New York West Indian carnival brought to abrupt end
by Walter Edey
Rain has never stopped a carnival parade. However, the number of police officers on the streets, the presence of new barricades and restrictions, the significant reduction in bands and crowds, and a 4:30 p.m. start to garbage clean up certainly left one to ask: Is the Annual West Indian Day Parade simply gasping for clean air or has it breathed its last breadth?
About two hours past noon, the sky turned grey, and the expected threat of rain became real, as the music and message of a large decorated truck invited all to jump for Jesus. Behind it, was a large non-costumed band — Haiti Live and Direct — and a huge truck carrying sweet French rythmns.
Unlike years ago, moving along the sidewalks and getting to the rail was relatively easy. There was still room for the people who gathered to meet the traditional afternoon peak.
At about 3:25 p.m., four white New York Police Department cars slowly motored along the parade route. An onlooker standing behind barricades near the junction of Albany and Eastern Parkway, shouted: “Officers, is it done?”
The officers nodded, smiled and drove on.
Meanwhile, Paulette — one of a group of Bajans who had driven in from New Rochelle — standing under umbrellas exclaimed:
“If it done already, it is not good. What are all these people going to do until six o’clock, make trouble?”
This was classic Bajan — the devil always finds work for idle hands to do.
Truth be told, the parade had suddenly come to an abrupt end. Clearly, the expectation of a p.m. finish had gone. Indeed there was time and space for mischief, initiative, and independent action.
Thankfully, vendors, revellers and onlookers filled the space in time honourably and up to the time of writing, there were no reports of misbehaviour.
Suddenly, “nut crackers”, a potent drink of fruit juice and rum was three for ten; the stalls of DJ’s peddling music became loud mini dance halls, where persons were jumping; a Jewish vendor selling lemonade from the space in front of his home was dancing and attracting attention; and some revellers were posing and taking pictures with their family and friends.
At one point, a burst of sirens persuaded some to scamper down Nostrand Avenue. Along that avenue, Cocks, a Bajan restaurant, was full; a Trini sat beating steel; another group draped in Trinidad flags jumped and dance to their own music; and at Herkermer Place and Nostrand, about 100 Bajans — some from Boston and Philadelphia — made their own merriment, playing dominoes and cards. Mark Stoute was beating a kettle drum to music from his car.
At some time we will hear the organiser’s perspective. As for now we can only note that change is in the air. This includes participation of Barbadian organisations, the view that the parade is a good launch pad for Crop-Over promotions and the growing presence of young spectators (including Barbadians) who wear costumes made from their countries flags.
What is ironic, is the fact that the 46 Annual West Indian Day Carnival parade appears to stumble at a time when the political advertising on trucks and on the street appeared to be at its highest.