This is the final segment of my four-part series on summer parades. Along with today's Maine event, we visited two Fourth of July parades, and last month's Keep Austin Weird 5K. Here's hoping you can enjoy a festive procession soon.
GETTING WEIRD FOR A GOOD CAUSE
As a kid, it seemed strange to see grown men acting like children. Every year I'd see guys dressed like clowns driving tiny cars in Miami's Orange Bowl Parade. Others looked like Moroccan palace guards swinging curved swords.
My mother explained that these men were "Shriners", a club for men who enjoyed acting silly in parades. It seemed as odd then as it did last month when I ran into the secret society again.
They were having their own parade in Belfast, Maine. For an hour the Bangor members of "The Ancient Arabic Order of the Nobles of the Mystic Shrine" passed by with their crazy costumes and miniature vehicles.
Shriners were a popular men’s club long ago -they’ve been around since 1870- but like the Moose, Lions, and Odd Fellows clubs they are slowly fading away. But somehow they've managed to stay strong in Bangor, Maine. The city has a large chapter that spends it weekends parading all over the Pine State. There it is still cool for a young man to wear a tasseled fez and pledge allegiance to the “Potentate”, (the local group leader).
Potentate of the Bangor Temple, Stephen "Steve" Trimm
To join you have to first be a Mason and express a belief in God. It was a lot like that when I joined a fraternity fifty years ago.
If you'd like to become a Shriner
we still have our Miami group ("The Mahi Shriners"). It might be fun to wear the fez and clown around. If you're a woman, they've got an auxiliary for you, "The Daughters of the Nile". Besides throwing parties and parades they raise a lot of money for children's hospitals.
So there I was in Belfast, Maine, waiting to see my first Shriners in fifty years. When the first of of them marched down the road they did not disappoint. I spent an hour fascinated inside their fez-topped time warp.
The procession followed rank, beginning with their leader, Steve, on a throne.
The current Bangor Temple Potentate was pulled up the street by neophytes hitched up like horses. The head horse wore a clown nose.
driving snazzy convertibles.
Tuxedo’s Potentate wannabe’s
were followed by white coated wannabe’s hoping to move up to the tux level.
The six most recent applicants ("The Second Section") were marching in street garb hoping that some day they too will wear the fez. Their leader also wore a clown nose.
Most of the hundreds that followed could be called, "No Way I'll Ever be a Potentate, I'm happy enough playing in the Temple Band",
This is a good time to point out that the Miami Shriners are looking for musicians to reform their temple band.
or the temple priests, keepers of mystical secrets,
or a Chanter, happy to sit in the back of a truck and sing songs from the 1890's.
After fifteen minutes of this a huge billboard rolled by reminding us that the Shriners may seem weird but they raise a lot of money to support hospitals for children. One of them is in Milwaukee.
After all these preliminaries we got to the serious kidding around, hundred of Shriners hot rodding in loud, little vehicles. They got darn close to the children perched on the parade's edge of as they zoomed, slid, and figure-eighted driving
Mini-Formula One Racers
Mini-18 wheelers and, this being the boys from Maine,
Go-carts pretending to be Mini Lobster Boats.
Interspersed within all these "mini-groups" were scary clowns with names like,
Snickers and Cray Cray
and this smiling man with the unlikely name, "911".
Oh it was entertaining watching those silly men. Their antics were fine with me.
No kids got run over, none (hopefully) had clown nightmares and the sick children of Milwaukee are better for it.