Adolpho Garcia is famous - you just donât know it yet. During a 10-year span lasting until 2002, he drove floats in the Rose Parade.
âAll they see is a float going down and thatâs all they see,â the 63-year-old says of parade-goers.
Historically, drivers are hidden inside the float. âWeâre just the unsung heroes,â he says.
For the past 23 years, heâs 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.
âThe process of driving is: The driver sits in the back, basically blind. You have an observer in front and heâs basically telling you what to do.Â âLeft âŚ right âŚ a little faster âŚ slow down.ââGarcia says. âWe donât see anything, so weâre relying on our observer.â
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 Yearâs 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.
âSome of them (floats) are 60-70 feet long,â Garcia says. âWhen youâre 40 feet from the front, the observerâs telling you to do something, and by the time you do it, you make the turn you're still in the back. Itâs like driving a semi (truck) blind,â he says.
Maximum speed is a mere 4 miles per hour. But when yourâe so low to the ground it seems like youâre really moving, Garcia says. Around the driver is a steering wheel, a cable for the throttle and a foot brake to stop.
âThe thing about a driver is, if you hit somebody itâs not your fault.Â Itâs the observer's fault, because youâre doing what he tells you,â he says.
Once Garcia crawls into the float, heâs there four to six hours.Â âI donât drink or eat six hours before, he says. âThat way I donât have the feeling.â
With no windows and the engine block next to you, it gets hot inside - up to 150 degrees, Garcia says. âYou start out in sweatsâ he says, âand by the time you get to the end youâre in shorts because it gets warm in there.â
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.
âWhen you tell me Iâm going to drive 5 1/2 miles down a stretch of very important road in Pasadena Iâm going to tell you that youâre crazy,â Dancel says. âTo be one of the chosen few (drivers) is an honor.â
With that honor comes hazards â try left-behind horse manure stuck in a hot engine compartment.
âIâve known drivers that have gotten it all over them, says Garcia. âThey run over it and it comes right inside the float.â
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.â
âPeople wonder how it happens that no one sees you in there and all of a sudden, they see you crawl out and they go âWow! Must be neat!âÂ âHow do you get to do that?â âWhere do you sign up?â and I tell them well you gottaâ get a license to drive a float!âÂ he says.
âNot true,â he chuckles.
âIf you do it once youâll want to do it again, guarantee it!â
âAs long as youâre not scared of confined areas."
Shoppers at Mitsuwa Marketplace in Los Angeles are worried about food contamination amid concerns over airborne radiationÂ from Japan's Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plantÂ reaching California.
Mei Lee, 26, is stocking up on nori, the Japanese name for dried seaweed, and udon noodles. Â She rummages through shopping bags and holds up several packs of nori.
"This is from the ocean, Â itâs not very far from the nuclear power plant, so Iâm worried about radiation" she says.