(Don't want to read my stupid thoughts? Go straight to the Mermaid Parade Gallery!)
While on the train to the Mermaid Parade, I had some time to plan how I wanted to photograph the event. The parade would start near the entrance of the Stillwell Ave. train stop, but I knew that the route would probably be filled in that area by the time I got there (I was right). My next area of choice was further along the route but on the more scenic and interesting Boardwalk. Success! Plenty of space and empty areas around 12:15pm when I arrived, so I posted up against a metal barrier and put my equipment together.
I only brought two lenses along because 1) I wasn't sure how much space I would have to maneuver once the parade started, and 2) I didn't feel like carrying around an extra 20lbs when I knew I would most likely rely on one lens, two at most. Good thing I know myself, because I ended up only using my 24-105mm F/4.0 for the entire time. It's reliable and has been worth the money I spent on it since day one.
Around 12:45pm, the Boardwalk started to fill up with onlookers and revelers, some dressed in outrageous and sequins drenched costumes while others opted for the simple shorts and t-shirt outfit. The closest I came to fitting into the theme of the festivities was wearing a bandana that could pass as pirate apparel. Truthfully, I just like wearing bandanas because they keep my hair back without giving me a headache like headbands or hair ties. It also helps me look tough on the subway so that creeps don't think about swiping my equipment.
It was a surprisingly nice day for a parade. After the previous days' sweltering heat, the sea breeze and sunshine felt amazing. Everyone around me seemed to be enjoying it as well, cheerfully chatting and drinking overpriced mixed drinks from comically large containers. We were happy to be there and ready to see some fun costumes (and possibly boobies!).
But then the official start time of the parade, 1:00pm, rolled around, and there was no sign that the parade had started or was close to starting. It's not a big deal and not unheard of for a parade to start late. It's difficult to get hundreds of people organized into one place! We all went on making small talk and watched the daredevil/crazy people on the Boardwalk Flight ride swing back and forth above us, but we were anxious to see some mermaids and mermen strutting their body-painted, sparkly stuff!
Uh-oh. It's 2pm. Where is everyone? Why haven't they started? Maybe they did but we're just really far down the route? Wait, I just checked Twitter--no one is live Tweeting photos of people parading so I don't think they've started yet. Is it just me or did the sun get stronger? This is starting to get ridiculous, why haven't they started? Oh man, I should have brought a bottle of water or something with liquid. And was this trash can behind us the whole time, because it's starting to smell funny...WAIT! THERE'S SOMETHING HAPPENING! IS THAT SOMEONE IN AN OCTOPUS HAT?
Just like that, everyone began to smile and cheer again, our enthusiasm growing with each new costume. The people in the parade were fantastic, interacting with the crowd and actively encouraging us to join in the fun. And that's the key word for this parade: fun. It wasn't rowdy like the St. Patrick's Day Parade, it wasn't so jam-packed that you could barely breath like the Puerto Rican Day Parade, and it wasn't corporate and sterile like the Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade. The Mermaid Parade is still new and young enough to still have the enthusiasm and quirkiness that it's founders wanted. This was a parade where you could be comfortable being yourself, play dress up, and not worry about other people judging you. This parade was sincere.
People make a big deal about the nudity, but it's not nearly as salacious as the media makes it out to be. The women that chose to go topless were so comfortable in their skin that you almost forgot they weren't wearing a bra. The crowd was very respectful of all of the participants, no matter what their shape or orientation. I don't think I heard any lewd comments or inappropriate exclamations from anyone around me. In fact, the "rowdiest" group of people across the way from me were mostly shouting funny ocean related one-liners and complimenting the parade participants on their costumes. There were many children involved in the parade, too, and almost none of them seemed to notice or mind the nudity. They were having too much fun waving at the crowd as we "Aww"-ed at their adorable mermaid/pirate/sea creature costumes.
This was probably the most wholesome and enjoyable parade I've attended in New York City. I'll be honest, I didn't stay for the entire parade because I had a baby to get back home to and my left foot was starting to go numb from the awkward position I was standing in to take pictures. Otherwise, I would have gladly stayed longer and partied with all the lovely sea creatures I saw that day.
Will I go again next year? Most likely. And I'll probably bring my toddler dressed as some sort of shellfish.