Adolpho Garcia is famous - you just don’t know it yet. During a 10-year span lasting until 2002, he drove floats in the Rose Parade.
“All they see is a float going down and that’s all they see,” the 63-year-old says of parade-goers.
Historically, drivers are hidden inside the float. “We’re just the unsung heroes,” he says.
For the past 23 years, he’s been a volunteer for the Phoenix Decorating Co., which builds floats. On Monday at the Rose Parade in Pasadena the company will showcase 44 floats - half of all those featured in the parade. Garcia provides security for the float builder now, but driving is in his blood.
“The process of driving is: The driver sits in the back, basically blind. You have an observer in front and he’s basically telling you what to do. ‘Left … right … a little faster … slow down.’”Garcia says. “We don’t see anything, so we’re relying on our observer.”
The engines are usually V-8s. Equipped with power steering, they possess the longest drive trains in the world.
The Rose Parade, officially the Tournament of Roses Parade, is an annual New Year’s Day rolling party that features a potpourri of colorful floats, marching bands and thousands of adoring parade-goers. The parade is in its 123rd year. The Rose Bowl, the annual college football game is a little younger, being added in 1902.
This year millions will watch the parade then tune into the game, featuring the Wisconsin Badgers against the Oregon Ducks.
What they won't see are the ins and outs of a float.
“Some of them (floats) are 60-70 feet long,” Garcia says. “When you’re 40 feet from the front, the observer’s telling you to do something, and by the time you do it, you make the turn you're still in the back. It’s like driving a semi (truck) blind,” he says.
Maximum speed is a mere 4 miles per hour. But when your’e so low to the ground it seems like you’re really moving, Garcia says. Around the driver is a steering wheel, a cable for the throttle and a foot brake to stop.
“The thing about a driver is, if you hit somebody it’s not your fault. It’s the observer's fault, because you’re doing what he tells you,” he says.
Once Garcia crawls into the float, he’s there four to six hours. “I don’t drink or eat six hours before, he says. “That way I don’t have the feeling.”
With no windows and the engine block next to you, it gets hot inside - up to 150 degrees, Garcia says. “You start out in sweats” he says, “and by the time you get to the end you’re in shorts because it gets warm in there.”
If there are pyrotechnics, the floats may have a separate operator. Sometimes they pose as riders waving to the crowd with one hand and pressing a button to shoot fireworks in the other. In other cases, the driver uses a lever to raise or lower the moving parts on a float.
Phoenix Decorating spokesman Brian Dancel says drivers are held in high esteem.
“When you tell me I’m going to drive 5 1/2 miles down a stretch of very important road in Pasadena I’m going to tell you that you’re crazy,” Dancel says. “To be one of the chosen few (drivers) is an honor.”
With that honor comes hazards — try left-behind horse manure stuck in a hot engine compartment.
“I’ve known drivers that have gotten it all over them, says Garcia. “They run over it and it comes right inside the float.”
The only recognition Garcia gets is by sticking his hand out under the float. Looking through a crack in the door, he can see the fans pointing at his waving hand. He said he once heard from another volunteer that "some lady came running to him and said that they were dragging a body underneath the float - and it was me waving to people.”
“People wonder how it happens that no one sees you in there and all of a sudden, they see you crawl out and they go ‘Wow! Must be neat!’ ‘How do you get to do that?’ ‘Where do you sign up?’ and I tell them well you gotta’ get a license to drive a float!” he says.
“Not true,” he chuckles.
“If you do it once you’ll want to do it again, guarantee it!”
“As long as you’re not scared of confined areas."