St. Patrick’s Day just isn’t the same anymore.
For over a decade the annual celebration of all things Irish — and unfortunately things that have nothing to do Mother Eire (pronounced air-uh, not ear-ree) — meant riding a bus to the Queens-Midtown Tunnel and onto Manhattan’s manic streets for THE parade. The granddaddy of ‘em all, the New York St. Patrick’s Day parade up 5th Avenue in front of hundreds of thousands of people, some of whom are actually not conversing on a cellphone.
That’s the parade any piper worth his salt dreams of. It dates back to 1762 when some homesick Micks and fellow countrymen serving in the British colonial military reconnected to the land of saints and scholars by staging their own March 17 march through lower Manhattan’s narrow streets.
The view from the street is at turns awe-inspiring and terrifying. I played and marched in fair weather and foul, passing St. Patrick’s Cathedral’s imposing Gothic spires, Tiffany’s and other tony shops, the Plaza Hotel and Central Park up to 79th Street. We used to play all the way up to 89th, right to the Guggenheim Museum, but then the city decided it was spending too much on police overtime.
While I think the city looks foolish in its current role as the Sugar Nazi, they heard no complaint from me about loping off those last 10 blocks. Believe me, 30 blocks, much of it uphill, is more than enough.
But I didn’t pipe there last year, nor will I make the march this year. Not sure where I’ll be when this year’s parade steps off on Saturday, on the 16th because the parade is never, ever held on a Sunday, but it’s a safe bet me pipes will remain out in the garage.
The reason is simple. Last year my group, the Peconic Warpipes, fell apart, the victim of internal strife and a lack of interest by many of the senior members. Of course there are other bands out there, including one connected to a Riverhead brewery that rose out of the Warpipes’ ashes, but I have to admit my heart just isn’t in it.
I marched in 10 city parades, in Boston and in dozens of others from the Rockaways to Montauk, but in me sixth decade on this planet the idea of standing in the snow, or rain, waiting for three hours to step off has lost its luster. I am soooooo done with this.
Or so I thought.
That’s not what I was thinking on Saturday as me and the Mrs. watched local dignitaries, Girl Scouts, antique cars, fire trucks, school bands, even a helicopter on a flatbed truck and pipers, of course the pipers, pass us by during Cutchogue’s St. Patrick’s Day parade.
Now I know how a professional athlete must feel when playing days have passed and the view is from the sidelines or the stands. Well, except that I never drew a seven- or eight-figure salary, had multitudes screaming for my autograph, appeared on Letterman or drove a Lamborghini. Other than that, it’s the exact same thing.
The skirl of the pipes grew louder as the bands marched west on Main Road toward the reviewing stand where they stopped, their tartans gleaming in the sunshine of a glorious pre-spring afternoon. They played for the dignitaries and marched off again. That could have been/should have been me up there. Why am I on the outside looking in? Why am I wearing pants? (Knock it off. You know what I mean.)
Then a couple of former bandmates came up to say hi. Great to see ‘em, but boy did it feel awkward.
Soon the horses clip-clopped by, signaling, for obvious reasons, the parade’s end. The crowd dispersed and we walked the short distance home and into the garage. Just before opening the kitchen door I glanced over at the pipes, lying on a cluttered table by the far wall.
Damn, damn, damn.