Eastern Wake: Opinion

Column: Navigating downtown Raleigh on a busy Saturday morning

By Johnny Whitfield

ehyman@newsobserver.com

Since Raleigh doesn’t hold great allure for me, I’m not a big fan of that city’s Christmas parade. I might be a bigger fan of that event if it weren’t held before Thanksgiving, but the chances remain slim that I would attend. And the chances are smaller still that I would tune in to watch it on television.

So imagine my surprise last Saturday, when I went to downtown Raleigh to see the American Indian Heritage Celebration at the N.C. Museum of History, only to find my way blocked at nearly every turn.

The traffic was incredible as I turned down Blount Street, trying to make my way over to The News & Observer parking lot which fronts Salisbury Street.

I had heard that the Heritage event was considered a top 20 cultural event in the South, but I could not believe how many people were downtown to watch it.

After I made one turn, I saw a grizzled old woman slowly pushing her cart filled with cotton candy and little trinkets. Then it hit me.

“Oh, Lord! The parade is downtown today.” I could have cried. I was scheduled to meet a group of Rotary foreign exchange students at the museum at 10 and there was no telling where I was going to be able to park.

I drove around a bit before being dumped off onto McDowell Street. I was getting further and further from downtown when I figured any port in a storm would do. I spied a little side street that ran in front of what looked like a run down community center of some kind.

I pulled in, parked my truck and locked the doors with a quick prayer that the truck wouldn’t be towed off while I was away.

When I finally caught up with my group just a few minutes after I was supposed to be there, we talked to the students about the parade and they were more than excited to go see it. So, off we went. We saw bands, including the East Wake High School Blue Spirit Marching Band and the Cary High Marching Band, which was headed to New York City to perform in the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day parade.

We saw Shrek. We saw a guy throwing fire high into the air with one of those machines they use to fill hot air balloons. We saw a group of international people all carrying flags from different countries and dressed in clothing that represented their home country. What those things have to do with Christmas, I’m not exactly sure, but that’s never stopped anyone from entering any parade anywhere, any time of the year.

Our students were fascinated by the sights once they finally wiggled through the crowd enough to see the festivities.

Though we missed the first part of the parade, the students got enough of a taste to say they’ve been to an American parade. We wandered back toward the Bicentennial Plaza in front of the N.C. Museum of History to see what that celebration was about.

When we arrived, people were lining up along a walkway where participants were preparing to hold their own parade: a parade of nations with people from each of the eight recognized Indian nations in North Carolina.

Everyone marched down the aisle clothed in some of the most colorful regalia I’ve ever seen.

Different groups of people spent much of the next hour or so performing native dances and singing native songs. It was mournful and soulful at the same time.

But the event certainly gave me reason to think about the great diversity we enjoy here in North Carolina. Though our history is largely only recorded from the time white people began to colonize the area, our past goes back so much further.

Our day ended on Saturday about 2:30 and with great excitement, I found my truck parked right where I left it.

Though I’m not sure I’ll be at Raleigh’s Christmas parade next year, I can confidently say Saturday’s experience was a learning opportunity.

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