Some divide human beings into winners and losers. Our very own prez’s chief tool.

I don’t espouse to win-lose philosophy. I prefer win-win.

It’s the classic premise of relationships.

  • for marriage to succeed, each spouse must espouse win-win
  • a salesman only succeeds when he seeks win-win
  • friendships rely on this bargain, too

My Rose Parade float ride January 1, 2003, was a pleasure for me and many. Let me tell you how, in my short story, A Ticket to Ride –

‘I hung up the phone, in shock. Like as asthmatic entirely wheezed out by surprise. I wasn’t often stunned speechless, but… I had a ticket to ride a Rose Parade float.

Who among several hundred people was I gonna call? The silly Ghostbusters song became brain Muzak, so I boogied around our home, high fiving the lamps in each room with booty bumps for the back of the chairs, a personal pre-parade romp.

First I called my mother, who, behind my frugal father’s back, had purchased three of my raffle tickets. She’d probably invested what a week of groceries cost ($30) in the Indiana town where my parents lived, the one that I had left behind to live in California. My dad, a dedicated Lions Club member, regularly sold the most raffle tickets for his club’s causes, so sales and service shook hands in my heritage. But I’d left the nest, so he wouldn’t invest, and that’s the way he was.

Dad often teased me, “Where’s your organization’s float in the Rose Parade?” Now I could regale him, “Here’s the float, Dad – and I am riding on it!” My mother, master of the family spiel, would share the news with him.

You may wonder why I didn’t call my beloved husband?  He was a salesman, traveling on business in another state and probably in a meeting. It was November 2002, and the world didn’t yet text. Life with a sales-and-marketing man required self-reliance and patience.

Earlier, in July, my service club, Soroptimist International, announced a fundraising plan to sell raffle tickets to ride its Rose Parade float. I invested immediately. After all, attending the parade and game with my collegiate football team prompted the move from Indiana to California. Further, my immediate family assembled at my folks’ home to celebrate the holidays on New Year’s Day. I could interact without the expense and ravage of jet travel or the melodrama inherent in family gatherings. This was an opportunity to ride on.

So I got inventive. The raffle-ticket-to-ride was a fundraising vehicle, I surmised, for the $150,000 float tab was ostentatiously high, especially to an international organization with clubs in the third world and the emerging economies of Europe. There was no budget for a Rose Parade float, an idea advanced by some sun-addled Californians. The organization needed all the help it could get; “if it’s to be, it’s up to me” was my everlasting motto.

The float theme was “Dare to Dream”, so I did. Dream with a scheme, that is, and my enterprise began.

I asked every person I knew, and even a few I didn’t, to purchase a $10.00 raffle ticket – and allow me to write my name on it. Among my southern California Soroptimist peers the Rose Parade wasn’t a big deal, but everyone understood fundraising. A ten-dollar bill was easy to part with, so many, many responded.

My endeavor led me to Laura Buffum, a 90-year-old woman who’d been a member of the founder club In Oakland, CA. She lived in a seniors-only apartment complex in Irvine, and we were casually acquainted. She was a robust, elegant woman with a precise French twist. She wore the organization’s prestigious Laurel Society pin as a broach. Her assurance, handshake, and quick-to-smile face affirmed her retired businesswoman status. She eagerly bought a ticket – only one on a fixed income, she demurred. She twinkled as she recounted that she’d championed the previous Soroptimist float in 1971. The cost for the float was then $70,000. She reveled in the opportunity to share her pride, a pinnacle of achievement. Thrilled that the organization entered another Rose Parade, not abandoning her ideal. It had taken thirty years to re-ignite the dream among a group of squabbley women.

As summer blended into fall, I continued my mantra, “Do you want to buy a $10.00 raffle ticket and let me put my name on it?” I plied everyone I encountered. I raised over $3000.00, so the raffle drum was stuffed like an illegal election… and yet I was surprised by the early November call that I won the opportunity to ride the Rose Parade float. I knew Laura would be thrilled and left a message on her answer machine.

December Saturdays found us with other volunteers in the float-building barn near the Rose Bowl. Mecca land. My husband, Larry liked chores, so he went along. Large ones, small ones, simple or complex – all appealed to his sense of responsibility and fueled self-esteem. He worked high on the float, helping Amelia Earhart’s sepia-toned photo come alive with floral precision.

On the floor below I was covering the Soroptimist logo sign with blue statice, musing about its parallel word: status. As a rider, I had the latter, yet my friends cut me no slack. They teased me for sticking my tongue between my lips like a pacifier in reverse, the better to focus my fingers. Anything to ease me through the day of my husband aloft, praying that he performed on the wings of angels. Glue stiffened my jeans where I often wiped my fingers.

But who cared? I had my ticket to ride.

The float build was a wholly energizing team effort. Sixteen million people would be watching the Rose Parade on their TV screens. The colorful alert of our giant floral display carried the boon of advertising our service club more cheaply than a TV ad campaign. If we could sustain the camera’s attention. The seaweed paper bits that Larry carefully plied to the pupil of an eye would sparkle in the perennial sun of Parade Day and catch the camera’s eye as the float glided down Colorado Boulevard, nearly level with the media commentator stands.

With just the right glint, she might appear to wink at my family members who watched televised coverage in Indiana; as well as the viewers worldwide. The stakes were higher than the amble-scramble scaffolding where my husband walked a narrow battered and glue-covered board. Argh, like a pirate on a ship’s plank, he completed his volunteer duty.

Laura Buffum floated in and out of mind. I wondered at her non-response, but my life careened with busy home and work routines. In mid-December, I received a call, but it was not from Laura. It was from her dear friend, Rose, who saw the answer machine light flashing when commissioned to water plants and retrieve accumulated mail. Laura had fallen and had been taken from emergency room to hospital, then to a rehabilitation facility. She had minimal local family. I instantly identified with her plight.

It was Christmas week and, with gifts mailed and client appointments canceled, I had free time. My Rose Parade float ride acquired a noble, humanitarian cause to augment its whimsical, yet egocentric quest. Pay it forward; pay it back. While Larry liked chores, I relished causes.

When I visited Laura in the rehab facility, she smiled quickly to evade my worry, but her magnetic personality was diminished by pain. After my exuberant report, then some subtly unfocused conversation, I departed, noting that her room door wasn’t decorated like others in the skilled nursing facility. I recalled passing a small fabric store on my way to the place, so I drove back and stepped inside a shop right out of the ‘50s. Even the paned windows looked all Leave it to Beaver and Father Knows Best.

White oak shelves filled with abundant, vibrant fabrics projected warmth and cottage charm. The button collection alone could have occupied me for hours, but I was on a mission. The dainty, white-haired proprietress wore a dress with a white lace collar so similar to her hair that her softly rouged face was a portrait perfectly framed. She eagerly joined the scheme to adorn Laura’s door for the holidays, to import cheer and verve.

It was only when the lady smiled after my purchase was complete that I noticed her facial asymmetry. As a speech pathologist by profession, I recognized the signs of a stroke. She may have sustained a stroke, but she still carried on. She spoke little but smiled often.

This encounter fueled my determination to bring Laura to full health as if that was within my capability. It was another dream with a scheme, a goal, an ideal.

A corrugated paper fireplace of simulated brick design soon covered Laura’s private room door, complete with black satin Santa’s boots dangling to foreshadow Christmas Eve. I fastened a red stocking with her name in glitter glue letters to the fake mantel from my husband’s wood-working stockpile. Cascading from the sock top was a coil of raffle tickets to signify our shared endeavor.

The energy in her room escalated with each of my door-adorning visits. We generated a buzz in the facility. Even the Salvation Army volunteers who distributed clean white socks to each bed-ridden soul promised to watch the float in the vaunted Parade.

We rented a small color TV so that Laura would be one of the millions watching the parade on New Years Day. As I waved my bubble wand, I’d be making our personal toast to her health, hoping for magic in the act. She’d become ebullient through her painful situation, mirroring my enthusiasm, but we hoped for more: that she’d have a float ride, too, our euphemism for a ride to return her to full health, living independently in her apartment. (Yes, I decorated her wheelchair.)

Parade day began at 2:30 a.m. We had traffic far beyond the typical to navigate before I was safely on the float by 7:30. I operated without the benefit of coffee – after all, I’d be atop the float for six hours without a bio break, sage advice whispered by a woman who rode the float last year.

My husband dropped me off with the float rider group at the appointed place. Our kiss and hug goodbyes were outlandish, bested only by epic ear-to-ear grins as we followed each other’s face through the crowds. And then, I turned to walk with the others toward the street of dreams, where the Soroptimist float was in the pre-parade line-up.

All of a sudden the float, the one that I’d help to create in the Rose Bowl barn, looked like it had levitated ten feet. My seat was way up there, and I mildly feared heights. The floral scent wasn’t redemption. Surreal. I focused on the spots where I’d personally placed flowers and allowed myself to be guided to my seat, which I imagined as a throne. Then the climb was worth it.

Seated atop the float I could survey a several block scenario and calmed myself enough to regard my high perch as advantage. It looked like the backstage of a theater, albeit with softer, organic props. The bountiful feast of colorful flowers replaced my need for breakfast. The sturdy proportions of the mansions and trees that sided the wide street were large enough to offset the scale of the floral floats that extended as far as my eyes could see. The overall effect was astounding, like a vast movie set wedded to a beehive.

Well-uniformed bands were aligned in formation on one side street, their spangles only outshone by the festooned horses and their riders on another. A few players fiddled with their horns and flutes with the occasional full-fledged rehearsal of a spirited tune, complete with flag-waving girls, the twirl of batons, and some high-stepping routines. The horses, too, were prancing. Red-suited Parade personnel roamed with walkie-talkies at the ready; soon they would oversee the weaving together of the bands and equestrian groups among the 100 floats, a fete of righteously purposeful choreography.

The others on the float weren’t near enough to converse which, without coffee wasn’t thinkable. AAA tow trucks were indiscreet in their readiness for anything to go awry. “Help!” I wanted to say. “Here’s my AAA membership card. I need a mechanic for a fix of my sensory system!” I wanted to enjoy this ride, not merely endure it.

Then a lurch of the float, and I was glad for the seat belt confinement. My adrenaline surged. Our ride began to float, slow at first, then with a little speed. I opened my bottle of children’s soap bubbles.

A joyful shout, “PJ!”, turned my head because a cast of hundreds uttered it. My husband, in a grandstand higher than his float-decorating berth – again on ubiquitous scaffolding – was waving his arms like semaphore signals for “I love you”. He exhorted the entire crowd to join him in shouting my nickname, and the electricity flowed majestic. A camera claimed my smile for posterity in a picture that’s now on our mantel.

As the float rounded the corner onto Colorado Boulevard, my smile and floating bubbles attracted the street cameraman’s eye and I said “Happy New Year” to the world, especially to the people I loved. Without that blessing, the coveted ride would have been nothing. With my greeting and my bubbly sustainable joy, the TV network coverage closed its two-hour time slot.

Five winners (count them in this true story)… that’s a happy ending.