WELCOME TO the ever-thinner Mummers Parade, a Philadelphia iconic glory that is shrinking faster than a speed freak on Jenny Craig.
Sadly, the parade's hoop-de-doo days are so last century.
There was a time when almost any spot along Broad Street got you a good New Year's Day street show. No more.
We can mourn for the way things were, and I do, or we can figure out how to make the street party as sweet as possible, and I will. Listen to the Oracle, your Parade Pimp.
When the parade starts with the Comic Division - at an agreeably late 10 a.m. this year - the Oracle recommends the east side of Broad. That puts the sun (should there be any) at your back and out of your eyes.
A few hours later, when the String Bands begin to strut, switch to the west side of Broad, again to keep the sun out of your eyes, because it will have moved.
[Editor's note: The Oracle is speaking figuratively and knows the Earth actually moves around the sun.]
It's a beautiful thing when the sun's rays illuminate the amazing costumes, which may stir a feeling of deja vu. For the first time, to hold down costs, String Bands are permitted to reuse costumes, something prohibited in the past.
After the Comics, brace yourself for the Wench Brigades. Although they don't exist in the city's official order of march, the umbrella-carrying, dress-wearing wenches (technically, the dresses are called "suits") will cakewalk up Broad Street.
The wenches are throwbacks to the roots of Mummery and revel in their "bad boy" antics. It's best to view them from behind a sturdy police barricade (especially if you are an attractive woman or have a TV camera).
Since the Comics start at Washington, and the Fancy Brigades depart Broad at Washington, that intersection provides the only place you can see the entire parade. (Washington also offers souvenirs, food and lavatories - but no bleachers, in a cost-cutting move.)
Until last year, Pine and Walnut were prime viewing locations. Both have been scratched, in the city's effort to speed up the parade.
There are only five guaranteed performance points:
* Broad and Shunk
* Broad and Ritner
* Broad and Washington
* Broad and Sansom (at Union League)
* 15th and Market (City Hall, seats are $19)
That's right - performances at Shunk and Ritner, two blocks apart, then a gap of a dozen blocks before Washington, then another mile before the Union League, which pays for city bleachers outside its landmark building.
About a dozen years ago, to help trim the parade's length, the Fancy Brigades made a tradition-shattering decision to leave Broad at Washington and then perform at the Convention Center. The performances are at noon and 5 p.m. Center section seating is $20, side section seating is $15 and - trust me - spend the extra $5. From the side sections mostly you see armpits and anuses.
After the official parade, many Mummers scoot to Mummery's Main Artery, 2nd Street, where many clubhouses are located.
The after-dark, on-the-street celebration is as close to what the Mummers did in neighborhoods before the city coaxed them to Broad Street on New Year's Day 1901. You'll find revelry everywhere between Washington and Snyder.
Two Street is closed to vehicles. Look for parking a block east, under I-95.
Two Street can be raucous and wet, so fine attire is, um, discouraged. Because this is a celebration of friends, family and neighbors, you can feel like an outsider if you arrive single-o. The Oracle recommends heading there with a carful of friends. "Doing" Two Street is something that every real Philadelphian should do at least once.
The last time I did it, the only trouble I had was finding firm footing on the street, which was completely covered with crushed beer cans.
Not that there's anything wrong with that.