Call this a few bonus chapter of my book, The Silence, The Series, & The Season of Sungwoo (which, by the way, I still have about 200 copies of so feel free to buy a few and hand them out for Christmas.)
I put this post over here on my personal blog because it is very personal to me. This, in many ways, is closure of an 18 month story. This, in many ways, is closure of a three year reawakening. This, in many ways, is closure of five years of finding my voice. This, in many ways, is closure to a 30 year journey.
Today… Part I…
There may yet be hope for our society.
On a Tuesday in November, my city shined. The city where I was born and raised and now live raising one of my own never looked so beautiful. Under skies that were so baby blue, you could swear that it was the Pantone template for the Royals own powder blue uniforms, the city threw a party for its conquering heroes.
And man, what a party it was.
Let’s start with the obvious question, I don’t know and you don’t either know how many people were there. The Mayor estimated 800,000. There were estimates both north and south of that. A man at work told me about 5,000 people waiting at the Metro North Mall that were simply left. There were cars abandoned along the highway like out of a zombie movie. You’ve seen the pictures. You get it.
The best line came from one of the policemen (and I’ll get to them in a minute) who was asked by someone in the crowd how many people he thought were there.
“Ma’am, listen. I became a police officer so that I could drive a cop car and not have to do math.”
So if you want to tell me there were 800,000, I’m with Officer Friendly. Sounds good to me.
I pulled into the parking garage at Crown Center at 7:15 am armed with a case of water and a slice of QuikTrip breakfast pizza. There was a man standing at the lift arm. I figured he was starting to collect money for the parade.
“Yep. You’ll be the last guy,” he said as he waved me through without collecting any money. Immediately behind me, he set out 5 cones, blocking off access to the garage. Sure enough, when I drove in, there was only one spot left. I walked the two blocks over to the skywalk connecting Crown Center with Union Station and found my friend Dave Darby. He got there about 30 minutes prior and immediately began texting me, “Get here. Spots going quickly.”
— THE FaKCe Ned (@TheFakeNed) November 3, 2015
There was at least one person along the rail the entire length of the parade route at 7:15. Both sides. Some had already begun a second row. Just as the police had asked, nobody had coolers or backpacks, only signs, chairs and so many Royals clothes you’d think blue shirts would be sold out all across the country. We posted up our folding chairs right at the railing of the barricades near the end of the parade route and began to wait. I had my breakfast pizza, a case of water, and my earphones so I could re-listen to the fifth game of the World Series. I had the next several hours all planned out. The time was 7:30. It had been 30 years since I last stood at this place to watch this event. I was 13. I remember very little except that we never actually saw the parade. The parade route changed due to several of the cars catching on fire in the parade due to all of the ticker tape going underneath the cars and catching fire. There we sat. Along the rail. Waiting for a parade that would never come.
At 7:35, cell service dropped for basically the rest of the day. A random tweet would come in or go out, but thousands or tens of thousands were already there and the cell infrastructure had absolutely no shot under the weight of what was about to hit them. I got a text shot off to my wife and son (still sleeping, mind you) on my location and then wished them good luck. With a steady flow, the people continued to assemble over the next hour.
There was a row of porta johns about 20 feet over our right shoulder. By 8:30, there were people stacked behind us five deep nearly back to that row.
By 9:00, they began blocking off street traffic on Main street just a half block to our right. The city had said they wouldn’t do that until 11 am, so they were already seeing more people than anticipated. The people just kept coming.
Through a clearing underneath the skywalk over to the National World War I Memorial lawn, you saw a beautiful stretch of green when I sat down. Then the green slowly began to shift colors to royal blue, and powder blue, and one guy in a banana costume. If you liked to people watch, today was Christmas, Easter, Halloween, and your Birthday all wrapped into one. There were people everywhere. Behind us was the Korean War Memorial. A monument that kind of looks like something you’d build with LEGO blocks. It stood about 10 feet high and was about 30 feet long sloping at both ends. The slope was just gradual enough that it provided several wry teenagers an opportunity to climb on it. I was also equipped with a special weapon – a five foot cutout of the cover of my book – a photo of my friend, Sungwoo Lee, with arms outstretched holding the victory “W” with the word SUNGWOO above it. So Dave and I took it over to the monument and snapped a couple pictures for Sungwoo in front of the South Korean flag (TaeGuk-Gi). It was a sign that we were in for another in a series of increasingly incredible days under the watchful karma of Sungwoo.
The crowd continued to assemble wave after wave coming from literally all directions. Without cell service, we had no idea that people we simply pulling off the highway into the grass and walking a mile or two into Crown Center. We had no idea that people were parking as far as North Kansas City and the Plaza to walk miles into Union Station to avoid the bus snafus. We only saw the result, people lapping into the sea of blue. Less and less green was showing on the monument’s lawn.
The workers that were assisting with logistics from the Royals and the City of Kansas City were wearing “PARADE STAFF (FINALLY)” shirts, a wink and a nod to the dark days of Royals baseball and even the false start planning that took place last October.
Across from me, people had bought hotel rooms at the Westin Crown Center and were assembling out on the balconies all dressed in blue. An occasional four-wheeler would drive down the empty parade route and be cheered whether is was a guy delivering a box to the end of the parade or a police officer.
You couldn’t help but let it creep into your mind, even for just a fleeting moment, that something bad could happen with this many people. Maybe I watch too much television. Well, actually, I’ll just stop myself. Yes, I watch too much television. But maybe I watch too much of the kind with the suicide bombers and the active shooters. But if a thought did creep in, it went away quickly because of the calmness of the police officers.
There were hundreds striping the parade route, but not so many you felt it was a show of force. The group that were standing near us were smiling, goofing around and talking with folks along the barricades. One of the guys down the street was playing catch with one of the kids. Everyone was waving. Then, about 10:00, still two hours before the parade was to start, I saw several in the crowd motioning to one of the officers across from me.
Very calmly, he jumped the barricade and disappeared into the sea of people. I later found out that it was a woman who had gone into labor. The officers, EMT’s and fire department workers were all extremely chill. Even when they were tending to those could were having medical issues (I personally saw about a half dozen, mostly fainting spells.) They were beyond professional, they were having just as much fun as the rest of us.
I should stop watching so much television.
By noon, there were 10 or 15 stacked deep behind us, children we been asked to get down from on top of the porta johns, and I had begun to regret bringing the case of water. It was on a bathroom run that I accidentally bumped into my wife and son. There really was no earthly way for them to find me except through happenstance. No cell signal. Blocked in. Fate. Welcome to the front row, guys.
It would be an hour after the parade began before we saw it rumble through and rumble it did. First with the formation of motorcycle officers.
I was never a parade kid when I was younger. I remember my parents would take me up to the Gladstone Parade on North Oak and I think I rode in a float for a St. Patrick’s Day parade, but I didn’t really care for the Shriners on tiny mopeds and the horses and the clowns. When I got older and into high school, our band would march in the American Royal parade. We generally were placed at the rear of the parade and, at the American Royal, that meant walking through piles of horse shit. Your shoes were coated in it by the end of the parade and we’d make fun of our friends that stepped in the biggest pile.
This parade was much cooler.
It started with a giant replica of the World Series trophy and KayCee riding atop a fire engine. That was cool. What a proud moment for Dave Webster who, two years ago, came up with the idea of hanging the “W” on a lark. The idea was widely panned, nearly up until Sungwoo came to town last August. It’s now easily going to be a permanent fixture of Royals Baseball for now until the end of time. Now here KayCee is leading the World Series parade. Awesome.
The parade was led by KayCee and was a terrific parade with chanting and waving and even Ned Yost hoisting the trophy. But what happened in the middle of it put it all into perspective for me and it was all-time.
Read all three parts of The Parade, The Embrace, & The Amen
[All photos by Chris Kamler]