Thursday, January 14, 2010

Promoting Sierra County Tourism at the Tournament of Roses Parade Or “How I managed to jam broken walnut shells under my fingernails without really trying”

By popular demand...following is the article that I wrote for the local newspapers on my Tournament of Roses Experience:

Ten observations on volunteering to work on the Grand Marshal's Award winning New Mexico Tourism Department “Enchantment Is In The Air” float at this years Tournament of Roses Parade in Pasadena. Hey, it takes a lot to build a winner!

1) Teenage Girl Scouts have absolutely no idea who Pepe LePew and Penelope Pussycat are, but they are incredibly useful when it comes to crawling across scaffolding to glue & apply massive amounts of onion seeds & dried coconut to those 10 foot replicas of the Warner Brothers cartoons. We had several different Girl Scout troops from throughout the LA area working with us on the float decoration. And yes, the coconut is edible.

2) The NM Tourism Dept “Land of Enchantment” logo signs have been used for all 4 of our floats, to cut down on costs. I repaired the walnut shell background & onion seed lettering two years guess what my first assignment was? “Hey look, Gina's here! Let's make HER fix this atrocity – again!”. Thanks guys! It only took me 5 hours to “fix” one sign.

3) There are about 6 different types of glue used to affix seeds, flowers, legumes, seaweed & corn husks to the float. And they all have their own distinctive, headache inspiring aroma.

4) There are too many chiefs involved when you have about 100 people crawling around a float. 'Tis far, far better to always check with the 24 year old kids in the red jackets than to listen to opinions from fellow volunteers that start with the words “I've been here all 4 times, and we should...” The 24 year old kids have been doing this since they were 10 or 11 years old, and have worked their way up the Fiesta Floats organization hierarchy. Don't mess with Ryan or Theresa or you may find yourself banned from the barn!

5) People don't realize that the base of the float gets covered with pine branches. Then huckleberry branches. Then juniper branches. THEN the roses, which are in vials of water, get jammed through those 3 layers of greenery & into a very thick layer of cardboard-ish material. Hence the blisters on our hands & stiff shoulders & biceps on New Years Day. All this, and you can't even see the greenery under the roses. Sheesh!

6) There were approximately 8,000 roses, 3,000 daisies and 1,000 orchids on our float. And those were just on the “deck”. The balloons were covered in coconut, mums, carnations, lentils, kidney beans, split peas, and in one case, pieces of celery (my suggestion that we use green chile instead was appreciated, but ignored).

7) 60 volunteers traveled from New Mexico to California at their own expense to work on the float. We worked from 8am Monday till 11pm on Wednesday.

8) Float judging takes place on the morning of December 31st. Evidently, you are supposed to cheer wildly when the judges reach your float, and cheer even more wildly when the mechanics of your float kick in. Some people think you earn extra points with the judges this way. I looked on in horror the first time Penelope's tail twitched, spraying coconut flakes across the float. But hey, they seemed to enjoy it.

9) Over 1 million people line Colorado Blvd in Pasadena for the Parade. Over 40 million Americans watch it on TV. The Tourism Dept estimates that for New Mexico to pay for a TV ad with that kind of coverage would run about $4 million.

10) After the parade ends, the floats are all driven to a park in Pasadena where the public can view them up close. The New Mexico Tourism Dept drove their mobile visitor information center - “Moby VIC” - to the park where several of us distributed visitor information to the crowd. It was 4 ½ hours of non-stop guerrilla marketing. Unbelievably, we are the only destination with the common sense to use this as a marketing opportunity. At times, visitors to our VIC were 4 deep. I spoke with hundreds of people & thankfully, I had only one person ask me if you “still need a passport to visit New Mexico”. And, I had only one person ask “New Mexico? There's a “new” one?” and look at me skeptically when I told her that we are located between Texas & Arizona. “Since WHEN???”

Surprisingly, I discovered that lots of New Mexicans travel to New Mexico to attend the parade. Many of those folks sought us out to thank us for the beautiful float, to thank us for working to promote the state at the “post parade float park” and volunteered to help us next year.

Thank you Mark Trujillo and everyone at the New Mexico Tourism Department for such a great experience!

Sunday, January 3, 2010

I've spent the past week in Southern California with the New Mexico Tourism Department working on our entry in the 2010 Tournament of Roses Parade, "Enchantment Is In The Air". 60 volunteers from New Mexico made the trip to Pasadena to work on the float, which featured Warner Brothers cartoon character Pepe LePew courting Penelope Pussycat, who was making her getaway on a hot air balloon.

Our float was awarded the Grand Marshal's Award for excellence in creative concept and design. We won this award two years ago with our "alien" float; last year we were awarded the Bob Hope Humor Award for our entry featuring Wile E. Coyote chasing the Roadrunner across the desert on an ACME rocket.

After the parade ends, the floats are all moved to Victory Park in Pasadena where the public can get an up close look. The New Mexico float attracted a lot of attention, and thousands of people visited our mobile Visitor Information Center (lovingly referred to as "Moby VIC") to learn more about New Mexico and the visitor attractions that we have to offer.

It was an overwhelming, delightful experience and hopefully we will have funding available to enter a float again in 2011. I can't think of a more unique and memorable way to promote New Mexico to the world!
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