Employees from Washington Water Power tugged anxiously on long cords tethering a 35-foot balloon they were guiding through downtown Spokane.
There were more cords than volunteers, and the wind was picking up.
Only a dozen employees battled the giant Droopy Dog cartoon character while it bobbed its way through a breezy Lilac Festival Armed Forces Torchlight Parade on Saturday night.
Poor planning forced WWP chairman Paul Redmond and a couple of others to juggle a cord in each hand.
“We didn’t count the ropes,” said Carol Snyder, WWP’s public safety administrator and anchor of the rear of the dog.
Tidyman’s, a second-year balloon handler, had its 50-foot Care Bear well in hand. About 25 employees volunteered to walk the balloon through the parade.
The balloons were two of 201 entries that wound through downtown Spokane. The parade featured floats, marching bands, drill teams, equestrian groups and representatives from all four branches of the military.
“Is it time for the parade?” Lauren Palmer asked as a motorcycle drill from the Spokane Police Department road down Washington with lights flashing and sirens blaring.
The 6-year-old redhead and her 3-year-old brother, Eric, squirmed excitedly in their father’s lap on a crowded sidewalk.
Parade organizers anticipated a crowd of more than 100,000, but rough estimates had the turnout considerably Gretchen Peters, an award-winning country singer, had planned to perform at the Clocktower Meadow.
Participants in a number of other Lilac Festival activities managed to dodge the showers.
Teams from Spokane companies and organizations participated in the 20th annual bed races Saturday morning. The event raised money for the Muscular Dystrophy Association.
A booth with free banana splits in the making near the Riverfront Park Clocktower also was a success, despite a brief surge of rain that sent everyone running for cover.
Warm late afternoon sunshine appeared to dry those who had claimed their seats along the parade route hours early.
Jim and Kamilla Wheeler parked their lawn chairs near the corner of Wall and Riverside about 1 p.m. They packed lunch and dinner in a cooler and cards and a board game in a bag.
It was 5-year-old Nathan Wheeler’s second parade.
“We’ve got rained on, hailed on,” Kamilla Wheeler said. “But it looks like the skies are clearing, so hopefully it won’t rain anymore.”
The Wheelers weren’t the earliest arrivals. People began to trickle downtown shortly after the sun came up Saturday.
By the time the floats, marching bands and giant balloons made their way down Washington to start the parade, tens of thousands of people lined the 24-block route.
Ira Rash and family had found a familiar bleacher seat more than four hours before the parade started. They have filled the same row along Washington near Spokane Falls Boulevard for the past three years.
They think the parade is worth the wait.
“It’s one of the things that keeps Spokane together,” Rash said.
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