It didn't have flowers or even painted-on colors yet, but the metal frame of Destination Irvine's "Innovation Rocks!" made quite a stir when it rolled out under the watchful eyes of Tournament of Roses volunteers on Aug. 15 at Phoenix Decorating Company.  As the float made a perfect three-point turn on Glenarm and Raymond in Pasadena, a couple taking their dog on an early-morning walk oohed and aahed at the surprise spectacle. 

It's not easy to do a three-point turn in a 55-foot long vehicle where the driver can't see the road and the observer who directs him often depends on orders given by the Tournament of Roses float liaison volunteer or a Phoenix Decorating Company employee.  And then, there's traffic to consider.  Buses chuff up Raymond, trains clack along the tracks, automobiles creep by or stop to give the float room.

Technical inspector examines

A Rose Parade float goes through several tests before it's cleared to sail along Colorado Boulevard on New Year's Day.  Before a float takes the road test, it undergoes a thorough mechanical check of the engine, brakes, and other mechanisms. This is done by a technical inspector clad in white coveralls, one of the 935 volunteers who make up the Tournament of Roses.  Then it goes on the road for the first technical (driving) test, referred to as T1.  "Innovation Rocks!" underwent those tests and will take the second technical test-T2, of course-in the near future.  The final exams come at the end of December when a team of three float judges determine the trophies that will be given to 24 of the 40-plus floats.  

Heidi and Joe Monaly and Rex TheobaldDriver Joe Monaly, Jr. (center) has piloted floats in 19 previous Rose Parades.  It isn't scary driving a vehicle that weighs several tons on a road you can't see, he said, but "It is an E-ticket ride."  His mother, Heidi (left) was there to keep an eye on Joe's toddler son, and caught a ride on another float that was being tested.  Observer Rex Theobald (right) has driven twice; this is his first time in the observer's seat.  When Joe drives past the camera locations, he said, "I try to get as much TV time as possible without getting yelled at." 

A network designer and engineer at Caltech, Joe was just filling in for a sick friend when he started in December of 1994.  "I said, sure!" he relates.  When the animation engine died during judging, he crawled under the float and got it up and running.  "When I came out, Chris Lofthouse (President and CEO of Phoenix Decorating Company) said, ‘You're hired!'"

Float observer Rex Theobald

It's a tight fit hidden away in a flower-covered chemical flask for Rex Theobald.  His job is to keep the float centered on the rose-colored line painted down the middle of the parade route, communicate with the float liaison and driver, and pull the pin on that fire extinguisher if it is needed.  He will peek out of a small rectangular screen that is less densely decorated than the rest of the float, though observers have been known to make the hole a little larger once judging is over. 

Rex works in Irvine at Unisys, so he's the perfect guy to make sure "Innovation Rocks!" has a smooth trip.  "I knew a guy at work who had been driving for years," he said.  His colleague had talked about the experience, and when there was a call for new drivers, Rex answered.

Checklist for float

 The thick sheaf of papers being examined by Tournament of Roses volunteers is the checklist for the Destination Irvine float.  Floats must not only run smoothly and be mechanically sound, they must be able to make the entire route without breaking down-5 ½ miles plus another half mile or so at each end of the parade route-and be safe for the personnel operating and riding the float.  They also make the trek from the float barns to the formation area, for some floats a distance of more than 20 miles. 

How to see the Rose Parade in person

Tickets are available online now at Sharp Seating Company, the official grandstand seating provider for the Rose Parade.  They are priced from $48 to $95 depending on the location, and may be purchased in person, over the phone at (626) 795-4171, or online.  Seats on the north and west, or "off-camera" sides of the route are generally less expensive but the view of the floats isn't as breathtaking.  Parking and programs can also be purchased from Sharp.

Grandstand seats and parking are also available from Pasadena Presbyterian Church beginning in the fall, and both  Easy Parking Service (626) 286-7576 and the City of Pasadena (626) 744-6470 sell reserved parking.

The Destination Irvine Sweepstakes

Of course, winning a Rose Parade prize package is even better than buying seats.  DI is offering people the opportunity to "Find Your Adventure" with a sweepstakes that will award 12 people and three guests each with a trip to Orange County that culminates in VIP treatment at the Tournament of Roses Parade on Jan. 1, 2016.  Each prize is valued at $3,100 and includes round-trip airfare for four people to Orange County, a three-night stay at one of 11 Irvine hotels, ground transportation to the Rose Parade, grandstand seating, and a commemorative gift.  The sweepstakes runs through Oct. 31, 2015.  Winners will be randomly selected and notified the week of Nov. 1. To enter, visit www.destinationirvine.com/roseparade.