Preparing for the Pulaski Day Parade

Photo-Ian Thomson
A float drives ahead of participants in the Pulaski Day Parade.

BY: IAN THOMSON

Robert De Vito hunched over his desk at the Bond Parade Floats premises in Clifton, New Jersey. A colored chart lay before him listing 27 floats to be transported to midtown Manhattan the following morning, October 4. Outside in the yard, a dozen completed floats were parked against the back wall. For De Vito and his staff, preparations for the annual Pulaski Day Parade were about to escalate.

“We have 30 floats out today for a different parade,” said De Vito, the company president, stubbing out his cigarette and adding the butt to a growing pile in his ashtray. “As soon as they come back we’ll finish up everything we have to for tomorrow. It’s a fast turnaround.”

With tens of thousands of Polish patriots set to line Fifth Avenue in just over 24 hours, De Vito operates on a non-negotiable deadline. Success means sending the crowds home without provoking an unfavorable impression of his flamboyant floats. Failure likely means large-scale ridicule and castigation on the grandest of stages.

Clifton may only be 15 miles from the city, but it feels like a world away. If the town gives the impression of lending itself to the filming of gritty dramas like The Sopranos, that is because it does. It also provides the perfect environment for De Vito’s team to operate.

Bond’s two-acre site is split almost equally between land and building. Inside the garage entrance to the left is De Vito’s office, which opens out into a large square that looks like a high school technical drawing room. On one side of an imposing elevated table lay an assortment of scattered stationery and empty soft drinks bottles. On the other side, 27 meticulously placed diagrams reveal the float plans for De Vito’s team, about 50 full- and part-timers, to obey.

De Vito received plans from each of the communities or sponsors from two weeks prior to the parade up until three days before the event. The diagrams featured photos of previous floats, or sketches accompanied by scrawled instructions detailing the lettering needed for banners.

While previous Pulaski Day parades focused on a central theme, this year’s event broke with tradition to commemorate a number of different landmarks. Jennifer Costa, vice-president of the General Pulaski Memorial Parade Committee—the organization that runs the event—explained that the 2009 parade was honoring, among others, the 70th anniversary of the Nazi/Soviet invasion of Poland, the 65th anniversary of the Warsaw Uprising, and the 20th anniversary of the end of communism in Poland.

But despite the wide variety of float designs on display, the process remained the same for De Vito.

“You go to see Robert and tell him what you want and he draws it up,” said John Wojtkowski, media vice-president for the main parade committee and a member of the Polish community from Bayonne, N.J. “He’s good that way.”

This year’s showpiece float was one of the dozen completed early. Built for the main committee, it featured a portrait of General Casimir Pulaski against a backdrop of Polish and American flags. On its base sat a cannon and a life-sized horse to be mounted on parade day by one of the committee members dressed in full Pulaski regalia.

Ecuadorean Julio Macias was one of a handful of Bond employees diligently applying the final nails and staples to the most complicated floats while waiting for his co-workers to return. He said he had been working on these for three days, but while the structures were complete the red and white tinsel décor still looked bare on Saturday noon.

“We haven’t put the signs on yet,” De Vito explained. “I’ve been worried about the rain.”

By 5 the following morning, De Vito’s team line up the trailers on the street outside his premises. By 8.30 a.m. at the latest, the convoy makes its way to Manhattan via the Lincoln Tunnel. The drivers park the floats on 31st and 30th streets according to their place in the procession.

Thorough planning and experience allows De Vito to remain calm on the eve of his biggest parades, but there is always one factor that he fears: weather.

“We’ve had parades poured on,” he said. “To me, that’s the disaster when they get wiped out.”

Fortunately this year’s parade passed merrily along Fifth Avenue on a glorious Indian summer’s day, but one face was missing from the jubilant crowd—De Vito’s. While the party continued, he was already back in Clifton waiting for his floats to come back so he and his team could start the process again.

Leave a Reply