Indy 500 Festival Parade 2016: Before the Music


Meanwhile behind the scenes, things were falling apart.

Previously on Midlife Crisis Crossover:

This year marked the sixth time my wife and I attended the Indianapolis 500 Festival Parade in downtown Indianapolis. It’s an annual date-day tradition for us —- partly to see the floats and high school marching bands, partly for the famous names and partly because I love the sight of a bustling downtown Indianapolis. The next six entries (to be posted over the next few days as quickly as time and attention span permit) represent a fraction of the pics my wife and I snapped. In many cases, encores and additional takes of specific subjects may be available if anyone out there is interested in seeing more, or is looking for a loved one who was in one of the many marching bands that day. For first-time MCC visitors, please note my wife and I are relative amateurs, absolutely not trained professional photographers, sharing these from a hobbyist standpoint because fun and joy.

Part 6, the grand finale: hours before the parade began, Anne and I walked up and down Meridian Street and Pennsylvania, the parallel north-south legs of the parade route, to peek behind the curtains at some of the participating teams and objects as they got their acts together before the official proceedings commenced for an adoring, sweating public. I participated in a 500 Festival Parade myself several years ago, but never took much time to look beyond my own group. Until now.

(As always, photos are clickable for enlargement and resolution and such.)

The parade began at noon. When we arrived at our bleacher seats shortly before 11:30, this was the scene: clowns. Lots of clowns.


Without makeup, clowns are slightly less scary and more approachable. IT’S A TRAP.

To boost their ranks, the Cincinnati Circus Company sent over a pair of stilt-clowns to raise the crowd’s spirits with some wacky walking and ball-tossing, and to help raise clown tolerance awareness.


I’m 90% certain the shirtless soccer guy wasn’t on their payroll.

Before all that, we rewind a few hours to breakfast time, before downtown Indianapolis was flooded with happy parade fans and bored out-of-towners recovering from their Friday night hangovers. Anne and I arrived downtown shortly before 8 a.m. so we could park at my workplace without paying ten bucks for event parking. We grabbed breakfast at First Watch and set out to survey the territory.

In the first five entries, you saw pics of several marchers and celebrities taking photos instead of waving at us. The object of their fascination was the Soldiers and Sailors Monument, the war memorial in the middle of Monument Circle and the geographic center of the Circle City. Once upon a time, there was an ordnance prohibiting any buildings taller than the Monument. That quaint idea was retracted decades ago.

Soldiers & Sailors Monument!

Our Hoosier forefathers liked their corn cooked fresh on the cob, their radio stations on AM, and their skyscrapers “fun-sized”.

Parade days offer the rare chance for visitors to saunter across the middle of Meridian Street without rush hour traffic flattening you.

Meridian Street!

If you squint, you can almost see I-65 several blocks away.

Several downtown businesses are closed on Saturdays and don’t reap the benefits of the one-day tourist dollar influx. (Looking in your direction, Paradise Bakery.) Some businesses that normally open on Saturdays will stay closed during the 500 Festival Parade because they assume everyone will be too busy to care about them. One of those is the Indiana World War Memorial, surrounded as it was by semis and other trucks carrying heavy parade paraphernalia. We tried to go inside one year, but were denied because parade. Sadly it’s one of the largest Indiana attractions that we’ve never been inside — especially vexing for my wife the history buff.

Indiana World War Memorial!

One day the timing will work out, and we’ll see inside, and maybe it’ll be the grandest MCC photo gallery of them all. For now, access denied.

Police are in position early at every intersection. Despite the ostensible fun and frivolity, horrifying news headlines of crowds turned into mass tragedy magnets mean that worst-case scenarios need to be planned for and deterred at all costs. We appreciate those who serve, even though most of us are pretty boring to watch and profile.

Police Officer.

And it’s not like they can pass the time playing on their phones. Constant vigilance doesn’t multitask well with Angry Birds.

Walking down Pennsylvania Avenue will take you to the gathering spots for all the various organizations. Entrance beyond certain points is forbidden to anyone not actually in the parade, but gawking from a distance is no big deal. One year we tried to cross the line because there’s a breakfast diner somewhere in that direction we’ve never tried. “YOU SHALL NOT PASS,” said a polo-shirt guard who was just doing his job and wasn’t starving.

Pennsylvania Avenue!

The number of mom-‘n’-pop joints that make no money this day is kinda sad.

Several sections have faraway cordons that prevent looky-loos from seeing too many parade spoilers, but they can’t hide everything. A few of the larger floats can be seen around the borders of the restricted blocks.

IMS Pagoda Float!

A better shot of the Indianapolis Motor Speedway’s pagoda float than what we took during the parade proper.

Some entities have to share tight spaces between the blocks because Indy can only shut down so many streets at a time. Here a military band clusters next to Walk Off the Earth’s float-ride.

Military band!

Fortunately everyone’s cool about it and the police don’t have to waste time on any instant turf wars.

Further down, parents and friends watch cheerleader practice before their big gig. Motions are repeated, instructions are megaphoned, and the same snippet of the same song is played over and over and over and over and over and over and over and over and over and over again till the majority has the patterns mastered.


Definitely not in my skill set.

Nearby, American flags remain rolled up for now till time to celebrate.

American flags.

For many watchers, the flags they see in the parade will be the closest they come to “celebrating” Memorial Day this weekend.

Intricate costumes and headgear belonging to Ballet Folklorico Mosaicos are circled in the shade, biding their time till their wearers arrive.

Ballet Folklorico Mosaicos!

It’s a fine resting spot before they have to go spend an hour-plus in the presence of the burning sun.

The extended parade prep area ends at the steps of the Indianapolis-Marion County Public Library, or “the Central Library” to us local cool kids. Normally it’s the site of the absolute best 741.5-741.59 section in all of Indiana, but for the moment it’s the red-carpet assembly area for all the celebrities signed up for the parade.

Library Red Carpet!

A minute after this shot was taken, a few folks exited the van and entered the library, including but not limited to Kevin Sorbo.

After the upscale black vehicles departed, the members of Walk Off the Earth, rather than going inside, got into these golf carts and were chauffeured away to their next activity point.

Golf Carts!

If we’d known who they were at the time, we would’ve taken an extra photo of them. Alas, we were slow on the uptake. Perhaps someday we’ll be young enough to recognize them on sight.

A minute or so after they puttered away, The Voice winner Josh Kaufman walked up with his kids, presumably from whichever downtown garage he parked the family car in, and escorted them inside. Different rides for different levels, I guess.


Several military officers and dignitaries rendezvoused in the same spot, putting the final touches on their uniforms and dusting each other off.

The parking spaces along St. Clair Street in front of the library were filled with the vintage pace cars that would serve as the rides for various guests. It’s like the best free auto show in town for folks who love classic cars.

1961 Indy 500 pace car!

One of the few things I regret about trading in my man card in junior high is lacking the talent to look at a really cool car and rattle off its mechanical stats. I know this is a Camaro because of the big helpful label, but beyond that you’re on your own.

1978 Indy 500 pace car!

If you were one of the guys super annoyed that all these sweet rides were cropped out of our previous photo galleries, please enjoy these full-body shots as our apology for those oversights.

If you have time to wander Indiana before the parade starts, you owe it to your kids to find your way to the big field where the floats are aired up and huddled together until they’re called into action.

Indy 500 Festival Parade floats!

I posted a differently modified version of this on Instagram that morning. Whoever was on duty running the Indianapolis Motor Speedway’s official account at that moment captioned this “Battle of the Century!”

To the float volunteers maybe it’s no big deal, but it was neat seeing all these giant-sized cartoon characters congregating in one spot like they’re confabbing with each other about the perils of fame or their pet peeves about their assistants or whatever.

Thomas the Tank Engine!

Thomas the Tank Engine has to settle for rolling around before he can take to the skies and soar like an eagle.

I imagine there’s a solemn ceremony that takes place during the annual American flag inflation.

American flag!

(…”blowing up the American flag” sounds wrong and possibly actionable.)

Meanwhile the Angry Birds hang back and watch and offer no help at all because America’s new media darlings have a successful movie out in theaters, so they had first dibs on the air hoses.

Angry Birds!

I still don’t know their names. I’m old and remain stubborn about my ignorance on this subject.

Eventually we had to end our impromptu behind-the-scenes tour of the parade and make our way back to our ticketed seats so we could watch the show as its organizers intended. In our wake, the gargantuan balloons and their diminutive handlers gazed upon the Indianapolis cityscape and prepared for the long, merry walk ahead.

Indy 500 Festival Parade!

Everyone waiting in the wings. Literally, in the Angry Birds’ case.

The End. Thanks for reading.

* * * * *

Links to other chapters in this annual MCC miniseries are listed below. Follow us on Facebook or via email signup for new-entry alerts, or over on Twitter if you want to track my TV live-tweeting and other signs of life between entries. Thanks for stopping by!

Part 1: The 33 Drivers in Your Starting Lineup
Part 2: This Year’s Guests
Part 3: Marching Bands!
Part 4: Floats and Balloons
Part 5: Random Acts of Parading


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