July 12, 2011
I felt like Billy Pilgrim in Kurt Vonnegut’s "Slaughterhouse Five." I had become unstuck in time. It wasn’t a flashback in the normal sense. Trust me, if it were, with my real-time accumulation of frequent-flyer miles, I would have recognized it! No, this insertion into the morning of July 5, 1971, unfolded in a quite seamless fashion.
A little after 11:00 a.m. the day after this year’s Fourth of July festivities, it occurred to me that it had been exactly 40 years, almost to the minute, since a seemingly inconsequential butterfly effect, in this instance an errant water balloon, changed Park City’s cultural history forever.
All of a sudden, I found myself early on the day-in-question in my old living room up behind the Miners Hospital near the base of the then Treasure Mountain Resort. Sporting 40 years less girth, brand-new red, white, and blue suspenders, and an entry-level pair of cowboy boots that were correctly judged by a friend to be "more show than go," I chomped at the bit.
Having arrived in town late during the previous summer, this would be our first Park City Fourth of July celebration, although it would be held on Monday, July 5th, due to the Fourth falling on a Sunday. Virginia, strutting the indigenous side of her mestiza ancestry with long black braids, not surprisingly looked stunning — a total head-turner.
Off we headed to Old Town, parking near the old Chinatown ruins in Swede Alley before strolling up Main Street. We quickly came upon a quintet of friends lounging in their tragically-hip fashion against the Elks Building.
Ron Corbridge, Henry Masters, and Michael Almeida were Compton, California, homeboys who we’d known for years and were current housemates in hippie-pad digs midway up Marsac Avenue. Dale Delamos, who had just finished seeing the Miners Hospital through its first season as a boardinghouse, and his cousin Regan Dale, who would go on to become a legendary boatman in the Grand Canyon and elsewhere, rounded out the group.
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My brother O D McGee, although we may have called him Dick for short back then, appeared, as usual, out of nowhere. Bedecked in the 100-gallon cowboy hat that Corky Foster had recently bestowed upon him, McGee was looking to "borrow" Nikos, our Newfoundland puppy, and take him for a walk along the parade route. He was out "chumming" for young lovelies, of course, for Nikos was a proven chick magnet.
Next we ran into "Big George" Prudence, a personality-rich scion of a longtime Park City clan. George, not all that much bigger than the Memorial Building, was costumed-up in full-on Keystone Kop regalia. Although he was a truly gentle soul, we still gave his wildly-gesticulating baton a wide berth.
Continuing up Main Street, we ran into Gary Burdick and Brian Carter, both "cowboyed-up" and loaded for bear, and then, Mark Willoughby and Big Sandy, L.A. expatriates all. Mark and Sandy, after commandeering a couple of chairs from inside the Buffalo Grill, were settled down out on the street with beverages in hand waiting for the parade to begin. Then it did!
"Slumgullion," a rock band with a fairly large following among the quickly-increasing ski-bum population, rode atop the power company truck (Live Better Electrically) straddling the collapsible arm of the "cherry picker." The only time the itinerant-mining population ever got to see them play was when they were performing bump-and-grind downbeats and rim-shots for strippers Shirley and Jerry at the C’est Bon.
Although it seems like they played all over town, their main gig was as the house band at the fine old Oak Saloon on Main Street. "Rabbit" tended bar at The Oak along with Melbourne Armstrong, while awaiting results of his bar exam. On this day he paraded in full clown getup nearly two years before the first "Clown Day."
The most memorable parade entry, and the one that most delineated the cultural chasm in the Park City of that era, was the "Peace Float." With its Conestoga wagon silhouette fashioned from evergreen boughs, draped with American flags, and crammed full of "situation ethic" rowdies, it was hard to miss.
Especially after it went by and you could see the flag on the back flaunting a large white peace sign in lieu of stars. It was then that a water balloon, more than likely aimed in jest, soared overhead and struck a local of the female persuasion. The butterfly stirred. We were on the cusp of chaos. We’ll go there next week! Bring a baseball bat!
Jay Meehan is a culture junkie and an observer, participant, and chronicler of the Park City and Wasatch County social scenes for the past 40 years.