30 years in, parade volunteer still coming up Roses
Adolpho Garcia sits in the driver's seat of a Rose Parade float. “We’re just the unsung heroes,” he says.
December 30th, 2011
08:25 PM ET

30 years in, parade volunteer still coming up Roses

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.

A Loyola Marymount float ready for the parade.

“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.

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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.

iReport: The 123rd Rose Parade

“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.

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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."

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Filed under: California • U.S.
soundoff (14 Responses)
  1. banasy©

    These floats are amazing!
    They get more inventive every year!
    I just cannot fathom having to drive one of them; I have a hard enough time driving with an *unobstructed* view...

    Ok, am I the only one who thought of the "Animal House" Homecoming Parade float? The Eat Me Cake?

    December 30, 2011 at 8:32 pm | Report abuse |
  2. Joey Isotta-Fraschini ©™

    Not bobcat.

    December 30, 2011 at 9:26 pm | Report abuse |
  3. bobcat (in a hat)©

    Thank you. They just don't give up.

    What did I miss about that Animal House float. Sounds interesting.

    December 30, 2011 at 9:34 pm | Report abuse |
  4. Joey Isotta-Fraschini ©™

    Although that banasy had the © symbol, I think that it may have not have been she, bobcat (iah) ©.
    This is a strange day here.

    December 30, 2011 at 9:40 pm | Report abuse |
  5. bobcat (in a hat)©

    I know Joey. I don't know what to expect on here anymore.

    December 30, 2011 at 9:42 pm | Report abuse |
  6. banasy©


    Il tuo nome può essere rubato, ma lo stile non sarà mai.

    Actually, that is me.
    I really think those floats *are amazing!

    Have you ever seen the movie "Animal House"?
    It's too hard to explain, but rent it. You'll laugh your toukas off.

    Immodium. Use it.
    Then, GFY.

    No Immodium. Just GFY.

    December 30, 2011 at 10:13 pm | Report abuse |
    • Nuh



      December 30, 2011 at 10:22 pm | Report abuse |
  7. bobcat (in a hat)©

    I can't believe I've never watched that movie. I get it and check it out.
    Man I'll be glad when these kids go back to school.

    December 30, 2011 at 10:25 pm | Report abuse |
  8. Joey Isotta-Fraschini ©™

    I, too, think that the Rose Bowl floats are amazing.
    I've spent wonderful times in Pasadena. For some reason, I was booked a few times into a grand old hotel there when playing in LA, and my best friend studied at the Pasadena Playhouse. Other friends live near there, and I've always enjoyed the town.

    December 30, 2011 at 10:38 pm | Report abuse |
  9. Joey Isotta-Fraschini ©™

    @ Nuh:

    December 30, 2011 at 10:51 pm | Report abuse |
  10. bobcat (in a hat)©

    You know, this troll is starting to get down right hilarious. He's running out of ammunition, so now he goes to name calling. How pathetic can an individual get ? I almost feel sorry for him. It's pretty obvious he can't get anyone to talk to him. How sad.

    December 30, 2011 at 11:05 pm | Report abuse |
  11. Joey Isotta-Fraschini ©™

    @ banasy ©, 10:58 PM:
    Che parole! You were adding to my vocabulary after I went to sleep.

    December 31, 2011 at 8:37 am | Report abuse |
  12. Azizul

    OK so to the creepers sdfenee, the women are pretty. BUT htats still creepy. AND I am jealous you are getting to see all those laterns! Take a good video of them in the sky when there are tons! I want to see that!!!!! I remember when i was a kid, my dad made one of those out of a grocery store plastic bag and let it go off our deck. WOA was my mom mad we had to follow it throughout the neighborhood just in case it caught fire and landed on someones roof! hahahaha oh good times.Anyways, sounds like a good place to be right about now, and congrats on another successful pool sneaking trip!

    March 14, 2012 at 9:12 pm | Report abuse |
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