My feet were blistered, my ears were ringing, and I was hot, sweaty and exhausted, but I was thrilled. After five hours in the sun, and about three hours of marching, wining, dancing and posing for pictures along the road, the parade was over. I did it.
I’d been wishing I could be in the August Monday Parade for a couple weeks when, with just a little more than week until the event, some members of the Road Town Wholesale and Riteway troupe showed up at happy hour at Village Cay. They had room for everybody and costumes for any body, they said. It was exactly the invitation I’d been waiting for.
There were a few raised eyebrows when I went to turn in my form, but everyone seemed glad to have me. A few days later, I picked up my costume: a reasonably modest dress, some spangly accessories, and – best of all for my fair skin – a wide-brimmed hat and a large parasol.
“What about shoes?” I asked as my anklet and necklace were trimmed to fit and finished off with a few more silver sparkles.
“Wear flats,” came the response. “Trust me, the road gets really hot.”
So on Monday I donned my favourite Chuck Taylor tennis shoes and arrived at Prospect Reef around noon as instructed. With so many people coming and going, it was no surprise that things were a bit chaotic.
Parade marshals herded me and the other early participants toward The Pub. We were to be the 31st entry. We passed the time chatting and posing for each others’ phone photos.
I thought I might be the only first-timer in the troupe, but I wasn’t. There were at least two participants who came from the United States on holiday and were participating in the parade for the first time as well.
Regina was visiting from Washington, DC, with her friend Brandi, whose mother, Chi-chi, returns home to the VI every year at Festival time.
“I love it. It’s a tradition,” Chi-chi said. She told us about previous years, when she and other parade participants would spray-paint their shoes so they would all match. She advised us to drink water slowly throughout the day – chugging would lead to the need for a very inconvenient bathroom break.
She led us to a small patch of shade and we all watched and counted the bands pass on huge trucks. There were at least nine behind us and, of course, one right in front.
When things looked almost ready to roll, organisers made sure we all had a plastic drinking bottle and a towel. Everyone stashed their bags and belongings, and the HD Band played us a few warm-up songs.
It seemed sudden after so much waiting, but we were off — at first just in a clump, but then in a neat, three-row formation. We hadn’t choreographed anything, but everyone danced along to the music. To judge from the response from the crowd, we looked good. I even got pulled aside by several spectators to pose with them in pictures. To judge from the energy everyone still seemed to have when we finished, we felt good, too.
Just to make sure it wasn’t a too-good-to-be-true day, just a few hundred feet from the end of the route, the band’s speakers went out.
We were rescued from having to dance to whatever strains of nearby bands we could hear by a sedan that seemed to be entirely filled with speakers. The driver cruised along behind us with all four doors open, playing recorded music until we reached the Festival Village.
My first Festival was a little like my first year in the Virgin Islands: I showed up knowing nobody and not knowing what to expect, but wound up making friends, learning a lot and having a great time.