FINLEY: With me behind the wheel, Detroit parade float crashes into crowd
Mother Goose died on my watch, and I’m extremely thankful no one else did.
All was going well in my first parade float driving adventure. My spotter and I were moving Mother Goose steadily down Detroit’s Woodward Ave., communicating well and enjoying the experience.
As I wrote in a column last week , I was tapped to pilot the float sponsored by The Detroit News in America’s Thanksgiving Day Parade. I went to float driving school a couple of weeks ago and learned about all the things that could go wrong.
And they all did.
Let me set this up: The driver of a float is seated deep inside, with the only view of the outside provided by a tiny black-and-white video screen. A spotter walks in front of the camera mounted to the outside and provides hand signals indicating when to turn and when to stop. I was also connected to my very competent spotter, the Rev. Glenn Morrison, by two-way radio.
Morrison is an Episcopal deacon and I asked him jokingly before the start whether he had prayed for our safety and that of the crowd. He said he’d prayed for good weather, but wasn’t worried about us. Bad choice.
Again, all was going just fine. The Goose’s engine was purring. Hannah Montana’s It’s All Right Here was blaring on a continuous loop (If I’m ever tortured, I’ll choose water boarding over teeny bop pop). The four beauty queens atop the float were dancing away, making it feel at times as if I was driving through an earthquake.
But all good.
Then, just as we moved in front of the Fox Theater, the engine quit. It didn’t sputter, it didn’t gasp, it just flat out died. I thought perhaps we had run out of gas -- it wouldn’t be the first time -- but then steam started pouring out of the radiator. Mother Goose had popped a hose.
While the rest of the parade marched on, Mother Goose and her crew, including me, sat stranded for several minutes.
A decision was made to move it manually along the rest of the route, and that’s when things went bad. I was asked to shift to neutral. The float began moving. I assumed it was being towed, so I took my hands off the steering wheel, which without the engine was of little use anyway.
My TV screen also went blank, so I had no view of what was going on outside, including where we were headed.
It turns out the float was being pushed, not pulled, and without me steering it veered into the curb. At least one man -- I’m told he was in a wheelchair -- was struck by the front of the float. Parade officials assure me that although he was taken to the hospital, he was shaken up but not seriously hurt.
I sincerely hope that’s true, and I hope he’s released in time to enjoy Thanksgiving dinner with his family. I apologize to him for my part of the communications break-down that caused Mother Goose to derail.
My friend, Devin Scillian, who was broadcasting the parade for WDIV-Ch.4, wisecracked that it was the biggest parade screw-up since Chilly Willy got loose and floated away. I imagine the social network trolls are having a field day.
I should know better than to tempt fate. I joked in last week’s column about crashing into the crowd. Not so funny now.
Next year, I’m going to ask that we sponsor a balloon. What’s the worst that could happen? Forget I asked.