2010 La Canada Float Building

by Parade Guy on December 30, 2009

Hi There!

This is the second year that I have volunteered with the Community of La Canada Flintridge Tournament of Roses Association. 


It is an amazing organization is so many ways.  From the top down, they are very volunteer oriented.  Last year when I showed up, they were jokingly leery of the Parade Guy, especially since I was from Brooklyn.  I think that they thought I was some sort of Parade Spy.

I found them when my hosts showed me the local newspaper with a few pictures of the float in process and reminded me that I didn’t just come for the sunshine, but to volunteer.  All true and in addition to the Tournament of Roses Parade, I also helped out at the La Canada Flintridge Girls Basketball Tournament.

I was very impressed with the diversity of volunteers working on the float.  There were kids of all ages, the youngest working along side their parents and grandparents, and adults of all ages.  Until you prove your float decorating chops, you might be assigned to a task that is not so glamourous, but still very important.  This is truly an example of no small job, only small volunteer.

I started out pulling petals off of zineas.  Hundreds of zineas.  I sat in a circle with half a dozen other volunteers, all pulling petals off of zineas.  When there were no more zineas, we graduated to silver leaf.  Graduated because the silver leaf is more expensive and less tolerant of mistakes.  After that, I was assigned to actually working on the float as a decorator.  I was moving up figuratively and literally.  OK, I think I should keep this to 2010.

I showed up on December 28th and was welcomed with open arms and a special project.  If you look at the float, there are two large bird cages.  When I got there, they were constructed and supposed to be ready for decorating.  Supposed to be.  These particular devices were constructed out of 1/4″ steel bar, chicken wire, hard styrofoam, and 1/2″ foam tube insulation.  Everything had been painted with a white primer coat.  The next step in the decorating process is to paint all surfaces that will be seen with a color that matches the color of the organic materials.  This is done to enhance the appearance of coverage.

This was supposed to be dome before I got there so it became my first task.  When Danelle, Decorator In Charge, and I went to the Paint Shop, it became obvious that a change in the color scheme on the jars had not made its way done to the Paint Shop.  This meant my first task was now to mix enough paint to cover the jars.  In fairness, I did mention that neither painting or mixing paint (I am color blind and failed anything to do with crayons except throwing them in the 3rd grade) were my strong points.  It was OK I was assured.

I suppose I should have really practiced what I observed all these years at Ace and Home Depot, you know, write down what you add in so that it can be reproduced when you run out.  Nope.  I was able to come up with a kind of tangerine-ish color that was approved.  I supposed I should have named it, I hope I had enough!

I got started on painting, trying to get more on the jars and less on me.  Like all of the other decorators, I did my best.  I spent the few hours I had before I was scheduled to help out at another event.  When I got back, there was a team assigned to the jars and they were going to town with my tangerine-ish paint and the rest of the colors.

Next up for me was working as a Decorator on one of the Origami sheets. 

But, there was another task awaiting me.  Brian, In-Charge-Person-In Charge found me and asked me to protect Danelle from everyone asking her questions so she could validate the flower order.  There was a potential shortage from a vendor and distractions were keeping the task from being accomplished.  I could do that.  Most of the people didn’t know me and it didn’t matter if they didn’t like me.  And they didn’t.  Imagine Jack’s assistant on 30 Rock.  I was like that only more efficient.

The next day, I was assigned to manage the decorators working on the jars.  For me, this meant making sure that they were applying powders, petals and coconut in the right places, in the right order, and with the right coverage.  Each of the jars had four decorators assigned.  I also made sure that they never ran out of materials.  From my formal education, this is a Just In Time approach.  Go ahead.  Look it up.

After the jars were set to dry, I was moved to manage a larger group that had to apply lemon tree leaves to the body of the Dragon.  There is a technique here too to ensure appropriate coverage.  One of the things to remember about this float in particular, is that they raise all the money for materials.  The end result os that some of the material may be in short supply without a lot of room for waste.  Lemon tree leaves was just one of the short supply materials.  For this effort, I had about fifteen kids, working in teams.  Some did leaf selection, some did leaf pre-gluing, and other were actually applying the prepared leaves to the plywood.  Again, I made sure they had materials and checked their work.

The next day, I learned something new.  Vialing.  I am not sure if that is the proper term, but it works for me.  Literally thousands of flower stems arrive in either boxes or buckets.  They must be cut down to the proper length, based on the application, and inserted in to tubes of a solution of warm water and a flower growth chemical.  Then, once vialed, the individual viales are placed onto a styrofoam sheet for transport into the refrigerated trailer.  Then they are pulled out as needed.

One of the reasons that the In-Charge-Person-In-Charge likes it when I show up is because I quickly assess the task at hand and come up with an effecient process to get it done.  Then it is just a matter of making sure everyone is following the process.  The result is a high throughput with repeatable results.  The day I worked on viling, I think we went through about 6,000 stems of various kinds and colors of flowers.  I also built in a simple method of traying the completed vials so that the inventory and scheduling people could guage progress really easily.

We completed the vialing, ahead of schedule, we moved on to the wheat grass.  On this years float, there was a fair amount of horizontal surface that was meant to look like a lawn, or a meadow, I didn’t ask.  What was told was that there were 384 cases of 18″ by 18″ wheat grass that needed to be prepared.  I took the same approach, moving the Vialing team into Wheat Grass Preparation.

One of the things that I was thinking about was how as a “manager” or “team leader” do you figure out who is going to be best at each task.  With volunteers, you really don’t know who is going to show up.  In this particular case, one aspect that helped was looking at the sub-tasks and thinking about the ergonomics involved.  For the Wheat Grass Preparations, the cases were stored under one of the trailers.  I assigned the smallest person I could find to climb under and pass out un-cut boxes and then stack the finished products.  She loved it unter there.  Then I looked for couples to pair up in teams.  Keeping friends together gave them the opportunity to talk to each other while doing essentially mindless tasks.  I also dabbled in match making with the kids, just for fun.

As expected, once the process was in place and everyone understood their assignments, the teams blasted through the work.  I also think that the feeling of measurable accomplishment helps to drive both volunteer satisfaction and the desire to come back.  I noticed that both last year and this year, kids and adults came looking for where ever I was working.  Making things fun is another important part of the volunteer experience.

I had a great time.  The float looked beautiful.  And for the second year I was involved, it won an award.  This year, it was the Winner of the Fantasy Trophy.

See ya’ on the route!

Parade Guy

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