The Catonsville branch of the Women's International… (Algerina Perna, Baltimore…)
Five-year-old Amir Atkins sat on a high brick wall alongside Martin Luther King Boulevard Monday, bouncing in place and leaving little doubt about what he liked about the passing parade.
"Giddy-up! Giddy-up!," he yelled as riders passed on horseback during Baltimore's 11th annual Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Parade.
"I want to see the whole thing! I want to eat some cotton candy!" Amir said as he took in the spectacle with his 3-year-old sister, Chase Degross, and his mother, Stacy Watson.
The two children were thoroughly bundled up for their first visit to what has become a beloved rite of winter for many Baltimoreans.
"We layered up before we left the house," said Watson, 30, who brought the children downtown from her home near Eastpoint. "We have pajamas and hoodies and two T-shirts."
Veteran parade-goers agreed the weather was comfortably seasonal compared with some of the frigid King holidays of years past. Thousands of people — young and old, black and white, local residents and visitors — lined the boulevard from Eutaw Street to Baltimore Street to take in the show.
The parade offered nothing if not variety — from break-dancing on the cold asphalt to the rumble of drums to the comic cavorting of volunteers dressed up as fruits and vegetables to promote healthy eating.
Even the politicians appeared to be getting a friendly reception from the upbeat crowd. Gov. Martin O'Malley marched with his wife, Catherine, and with Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake, attracting only a few scattered catcalls as he passed Pennsylvania Avenue. At one point he recognized a face in the crowd and called out to a man named Sam.
That was Father Sam Lupico, 71, a retired priest who said he comes to the event every year to enjoy seeing the children and the marching bands and to remember the man whose life the parade commemorates.
"He changed our lives, bless his heart. Changed me," Lupico said.
Robert Johnson of West Baltimore arrived an hour ahead of the parade to stake out a prime spot for his camp chair. He said he likes to hear the drumming and to watch the local celebrities who participate in the parade. But having been born here in 1939 and having witnessed the changes King helped bring about, he appreciates the significance of the holiday. He still recalls hearing King speak at the Masonic Temple shortly before his assassination in 1968.
"Needless to say, he was a very stirring speaker," Johnson said.
Now King is remembered in the most American of ways — with a parade including everything from advocates for the causes dear to his heart to the crassly commercial symbols of major insurance companies to Miss Exquisite International flashing her brilliant smile from a Corvette convertible.
And then there were moments of comic relief of a sort that King — known to close friends for his earthy sense of humor when away from the pulpit — might have enjoyed.
Brenda Addison and her god-daughters, Melissa and Tarnesha Brown, laughed out loud as one of the horses being ridden by members of the Zydeco Cowboyz and Cowgirlz did what horses are prone to do on parade routes where marching bands are about to pass.
But what Melissa, 12, really enjoyed were the cheerleaders. Someday, she said, she would like to be one — and to perform in the parade herself.