It is a great honor to march in an inauguration parade. So when a group I belong to called the World Famous Lawn Rangers of Amazing Arcola was selected to march at Barack Obama's inauguration, our reaction, as Americans, was: ``The organizers of this parade must be smoking crack.''
I say this because we are not a traditional marching unit. We are an extremely random group of middle-age guys who carry brooms and push specially decorated show lawn mowers, which we use to perform synchronized broom-and-lawn mower maneuvers that always get a big crowd reaction (usually: ``Huh?''). As you can imagine these performances require intense mental preparation, by which I mean beer.
I joined this group in 1992, when founder and leader Pat Monahan invited me to the small central Illinois town of Arcola to march with the Rangers in their signature event, the Arcola Broom Corn Festival, celebrating the town's proud heritage of having corn out the wazoo.
But the Rangers will march in pretty much any parade that will have them. In 2003, when they marched in the St. Patrick's Day parade in Chicago, they encountered Barack Obama, then running for the U.S. Senate. Obama picked up a toilet plunger -- in addition to brooms, senior Rangers carry plungers, symbolizing authority -- and brandished it over his head. A photograph was taken of this moment, although at the time nobody realized it was historic.
When Obama was elected president, Monahan remembered the photo, and decided to apply for the Rangers to march in the inaugural parade. Incredibly, we were accepted; as you read these words, the person responsible for that decision is probably en route to Guantánamo. But the point is that on Inauguration Day, the World Famous (and Extremely Cold) Lawn Rangers pushed their show mowers up Pennsylvania Avenue and passed in review before President and Mrs. Obama. I'll get to their reaction later, but first here's an account of what it's like to march in an inaugural parade.
5:45 a.m.: In the frigid early morning darkness, I head for the Washington, D.C., subway, which is already packed with people going to the Mall to see the inauguration. I head for the Pentagon, where I hook up with my fellow Rangers. We are looking sharp in our uniforms, which include T-shirts, suspenders, cowboy hats, Lone-Ranger style masks, and -- tying the whole look together with a bold fashion statement -- bright-red polyester graduation gowns. Also on hand are five Ranger women dressed as Abraham Lincoln (including beard) who will carry banners informing the crowd that we are World Famous.
There are 56 of us, jammed into a school bus with a seating capacity of 46 (there are many flatulence jokes). We join a line of other band buses in a Pentagon parking lot, creeping forward until we reach a security checkpoint, where we are screened by military personnel. One of the Rangers has the following exchange with a security screener:
SCREENER: What's this?
RANGER: It's a toilet plunger.
SCREENER (after a pause): OK.
After the screening, we go into another tent, where we're given box lunches, which most of the Rangers wolf down immediately, even though it's only 9:30 a.m. All around us are military units and marching bands wearing immaculate matching uniforms; next to them, the Rangers, hunched over their box lunches, dribbling sandwich crumbs onto their graduation gowns, look like homeless people.