Sunday marks the return of one of the city’s oldest and proudest traditions, as the 40th Pasadena Doo Dah Parade hits the streets on the east side of town with an odder array of floats than ever. Along with longtime favorites such as The Billionaires, Count Smokula and the Lawn Chair Drill Team, this year’s parade entries are showing a surprising trend towards modern technology.
While the parade will place a strong focus on Doo Dah Queen Imani Phoenix and Grand Marshal Marty Coleman, parade co-organizer Patricia Hurley of the Light Bringer Project says that floats like the seven-foot-tall animatronic wonder called “Cyclops” will also draw plenty of attention from attendees.
“It was created by a real human engineer who created this for fun, and it spits water, moves via wheelchair and can be controlled by remote,” says Hurley. “It reflects a growing use of animatronics and robotics in the parade, as people are finding various ways to take their expertise and spare time and play. That’s how they get the steam off from their more high-pressured jobs.
“We’ve long had motorized couches and a dining-room table that becomes a bicycle, as people work all year to tinker on their floats,” adds Hurley. “There are very few opportunities to put them out there, so I think Doo Dah is very good for that.”
The selection of Coleman as this year’s grand marshal also reflects the parade’s freewheeling spirit. The 86-year-old activist will take a victory lap for her decades of leadership in countless causes. Coleman had been a well-heeled housewife who enjoyed carefree living in La Cañada Flintridge until her husband’s death in 1979, when she found a new purpose in life by engaging in anti-nuclear activism and became the outreach director for the Inter-Faith Center at All Saints Church.
Coleman also founded Pasadena’s long-running “Conscientious Projector” screening series, using documentaries as a platform to discuss relevant issues.
“I want to live to be 105 years old,” she says, “because I have that much more work to do. In this era of unusual crises in politics, it’s become even more important that we respond with resilience and passion in our community. I think the Doo Dah is a wonderful place to build camaraderie among people in a year of arguments and disagreements.”
Meanwhile, Queen Imani Phoenix won the votes of more than 25 judges at the tryouts by offering her inspirational story and a vivacious Aretha Franklin impersonation. Born Armond Anderson-Bell in a South Central L.A. neighborhood, where gang violence was reaching an all-time high, Anderson-Bell was raised in a highly masculine environment in which his father was an auto mechanic and an uncle had played for the Buffalo Bills.
When his family surprised him by being accepting of his decision to come out at age 15, Anderson-Bell began to engage in a lifetime of activism for gay rights. Now, as a 38-year-old community activist, the current Doo Dah Queen works with numerous nonprofit organizations and initiatives which advocate for LGBT and others’ rights.
“I came to see the parade last year because I love the idea of satire and people stepping outside of their comfort zones,” says Anderson-Bell. “Watching from the sidelines, someone in the parade caught my outfit and asked me to join his float. So when I tried out for Queen, I was just hoping someone would recognize my spark. And I believe in order to wear a crown you have to have gone through something and learn humility. I take it seriously.”
The 40th Occasional Pasadena Doo Dah Parade starts at 11 a.m. Sunday along Colorado Blvd. between Altadena Drive and San Gabriel Blvd., Pasadena. Free. Call (626) 590-7596 or visit pasadenadoodahparade.info.