The Home of the Brave

by jkatejohnston

12 September 2015

Dear Max,

Yesterday during my lunch break I went to the ticker-tape parade for our hometown heroes, the three young men who tackled the would-be terrorist on that train from Amsterdam to Paris.

Ticker-tape doesn’t exist anymore, but there was a machine blowing small rectangles of white paper into the air. They caught the breeze and rose and turned over and over in the blazing sun. I was on the capitol grounds near the raised stage at the end of the parade route. We stood and waited for the parade to arrive. An M.C. got us all to cheer because it wasn’t a hundred and fourteen degrees. It was probably about a hundred. A fireman ushered a young mother with a baby and toddler out of the sun and into the backseat of a fire truck. People fanned themselves with purple signs that said Sacramento Proud. Mounted CHP parked their horses in the shade.

In a grandstand off to the side, a a quad of cheerleaders in royal blue made noise. Near them, a gospel choir. On the grass nearby, a group of Vietnam vets in jeans, motorcycle boots and leather vests, each carrying a full size American flag. Most had patches on their vests: Loud Pipes Save Lives. My Kid Is In Afghanistan Kicking Ass.

Flags everywhere: people holding tiny stiff flags on sticks, the flags in front of the Capitol and the Third District Court of Appeal at half mast because it was September 11, a biker off by himself waving an extra-large flag that said, If You Love Your Freedom, Hug A Vet.

Finally, a stirring, phones raised high, people stepping into the street. Here they come!

Sac PD on motorcycles going slow. An open black old-time car with a sign on the door FRENCH CONSUL. Someone shouted, “Vive La France!”

A cream-colored convertible packed with waving wide-faced kids and grownups. FAMILY OF ALEK SKARLATOS. I asked the man next to me, “What kind of car is that?”

“Sixty-five Ford Mustang.” A pause. “Sixty-six.”

A long wait. Then another car. FAMILY OF SPENCER STONE. It was an old-time car with spoked wheels. The man next to me said, “Don’t ask me. I’m old, but I’m not that old.”

Another long wait. Mounted cops rode up and down the street, telling people to step back onto the sidewalk. The crowd was about ten deep. People pressed back, and then as the cops passed on, stepped back into the street.

A long wait, five or ten minutes. I thought I could actually feel the temperature rising. Another slow motorcycle and then an open red convertible FAMILY OF ANTHONY SADLER. I hadn’t realized that one of the heroes was African American. A beauty-queen of a sister sat high and waving.

“Camaro,” said the man next to me. Sixty-five or Sixty-Seven. Anyway, mid-sixties.”

Mayor Kevin Johnson in another open car. Navy and cream seersucker suit, cream suede bucks with brick red soles. The phrase, “You go girl,” came into my mind.

A closed black SUV, probably some kind of secret service vehicle, but one window was open and a young white man looked out and waved. Is that him? Is it one of them? ran through the crown. But it wasn’t.

And finally the big float with a human-size statute of liberty and three young men waving. Anthony Stone was in full dress blues and wrap-around shades. His hand was bandaged. Alek Skarlatos wore a turquoise polo shirt, jeans and mirrored aviators. Anthony Sadler wore dress slacks, a maroon dress shirt with tiny lavender dots and a dark tie. They all looked nice and all-American as all get out.

They got off the float, shook hands up and down the crowd, and finally got up on the platform in the sun. Many dignitaries had to be acknowledged. Mayor Johnson gave a speech in which he implied that the three young men were brave not just because they were Americans but because they were Sacramentans. I don’t know if this was supposed to raise a chuckle, but it did.

Then a guy with a guitar sang The Star Spangled Banner. The crown joined in. Sun hats came off. The pledge of allegiance. Which flag to turn to? The best one was about fifty feet long, hung between the fully extended ladders of two fire trucks.

I had to go back to work. But I stayed long enough to hear the French Consul’s remarks. She was unspeakably chic in a cream sleeveless sheath, Jackie Kennedy without the jacket. She made a short speech in English and ended with something in French. I recognized a few of the words because they were like English words. Amity. Life. American. I think she said, “Long live the friendship between France and America.”