I strolled up to the Villanova Championship Parade at 12:50, 10 minutes before the parade was supposed to start. I walked south down 20th street and the crowd got thicker with Villanova fans as we approached Market Street, where the parade would march. I looked down at my phone: 18% percent. I had done a pretty shitty job of keeping my phone charged, but it would be good enough to get some pictures for Oogeewoogee from the parade. A tougher mission would be to get on the parade rout, but as soon as I got to 20th and Market I started looking for my in.
Along market street, it was a dense throng of Nova supporters. Not as dense as the parade down Broad Street in 2008 when the Phillies won the World Series, but still dense. 2008 had been like Caesar descending on Rome. Still, ticker tape rained down from a construction site four stories up on the corner where some workers lined up with Villanova signs, neon vests and hard hats. Below, I snapped photos of a convertible white limousine with “Villanova 2016 National Champions” painted on the side. On my left, the Conestoga High School marching band warmed up with drum cadences as they prepared to lead the way on the parade rout.
Here’s my opening, I thought.
I hung back with some of the parents at the back of the line who were supervising their marching spawn. They seemed to be pretty carefree about my presence as a lurking stranger around their adolescent children, but after a little bit I got self-conscious of my status as a lurker among these children. I slid up along the side of the lines of tubas and trombones and acted like I was a teacher supervising them, pretending to give them reproachful gazes. Just then the band started playing a tune together and marching in place. As they started moving, I started moving. When we got to the intersection where a dozen policemen were holding back the crowd I slipped in between two of the lines of the flutes and piccolos and stepped out onto the parade route.
I was in. I immediately reached down to grab my phone and start taking pictures of my victorious steak-on. It was dead. What the fuck? It was just at 18 % five pictures ago. So now I was at the mercy of the 21st century paradox: pics or it didn’t happen. If I snuck onto the parade rout, and didn’t take pictures, did it really happen?
For now, I couldn’t worry about that. I had to make sure I could stay unbothered on the parade rout. I was dressed pretty inconspicuously, but I couldn’t just stand there. Some other photographers were taking pictures, and some even with iPhones. So what could I do but fall in line? I turned my recently-dead phone sideways and started snapping fake pictures. I’m sure that I sold it where I didn’t look stupid, but I did indeed feel like an idiot as I framed up shots of the passing dance teams, former players, school administrators and Main Line dignitaries riding on fire trucks. Behind me morning-drunk college girls with painted faces screamed. Middle aged dads held their kids on their shoulders. Old men in wheelchairs held up signs cheering on their conquering heroes.
After about a half hour of everyone parading themselves about, some opened-top tour buses came bearing coach Jay Wright, the players and the championship trophy. They leaned over the sides, dancing, pointing, throwing out rolled up tee-shirts to the fans who were screaming, going wild. This would be the most revered these young men might ever feel, save maybe sneaking onto an NBA Championship team and sneaking onto a parade float much how I had snuck onto this parade route. Every motion was acknowledged and mimicked by the people. Eye contact was thirstily pined after by fans, an indelible shared acknowledgement of this immaculate celebratory moment.
As the main convoys of the parade reached the intersection where I was fake-snapping, I had to make a spit-second decision on whether to let the parade pass me or to keep up. And it wasn’t really a decision. I started walking with the bus as soon as it got next to me, just feet from the players. I was going to milk this parade experience for all that I could. The two buses were flanked by some 20 to 30 bike cops, but they mainly just are trying to create a perimeter around the buses and weren’t really concerned with singling people out to expel them from the parade route.
I circled around the two bigger buses like a little fish following around a pair of whales in the ocean. I drifted up to the front and caught some of the second-hand glory that was radiating off of tournament MVP Ryan Arcidiacon. I fell towards the back and watched Championship hero Kris Jenkins smiling over the city of Philadelphia, a city he owned as a college junior. For two blocks I stayed with the championship buses absorbing every ounce of the outpouring of love and shared joy.
Then, I decided, it was my turn.
I broke off from the buses. They were moving at a snail’s pace. I wanted to fly. The cheerleaders and the rest of the parade had all finished the route by then. There were the National Champions behind me and City Hall in front of me, with 60,000 Philadelphians lining the streets on either side. The sun came through onto Market on 17th street, and I took it as a sign. I walked dead down the middle of Market as the people lined the road. This was my parade now. I walked briskly past the screaming fans who were looking behind me at the team. I didn’t care where they were looking. At that moment I realized there was probably never going to be another parade route where i had this much unbridled access.
This parade was for everything. That really good science test I had in high school. The tennis spirit award I won. That time I threw a wadded up piece of paper across a whole room into the tiniest trash can and there was no one there to see it.
Then, unexpectedly, some groups of people actually did start calling my name. I did a double take. I waved. I even got stopped to take some pictures on some strangers Snapchats. When I got to 15th street, right in front City Hall, the first cop on the route who even seemed to notice me came up to me and asked me, “What are you doing? Where is your pass?” Right away I knew the game was up. I didn’t have a pass and it never helps to lie about something I couldn’t produce.
“I’m just trying to get to the El on 13th and Market,” I said. “I’m not even here for the parade.”
“Just go around the side there he told me.” And I did.
I told my roommates the story later that night.
“Let me see some pics,” they said.
I told them I my phone had died.
“Oh yeah!” They laughed at me. “I’m sure you snuck onto the parade rout and went through the parade right along with the team.”
No pics and it didn’t happen.