What we could use right about now, after all the horrors that March is throwing at us, is a parade--noisy, frivolous, colorful, lively, celebratory, cheerful--marching down a main street to the cheers and photo-snapping of crowds lining the sidewalks on either side.
There should have been one today. Barkus on Main was scheduled to start at 2:30 p.m. at Seventh and Main streets in downtown Little Rock and head north to Third and Main. Like so many seasonal events, it's been canceled to protect us from possibly spreading the coronavirus throughout a crowd.
We'll have to make do with happy memories of Barkus: No motorized floats with looming inflatable figures, or drum-banging high school bands, or roaring monster trucks. The stars of this show are dogs. In costumes.
If that idea doesn't make you smile, I am at a loss as to what will.
Organized by Hounds Lounge with the help of additional sponsors, the afternoon-long event's main attraction is highlighted by a festive line of dressed-up dogs strutting their stuff to compete in the categories of best dressed pet, best pet/owner lookalike costume, best small dog costume, and best large dog costume.
There's live music, a beer garden and hurricane station, a crawfish boil, gumbo and other food trucks, and exhibitor booths. Amenities in the past included a pop-up dog park, wag-bag giveaway, and hydration stations.
We've attended every Barkus since it began (this would have been the fourth), even one that was horrendously cold, forcing us two-leggers to bundle up in down jackets and our three rescue dogs--audience members, not competitors--to wear their fleece-lined coats (identical except for bright color borders of turquoise, lime green, and pink).
Being at Barkus, no matter what the weather, is worth it to gather samples of dog treats, meet and greet breeds of canines not often encountered such as Irish setters, Russian wolfhounds, Chinese cresteds, and the increasing variety of cross-bred doodles (Labradoodle, goldendoodle, Bernedoodle, Aussiedoodle), schnoodles (schnauzer/poodle), yorkiepoos (Yorkshire terrier/poodle), and cockapoos (cocker spaniel/poodle). Many of these designer-dog hybrids used to be known as mutts, but that unflattering description is currently frowned upon.
Today's canine-fest would have followed the SoMardi Gras Parade, which happened before everything started shutting down. Organized by the SoMa neighborhood, it started at noon Feb. 22 at 24th and Main streets and headed north to 12th.
This is likely the most homespun of parades, a typical feature of anything SoMa does. Marching along the street were political candidates, floats that looked as if they were assembled in somebody's backyard with materials at hand, classic cars (not all of them lovingly restored), performers with Arkansas Circus Arts (those flashy stilt-walking women make it look so easy) and Rock Town Roller Derby Queens of the Rink.
Float-riders tossed beads and candy (short on chocolate, heavy on Tootsie Rolls and Starbursts) to observers that included loads of kids and many dogs. Dogs love parades.
After the parade was over, visitors gathered at Bernice Garden for the neighborhood's annual Beard & Mustache Contest (if you spend any time along the south segment of Main Street, you know how popular luxurious beards are in SoMa) along with a Second Line band competition, a raffle, live music, and beer on tap.
After SoMa, we were supposed to enjoy Little Rock's St. Patrick's Day Parade on March 14. Organized by the Irish Cultural Society of Arkansas, it was going to reverse its route this year, starting at 1 p.m. at Sixth and Main in North Little Rock, then heading south through Argenta Arts District, crossing over the Arkansas River at Main Street Bridge, meandering through the River Market and along Sherman Street, and ending at Third and Cumberland streets in Little Rock--appropriately in front of Dugan's Pub (which canceled its post-parade block party as well).
We missed out on the music that abounds at this gathering with a mix of marching and bagpipe bands, Irish step dancers, leggy Irish wolfhounds, decorated floats, international cultural groups, antique cars, and local businesses touting wares and services.
Our dogs always attend, although one year my little terrier Paris stepped on a grate on the Main Street bridge and got her foot stuck. She was really scared and let out a screeching howl, which brought a crowd of rescuers--among them a couple of firefighters--who gently massaged the trapped paw out of the metal trap. It was touching to see how folks are willing to help creatures in need. And Paris learned her lesson; she won't go near a grate any more.
It's another regular destination for us, although we missed it last year when St. Patrick's Day fell on a Sunday and I stupidly thought that's when the parade was happening. Turns out it's always on the Saturday before the holiday. But not this year.
Although we've never made it to Hot Springs for what it calls the First Ever 17th Annual World's Shortest St. Patrick's Day Parade along 98-foot-long Bridge Street, it was on our list of Places to Go, especially since the audiences dress up in elaborate green attire with (dubious) Irish connections. And we still haven't, as it too was canceled because of coronavirus fears.
The first-ever parade was staged March 17, 2004. Since then it's grown to encompass two days of music, Blarney Stone kissing, a pop-up pub, official measuring of the parade route, and the parade itself at 6:30 p.m..
This year's grand marshal was to be comedian Cheech Marin of Cheech and Chong fame (audience members of a certain age and social outlook know who he is), and actor Danny Trejo had been recruited to serve as official starter.
Past grand marshals include Ralph Macchio, Joey Fatone, Kevin Bacon, Mark Martin, Jim Belushi, and Bo Derek. It's unclear who gets to choose the grand marshals, but whoever it is has an interesting sense of humor.
Our last hope is the annual Fourth of July parade on Midland Street in Hillcrest, a neighborhood gathering of decorated bicycles and wagons, families and friends in goofy red, white and blue attire, and patriotic music blaring from households along the way, culminating near Pulaski Heights Middle School for cookies, punch, and a reading of the Declaration of Independence by Brent Walker along with cheers and shouted threats of the People's Republic of Hillcrest's intention of invading the Heights.
The parade's slogan: Starts at 9, never on time. That's OK; we just hope we'll be able to join together by then.
Karen Martin is senior editor of Perspective.
Editorial on 03/29/2020