As she drove to work Wednesday afternoon, Allie Crawford, 20, remembered thinking, "Why are they all facing the road and watching cars? What is this?"
Crawford serves tea at the Tea Grotto at 401 E. 900 South, right along the route of the Days of ‘47 Parade that will pour through downtown Salt Lake City Thursday morning. Crawford had forgotten all about the parade, so it didn’t occur to her that the dozens of people lining the curb Wednesday afternoon had arrived early. Very early.
The Salt Lake City police department issued a warning Tuesday afternoon that anyone trying reserve space along the Days of ‘47 Parade Route before 6:00 p.m. Wednesday would be guilty of a class B misdemeanor for violating a city ordinance regulating the use of public property adjacent to event routes.
The first spot-savers, equipped with lawn chairs, blankets and water, arrived by 5:00 a.m., 13 hours before they were allowed. By midday, hundreds of people lined the parade route, prepared to pass the night in sleeping bags, intent on reserving prime parade-watching real estate. A miscommunication, perhaps, but police threats had gone unheeded.
"We have this problem every year," Salt Lake City police Det. Greg Wilking said of the early arrivals. "We’re not out to ruin everybody’s good time. If there’s an incident that comes up where somebody’s sectioning off a whole block, and someone makes a complaint, we’re going to deal with it."
"We just want everybody to get along, stay safe and have fun," Wilking added.
Temperatures in Salt Lake reached a high of 101 degrees Wednesday afternoon, but despite the heat, those staking out territory along the parade route were, more often than not, having fun.
"The sleeping out is more fun than the parade," said Carley Straley, 21, who arrived at her family’s spot on 200 East between 200 and 300 South at about 6:30 a.m. By 2:00 p.m., Straley and her family were deep into a game of Risk, an ideal pasttime for anyone with serious time to kill.
Straley’s dad Jeff, 51, had on a red T-shirt that said, "Here for Grandma Lila since 1924." Grandma Lila was Jeff’s mom. Born in 1924 as Lila Belle Johnson,she was the daughter of early Utah pioneers and had gone to the Days of ‘47 Parade as a girl. On July 15 last year, just days before the parade, Lila died.
"Lila always taught us to do things together as a family. Stay close," Jeff Straley said. Dozens of Straleys (and Talleys and Hoopers — it’s a big family), young and old, planned to arrive by evening to camp together and watch the parade in the morning.
About five blocks farther south along the parade route, Rebecca Lovato, 54, sat in the shade of tree in a lawn chair, chaperoning three grandchildren. When she was a girl, Lovato rode in the parade as part of a YWCA youth group. In 1977, Lovato was named beauty queen by the Mexican Civic Center, and she said she stood atop a float to represent Utah’s Chicano community.
The Lovatos, like the Straleys, attend the parade in bulk. Lovato estimated that 50 of her family members would be camped out along the parade route Wednesday evening, eating carnitas, hot dogs, carne asada and potato salad.
"Sleeping out for our family," Lovato said, "is a big, big tradition."
The Lovatos used to camp out farther south, in front of Sacred Heart Catholic Church at 946 S. 200 East. That was the spot that Lovato’s sister, Denise, had always helped reserve.
But 19 years ago, Denise was murdered by an abusive boyfriend. After that, the family moved.
"We try to put it behind us," Lovato said. "We remember her, and at the same time we keep the tradition going."
Copyright 2014 The Salt Lake Tribune. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.