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Everything’s coming up roses in Pasadena

Published in The Battle Creek Enquirer

Growing up in South Pasadena, Calif., meant that we claimed the Rose Bowl and the Rose Parade as our own. I remember piling into the family station wagon before dawn and heading to the parade route, wrapping up in comforters because it might get down to 50 degrees.

We would sit in lawn chairs, waiting with high anticipation for the parade, while sipping hot chocolate. When I was old enough, we were allowed to bring sleeping bags and sleep out on the parade route. You can grab a curbside spot on New Year’s Eve at noon.

As a teenager, I remember staying up all night walking up and down Orange Grove Boulevard, warming my hands at the small fires along the way. We would wait for the floats to move into position so we could get an advance peek. It was a giant street party. I was so tired one New Year’s morning that I slept through the entire parade.

The parade started in the winter of 1890 to promote Pasadena as the “Mediterranean of the West.” Visitors from the frozen parts of the country were invited to enjoy a mid-winter holiday, where they could watch games such as chariot races, jousting, foot races, polo and tug-of-war in the sunny California climate. Given that so much blooms all year long in the Golden State, a parade was added to the other events, featuring carriages decorated with fresh flowers.

My hometown has been building its own float with volunteers since 1910. We would show up every year, gluing flowers, seeds and greenery on the metal structure. Try attaching poppy seeds by the bushel! Most floats are now built by professional float-building companies and take nearly a year to construct.

This New Year’s Day, the 125th Rose Parade will travel for 5 ½ miles down Green Street and Orange Grove Avenue, filled with spectacular floats, marching bands and equestrian units. If you sleep through the parade, you can view all of the floats parked along Sierra Madre and Washington boulevards for a $10 ticket. It is something special to see the floats up close.

While you can decide to attend the Rose Parade on a whim, getting a Rose Bowl ticket is always tough, as many fans from Michigan State just found out. Go Spartans!

The first Tournament of Roses football game in 1902 also featured a Michigan team against Stanford. For the record, the University of Michigan routed Stanford that year, 49-0. The score was so lopsided the game was replaced with Roman-style chariot races (inspired by the literary classic “Ben-Hur”) until 1916, when football returned permanently.

Hotel rooms are as tough to find as football tickets during the first week in January. My two favorites places to stay don’t have any vacancies this particular week, but are worth a stop on a later trip. If you like small intimate bed and breakfasts, I love The Bissell House, right on Orange Grove. The three-story yellow shingle Victorian was built in 1887 and offers seven charming rooms and a swimming pool. For grand hotels, try the Langhum Huntington, a five-star, 380-room hotel sitting on 23 manicured acres. The Langhum has a nice outdoor bar and a top-notch restaurant, The Royce Wood-fired Grill.

Pasadena offers many excellent restaurants, which will be very crowded during the Rose Parade and Bowl festivities. If you can get into the Grande Orange Café, you will love the funky décor of the Del Mar train station. The swordfish tacos on made-to-order tortillas were great. Lucy’s “spiked” lemonade with a sprig of fresh rosemary went well with the tacos.

If you travel just a few more miles to my old stomping grounds in South Pasadena, you can choose from dozens of restaurants with fewer crowds.

Here’s a quick list:

• Gus’ Barbeque has been a landmark for 60 years and serves classic comfort food, including top-rated barbeque.

• Firefly Bistro offers innovative California cuisine. I especially like the brunch.

• The Fair Oaks Pharmacy and Soda Fountain is the stop for a hand-dipped milkshake.

• Since 1971, Shakers Family Restaurant has been the place to gather for a breakfast at any time of the day or night. It’s open until 11 p.m. and will be open New Year’s Day.

• Buster’s is a wonderful local coffee shop. Bring a newspaper or a book and just hang out.

The Rose Parade and Rose Bowl are once-in-a-lifetime events, but Pasadena and its environs are worth a visit anytime. Who knows, you may meet someone who remembers me!

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