DONATE LIFE ROSE PARADE FLOAT - REFLECTIONS FROM FLOAT RIDER & DONOR WIFE ANNE GULOTTA , CHICAGO, ILL
Greetings, Below are reflections and observations by my fellow float rider Anne Gulotta, donor wife from Chicago. It includes a slideshow from her photo journey.
2010 Rose Parade Float Alumni and floragraph families, if you have pictures and reflections of you own, please send it to me HERE, and we will share with our readers.
Well, I'm back on earth. Hard to believe that more than a week has gone by since I landed in OZ- Pasadena that is. It was a wonderful trip filled with lots of emotions and surprises. My first impression of the float was one of awe. I knew I wasn't in Barrington anymore. It was the early stages of flower decorating, and everyone was getting their hands really sticky and dirty from glue, flower cutting, and pasting. It's a pain staking procedure, but it's got to get done one flower at a time. Ginny and Andrew McBride introduced me to float decorating early Tuesday morning. I was taught by the best, and hundreds maybe thousands of mums later they had the Phoenix's flames ablaze. I walked over to a girl with a blender and asked her when the Margaritas would be ready? She laughed. It was flower petals for decorating. Wednesday was exciting because I woke up before 3am, and met Bryan Stewart, Renee a donor wife, and Merle a heart recipient, and drove over to the float for a live camera opportunity with ABC Eyewitness News-Los Angeles. Lisa Hernandez the reporter set out to do a quick hit, but once she arrived saw the float, and Bryan dazzled her with a few stories. Bryan took her through the float history, this year's theme New Life Rises, and all the floragraphs and Family Circle roses. Jay's floragraph was used as a prop, and Renee, Merle, and I placed roses in the circle. I was darn tired, and a few hours later worked my way back to the hotel. It was raining, and I wanted to meet up with the kids. Elizabeth, Austin, and I spent the afternoon in the rain walking around Pasadena looking at the sights, and took in a few hours at the Norton Simon Museum across from a huge display of grandstands and cameras. People began lining the streets of Old Pasadena on Wednesday night. It's an unbelievable sight to see.
The Family Circle Rose Dedication was very moving. Families come from far and wide to place roses for their loved ones. I had the honor of placing roses for Jay, and a special rose was placed in memory of Jay by his kidney Recipient Julie. I placed a rose for Steve Ferkau in memory of Kari, Lisa Petrilli with gratitude and love to Rose, and a few others. Good Shepherd Hospital was a hospital sponsor along with many others which added over a thousand roses to the garden. Soon, the three circles were filled with roses. Over 3,000. The orientation dinner was the first time all the float riders met, and it was heart felt. Each rider spoke, and tears and laughter filled the room. I loved how quickly we became acquainted, and shared stories of our experiences and loved ones.
The Gala Wednesday night was a highlight, and close to 500 people attended the event. The kids and I sat with Jane-lee from Gift of Hope, and a couple from the OPO from Miami who sponsored a couple who's son was a floragraph. They showed lots of photos past and present, and guess what Steve Ferkau was in a photo with his #34 jersey on. They showed all the floragraphs, too. The Queen's Court graced us with their presents, Mike and Mimi Thompson the Crew Chiefs extroidinare were honored, and All-4-One performed a few of their songs including the hit When I Need An Angel. We stuck around after the event, and JR spoke to the group All-4-One. I have a photo with JR and his girlfriend Sara. I spoke to a few of the band members, too. Great band and very cordial. JR got a response back from one of them about his song Thank You. They really liked it.
New year's Eve was a big day! The kids and I showed up for decorating duty, and the hanger looked empty. Our float was there, but floats on either side were gone. So much had been done so we pitched in to finish last minute detailing. The float was brought out before noon, and the Phoenix soared into the sunlight. It sits 16 feet or so in the hanger, but reaches 29 feet tall when mechanically raised. We decorated and cleaned right up to float judging at 3pm. I quickly changed, and got into position on the float. A bell rings then the music starts and everyone is choking back the tears. The song this year was Hoppipolla by Sigur Ros. The judges walk around, and on the second time around a few of them are crying. It's very quiet then a second bell rings and everyone cheers! Lots of hugs at this point, and everyone is feeling tired, but excited. Rob Chana came up to hug me, and I could tell it was very difficult for the Chanas to be there looking up at Cameron's floragraph. I think it was hard for the floragraph families. For many the loss and pain of their loved one is still very raw. They were consoled when I told them I was a donor family member, and I would point to Jay. I told them that it I was honored to be riding the float with him, and all the other floragraphs.
New Year's Eve night is different for everyone. Some float riders and volunteers are so tired that they choose to do nothing. Some of us go out for dinner, and the feeling all around is truly festive.
Early morning came quickly and sleepy eyed float riders met in the lobby of the Sheraton at 5:30 AM. A coach bus greeted us, and Bryan Stewart hailed the driver to take us to Von's Grocery store where a spread of bagels,pastries,fruit,and coffee were served. There were 41 floats entered in the parade, and New Life Rises was awarded Best Theme Trophy! Von's staff was introduced, and we had a photo opp with many of them. Then, our magical mystery bus took us as far as it could up to the parade route when we were kicked off the bus to finish the journey by foot just in time for the parade.
The crowd met the New Life Rises float with glee. It was a beautiful day. We were early in the procession so the spectators were bright eyed and bushy tailed. It seemed like just a few moments between the time the hum of the bus engine roared, the song began, and the mountains quickly approaching which meant the end of the parade route wasn't far. I sat camera side, and Jay was placed right above me. My arms got tired from waiving, but the five mile stretch was worth every smile,tear,wave, and cheer. The streets were lined with spectators from one end to the next, and as we proceeded down Colorado Blvd the streets narrowed, and you could practically touch the spectators. There was a true connection with us when the float rode by. People yelled We Love you, and Good Job! Happy New Year, Donate Life, and Thank you was yelled back by the float riders. A few spectators yelled out that they were organ recipients, and one man opened his shirt and pointed to his heart. "I'm a heart recipient" he cheered. One minute we'd be laughing then crying then changing waving arms. We all wanted to go back to the beginning again.
Shortly after our magical mystery bus and Bryan-the wizard-Stewart were in tow back to the Sheraton for a festive post parade party attended by many. Cheers filled the room as each rider walked across the floor looking for family and friends to hug. After an hour or so several riders cleared out to attend the Rose Bowl Game, an afternoon visit to Universal Studios, and just some retired back to their rooms for a little R&R exhausted by the whole experience.
I stayed behind to talk to a few Donate Life staffers, and to thank them for the ride of a lifetime. The passion and compassion is overwhelming. These special people really cared about us, and making our trip enjoyable was a priority. Boa feathers and fancy hats decorated the festive ballroom, and projector screens played re-runs of the parade. I had a sneak peak of the photos taken by our photographer Scott who magically made the event in photos come alive. The kids headed over to the Rose Bowl Game-Ohio vs. Oregon and called me at half time to tell me what a great time they were having.
The parade might be over, and I'm back in Illinois. But, what I take with me is a lifetime of memories. The float was amazing, but more importantly it conveyed a message of hope for those in need of a life saving organ,tissue, or cornea transplant, and a sense of peace to those who've lost a loved one. The float riders and floragraphs were amazing. Thank You Gift of Hope, and everyone else who made this trip so special. It was truly a once in a lifetime experience. Below I've attached TV footage of the parade, and a slideshow.