The first St. Patrick’s Day Parade in Savannah was held in 1813 and this year marked the 193rd year of this beloved event. St. Patrick’s Day is THE holiday in the city. It is the second largest parade in the country and the biggest event of the year with nearly 400,000 people on the streets of Savannah celebrating its Irish heritage. The bars in town even have a night dedicated to “St. Practice Day” where the heavy hitters can practice and build up their drinking stamina. It is a week of pure debauchery.
The night before the event many people camp out on the parade route to claim their viewing spot. It’s a tradition. A friend of mine lives on the parade route and invited us over for the festivities. She didn’t make her hubby camp out but she set up chairs in front of her house to save our spots. I walked over on parade day with baked beans, chips, drinks and extra chairs. When I arrived the people who had camped out all night had set up their party spaces. Our chairs were still in their spots however there was another group set up beside us “encroaching” on our claimed area. A lady there was attempting to move our chairs and put her chairs “up front” in their place.
Me: ” Excuse me but those are our chairs. They weren’t put there for just anyone to sit on (me snarkily). My friend lives here in this house and she put those chairs there for us to be able to watch the parade.”
Her: “I’m just moving your chairs so I can save the space behind for my friends who are coming. They’re running late because they overslept. As soon as they get here I’ll move your chairs back up front.”
Me: “How about if you leave our chairs right where they are and you move your chairs behind ours if you want to save the space behind. Or you can just stand there and save the space for your friends who are late”. My feeling was that if you snooze you lose and if you really cared about the parade you would be there early.
Her: “Yeah, I guess that would work”
Two hours later and about fifteen minutes before the parade start I sat in our chairs to wait for the festivities to begin. I “unofficially” appointed myself as the official guard over our space.
The woman next to me ( the one trying to move our chairs) introduced herself and said “hey, I didn’t mean any disrespect. I know that was your spot. I was just making sure I could save room for my friends. It’s all good.”
Me: “I didn’t mean any disrespect either but we have small children in our group and we want them to be able to see and enjoy the parade. And this is my friend’s house (not MY house). Her family should be able to watch the parade from in front of her house. I was just helping my friend by protecting our spot”. Yeah right. Just helping my friend. It’s not about me at all!
Her: “Isn’t it great that Savannah is the only place in the country where people ‘Respect the Chairs’. I come from Chicago and if I put my chairs out overnight they would be stolen by the morning. But not here. People in Savannah love their parade and they always “Respect the Chairs”. No one would steal your chair or your space here. Everyone just wants to have fun”
We proceeded to chat and tell our stories. She is a shop owner in town and has been here for over twenty years. She told me all about her parade attending history and her crazy outfits over the years. She has apparently toned it down. She told me how her 20-something son won’t even sit near her because he is so embarrassed by her. The more she drank the funnier she got. She did not offer me one of her drinks. I wonder why?
I started thinking about the whole encounter and I realized that I did not look so good in the “self awareness” mirror. You see I am an extreme rule follower. Sometimes that causes me to rush to judgment. My initial assessment was:
- This woman is trying to steal our space
- She is breaking some kind of unwritten law
- I must stop her and point out her wrongdoing
- I’m justified in being a bitch because I’m protecting the rights of the parade watching children (who by the way were not my own, were little and could care less, and ended up watching the parade for a grand total of about 5 minutes)
I like to think of myself as a kind and peaceful person most of the time. But when I perceive that someone is “breaking the rules” I sometimes turn into this insane, raging bitch. I did this on St. Patrick’s Day in an unkind way. Before I even knew the other person’s story.
Her approach was brilliant. She apologized and was friendly to me even though I had acted like a lunatic to her. It could have been the number of red solo cups full of champagne she had already consumed or maybe that’s just the way she is. She was nice and funny. And I learned some interesting things from her when I took the time to have a civil conversation with her. I actually ended up having a really good time at the parade mostly because she was so hilarious. A good portion of the time I was sitting in our designated seat section all by myself and ended up offering seats to other people.
This woman was making friends with everyone. Here’s the brief conversation between her and an elderly visitor from Florida:
Her: “Hey Blondie. Come over here and sit down. You’ve been standing for hours.”
Lady from Florida: “That’s OK. I’m fine.”
Her: “Hey Blondie. You need to sit down before you pass out”
Lady from Florida: “No. It’s OK. I’m fine.”
Her: “Hey Blondie. Get your ass over here and sit down”.
Lady from Florida comes over and sits down.
Her: “Now tell me your name so I don’t have to keep calling you Blondie”.
My seat mate was going to be friends with everyone around her whether you liked it or not. I found myself really wanting to be friends with her! And I might have missed out on this whole experience if I had continued to be the hateful rules police. I could have stewed and watched her like a hawk the whole time. I assumed that if she was willing to break the “rules” once she would continue to cause trouble all day. Her apology and explanation immediately changed my attitude. She just wanted to have fun like everyone else at the parade and she had no intention of disrespecting the chairs. From that point on I was willing to give up my seat to strangers who had been standing. It was a joint effort and the camaraderie made the day a lot more fun.
The more I thought about how the day had started the worse I felt. My angry tone could have set the tone for the whole day. Her tone made it better. My perception of the situation was not how she viewed it at all. What I perceive as boundaries may not be actual boundaries. At least not important ones to get all worked up about. They just might be chairs. I learned another valuable lesson that day. Funny how that works! I don’t have to be the self appointed rules police all the time. I need to practice peace, love and understanding first.
I just have to remember to “Respect the Chairs“.
I’m going to look for my St. Pat’s friend next year in that same spot and see if she’ll let me sit with her. I’ll bring the champagne.