St. Patrick's parade shines through rain

Festival: The downpour and cold couldn't dampen spirits of those in Baltimore's 46th annual parade and the crowd cheering them on

March 18, 2002|By Stephanie Desmon | Stephanie Desmon,SUN STAFF

On the corner of downtown Baltimore's Pleasant and Charles streets, not far from their car stocked with coolers of beer and other goodies, not far from Mick O'Shea's pub where proprietor Michael O'Shea offers running commentary -- this is where you'll find Linda and Paul Aires during every St. Patrick's Day parade.

They've been doing this for 30 years or so, they figure. So despite a little rain -- OK, a lot of rain -- the Aireses were back at their favorite spot yesterday, watching the bagpipes and drum corps, the cloggers and the step dancers make their way through the city during the 46th annual parade.

The crowds were a bit thinner than normal -- it's usually much harder to catch a glimpse of the green and gold Irish Festival float -- but there stood Paul Aires wearing his green rubber leprechaun shoes with curlicue toes and a pompon to match.

"Never sorry we came -- look at all these people," said Aires, a city police officer from Dundalk whose pals know him as Barney. "Will we stop coming? No. As long as we have our health we'll be here."

They may go a year without seeing some of their friends, but once it's time for the parade, they know where the party will be.

"The weather keeps on getting worse but the parade keeps getting better," said Linda Aires. The parade lasted nearly 90 minutes, ending with a roaring fire engine followed by the clean-up crews in bright green garbage trucks. Candy and bubble gum were tossed off the floats to the crowds who sometimes danced in the streets in gratitude (and perhaps to keep warm, too).

Yesterday was far from ideal weather for a parade -- with temperatures in the 30s and rain, which got heavier as the 2 p.m. festivities got under way. Not exactly the day for riding in a wide-open convertible or on a flatbed truck. It was so unpleasant that the lines for coffee and hot chocolate were sometimes longer than the lines for beer.

"We always hope for better weather," said Mayor Martin O'Malley, a participant, "but what's Ireland without rain?"

The city's St. Patrick's Day parade isn't always held on St. Patrick's Day, March 17, which celebrates the patron saint of Ireland who brought Christianity to the island. But this year the calendars aligned. Lucky for Paul Aires, who wears the eye-catching green shoes only on St. Patrick's Day and the parade. This year he had to wear them only once.

On St. Patrick's Day, the saying goes, everyone is Irish. Well, O'Malley is Irish every day. "I tend to get a higher decibel of cheers in this parade," he said.

Nadine House of Northwest Baltimore took refuge in a doorway along the route of the procession. She brought her daughter and her godchildren. She comes every year. "We go to all the parades because we just love parades," she said. "Any excuse for a parade."

A little way down Charles Street stood Jennifer Pencille of Baltimore, who had worked all night as an ICU nurse at Johns Hopkins Hospital before heading -- with no sleep -- to the parade with her 8-month-old son Avery and her mother. She was here a year ago for the first time while she was pregnant with her son and declared it one of the best parades she had attended (it was second to the one she saw as a seventh-grader in Savannah, Ga., a town famous for its St. Paddy's pageantry).

The redhead wanted to share the experience -- and her Irish roots -- with her baby.

Her mother, Ginger Estridge, who hails from Savannah, said she had never been to a parade this cold and imagined all the money she could have made had she been selling ponchos or warm gloves.

"Is there such a thing as hot beer?" Pencille wondered.

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