Saturday, July 30

Jacksonville Light Boat Parade 2021 Disappointment

There are times in life when you're glad you didn't invite family to come visit you. We've had a few of those experiences in Jacksonville, our latest being the 2021 Light Boat Parade. Our first and likely last time seeing the parade, even though all the locals have told us it's a must-see.

The boat parade is one of those local traditions we'd heard about ever since we moved here. Prior holiday disappointments had included the Christmas lifeguard chairs and the 4th of July at Jax Beach. But this isn't just a chair decorating/advertising event or a drunken college party. It was one of Jacksonville's true showcase events, like the Christmas tree at The Landing. Wait, that was also a local holiday disappointment--a tree in a half-empty mall thingy filled with homeless panhandlers.

But Jacksonville is bold, and we've moved past The Landing and toward a homeless park rather than a homeless mall. I didn't check out the local vendors at the park formerly known as The Landing because I was sure word had gotten out in the homeless community that a lot of folks with cash might be there. Also, I didn't need to buy a hot tub or beach-view art work painted in someone's garage studio. 

We chose a spot on the Southbank riverwalk to view the parade. We also brought our dog, which was a mistake, as the riverwalk was mostly full when we got there. Not realizing that you're supposed to bring chairs and huge strollers to block the walkway, we sat on a curb a little ways west of the DCPS building. We got there with maybe 15 minutes to spare, but we seemed to have some of the last public seats available. We felt like we'd made it. I might have even demanded high-fives from the fam.

But then nothing happened. We sat there until the official start time and we saw one or two boats cruising back and forth to get to a presumable starting location, but no parade. The guy next to me, who wore a walkie-talkie, came to sit with his family and said there was a delay, but his communication device never provided an update, nor did he (and his job there seemed to literally be to sit with his family).

Eventually, my daughter and I headed back to the car to get water for the dog. We figured if we missed the first wave across the river, wed at least see the boats up close on our side. But we got back to our seats and still no parade. In fact, families with young ones were starting to leave for their cars when we returned. The dog was restless, the kids were restless, and the wife was disappointed. We decided to walk the riverwalk further west in order to move and maybe see some boats sooner in the eventual parade, since it starts on the north side and then meanders over to the south. 

The people who'd been sitting for more than an hour did love seeing our dog along the route, probably because they were trying to entertain themselves and their poor kids. That kind of made it a nice walk. Plus, it was cool to see all the people who wanted to participate in a well-run community event. Too bad they were all as disappointed as we'd become. 

Based on our photos, I'd say the first boats that made the route along the northbank and back to the southbank arrived around 7:30, making it an hour-and-a-half wait for us. Much more for the seat-saving folks. I later learned that someone in city government whose sole task that day was probably to have the railroad bridge in the proper position had not done the job. That person was probably sitting in the crowd with his/her family and a turned-off walkie talkie. Speaking of which, the worker who sat next to us and had his own walkie talkie did not know why there was a delay and didn't receive a single communication while he was sitting there for an hour. You'd think somebody would have got on the horn and asked if anyone knew how to fix the bridge situation.

So we sat there a long time, which probably affected our expectations and subsequent disappointment. It was a parade of drunk wealthy people just as interested in showing off their boats as any light displays. Most of the displays were half-assed, and I know because that's how I do my own Christmas lights. At least all the rich folks were having fun on their boats, and that's really the point, right?

If you're new to the area, I guess you have to try the light parade at least once. I'm sure it won't start late for you. As for us, we had to leave early because the dog and kids were restless. And the wife. Me too, really, since it felt like we'd just witnessed the first awkward attempt at a mass public event rather than a yearly tradition pumped up by all the locals.

Lest I lament without suggestions, I would recommend the Girvin Christmas light experience. And we also did a gingerbread house/ historic house tour thing that wasn't bad in some half-abandoned part of downtown (I know, that's most of downtown). The Christmas lights put on by the Shriners is gone now to make way for apartments or a shopping center, but they were also borderline ok. If you like lots and lots of white lights on really old buildings, then St. Augustine is your jam for the holidays.

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