Western – yes, on foot, through the assembled parade spectators! – to Jim’s car. I never thought I’d be hurrying down Falls Road in a ballgown, high heels, & full makeup, but I guess I’ve done stranger things in my time. Jim might have broken the speed limit once or twice during our drive out to Hydes, but we made it to our Lessons & Carols gig safe & sound. From “Santa Baby” to “Jesu, Joy of Man’s Desiring” in one day – that’s show biz!

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Dyana is WBJC's midday host. Her full bio can be read here.

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