Inside the Tournament of Roses Parade with Road Scholar

There’s a moment I will never forget. I am standing near a large warehouse with a group of excited Road Scholars on Rose Parade: A Heritage to Celebrate, waiting for our chance to decorate some of the world-famous Rose Parade floats. We are wearing red and white wristbands that declare we are official volunteers. It is chilly outside — a bit unusual for the desert climate we should be experiencing — but our enthusiasm is keeping us warm. Finally, a float worker opens one of the large bay doors, and we get our first glimpse inside.

Rose Parade

We can see the floats!

They are huge creations of metal, styrofoam, and floral materials, all in varying states of completion. Some look particularly abstract at this stage. We can make out a giant football shape. And a dragon. And gigantic flowers that will be made from other flowers.

I feel like a child who is experiencing Disney World for the first time.

That initial excitement doesn’t fade for me as the day goes on. Buckets of flowers begin to appear, ready to be cut and placed into individual water vials. Hundreds of stacks of vials on styrofoam pallets are bordering a fence outside, and we soon realize the volume of flowers that we will be encountering.

As we begin to explore the warehouse, we are greeted by a Parade staffer who shares her knowledge on how the floats are prepared and how much work is left to be done. We continue to walk through the warehouse, wide eyed with excitement as we view the six floats that are being built in the facility. We then search out jobs that we can help with.

Some Road Scholars begin to glue almonds along giant leaves. Others are adhering shredded coconut onto enormous white flowers. Many of us have the opportunity to begin adding bark onto what will soon be a “tree,” and a few have found their niche by gluing pumpkin seeds to the official Rose Bowl football team floats.

Rose Parade

The majority, however, are asked to help add flowers into vials. Thousands of iris, chrysanthemums and roses begin to arrive by the truck load. Some Road Scholars fill vials with water at outside water stations, while others help by capping each tube. Still others begin to cut flowers and add them to already prepared vials. Soon we have tray upon tray filled with vibrant color, and wonder where these blossoms will be used.

The day is long but fruitful. When it’s time for us to leave, the Parade administrators wonder if we can stay longer. The Road Scholar team has managed to accomplish a huge volume of work! We are proud of our efforts, but are certainly ready to go back to our hotel to relax.

Two days later, the moment of truth is here — it’s Parade day! As we wait anxiously from our grandstand seats, we wonder how “our” finished floats will look. There’s a buzz in the air as the first floats make their way to where we are stationed, and a cheer rises from the crowd.

Rose Parade

During the next few hours, we are delighted by what we see. Our dragons, our flowers, our trees and our footballs look phenomenal, and we are amazed by the amount of detail that had been added since our initial volunteer day. The floats are beautiful. The bands — who we had the pleasure of watching at BandFest the day before — sound incredible. The equestrian units steal the show, with prancing horses decked out in sparkling saddles and bridles, knowing exactly how beautiful they are.

On our final day in Pasadena, we are met with a final treat. We can view the floats up close! Parked along a closed Sierra Madre Boulevard, the floats stand in full color, waiting to be photographed and examined. Many Road Scholars take selfies in front of the floats we had contributed to, and are intrigued by the details that appeared in so many others.

Murals are created from seeds and shredded flower petals. Orange slices, cabbages, onions, broccoli and kale were just a few other natural items that were used to create intricate float details. We look for floats that had won awards, and are enamored by the floats that were decorated with exotic flowers and — of course — the largest number of roses.

Rose Parade

We board the bus to return to our hotel, where the majority of our group will begin their journeys home. Some of us are gardeners, others artists and crafters. Some are two generations of families who have watched the Parade each year, and had always wanted to share this adventure together. Many are first-time Road Scholar participants, who were intrigued by this program that incorporated so many Rose Parade events that they had dreamed of experiencing.

All of us go home with fond memories — of each other, of Pasadena, of the end of one year and the beginning of the next. Our floats remain in the forefront of our minds, however. We have been a part of the Rose Parade. 


Erika Bouchard is a writer, an avid gardener and maker of things. She dreamed of attending the Rose Parade and is a member of the Road Scholar Class of '07.