At this year’s Progress Days people lined the sidewalks of North Binkley Street and Marydale Drive, some in collapsible chairs, waiting, as the sun burned down from a cloudless sky.
Much better weather than last year, some said.
From far down Marydale, lights flashed as they rolled slowly east. At the interception of the two streets, kids sat listlessly. A police officer rubbed the blond hair of his son, chatting with his wife, then walked back to his squad car blocking off traffic.
Everyone was waiting.
Then it came. A fire-engine-red truck strapped with a veterans banner rounded the corner. Then a train dragging a boxcar, and ambulances and fire trucks tossing candy from their windows.
Kids darted into the streets, grabbed the candy and scattered back to the curbs smiling. Behind the fire trucks, Smokey the Bear strolled around hugging the kids.
The parade was rolling and people were waving and laughing as lollypops and Skittles accumulated at the curbs.
“Hooray for the Weiner Wagon,” a woman shouted, as the hot dog vender turned off of Marydale.
Behind it a pick up dragged a band on trailer. A drummer, guitars, a tambourine and three girls at microphones from the Apostolic Assembly of Jesus Christ sang out into the crowds. A penguin, an elephant and two lions danced alongside.
Then the Corvettes from the Anchorage Corvettes Association. A block’s length of silvers reds, blacks, turquoise, orange and crimson – moderns and classics. Then a hot rod, an old orange V8 Charger, a blue Chevy SS and stock cars, exhausts crackling and engines thundering.
Several minutes later, a tractor and a pickup dragged two boats around the street corner. “East Side setnetters: United we stand” read a banner ahead of the boats.
Further down the street, Corinne Zantow from Kenai sat watching the festivities.
“I love it,” she said. “We came out to see it, and the weather’s been fabulous.”
Between her and her friend sat a stash of candy that her friend had collected.
“Worth coming to,” Zantow said, then grimaced as the smell of horse manure blew up the street.
Beyon Zantow and her friend trotted 26 horses touting a “Tough Enough to Wear Pink” banner. At the back, the Rebel Riders drill team rode, standing in their saddles, concluding the parade.
Clumps of people began drifting towards town or to their cars, and a little girl and her mother rode by on their bikes.
“That was awesome,” said the girl.
Meanwhile, at the Soldotna Creek Park, throngs ambled through the alleyways formed from the popup tents and concession stands.
At the east end of the little city of tents, seven teams of adults and five teams of youths stood over their Dutch ovens in the Dutch Oven Cook-off.
Talon Musgrave, 13, of Soldotna, was stirring cubes of caramel into a thick paste. Across from him, his older brother Brenner, 15, was preparing the brownie batter.
“The caramel is going to go in between the layers,” he said.
They were making 2,000-calorie brownies for their dessert dish and breakfast wraps with cilantro for their main dish.
“This is my first time in the Dutch Oven Cook,” Talon said. His brother competed the prior two years and the first year he placed second for his dessert. This year, Talon is optimistic for theirs.
“It’s 2,000-calories,” he said about the thick brownie dish.
Behind them, another youth team was preparing two dishes. John Vin Zant, 14, of Kasilof, and his teammate Dylan Hutching, 14, of Kenai, were working on a sweet salsa chicken and a Black Forrest cake.
“Sometimes you can use lighter fluid on the newspaper,” said Vin Zant, as he put a match to crumpled paper, trying to start their coals. “But since I don’t have any, I hope this’ll work, which it might.”
After a few minutes the flame went out. “Yeah, that didn’t work too well,” he said, bunching up more paper.
On the other end of their kitchen, Hutching prepared the chicken.
“You guys kicking butt?” asked a man, walking by.
“Yeah,” Hutching said.
“Good,” said the man, as Vin Zant’s coals began to smoke. “That’s what I like to hear.”
Back in the tents, along the river, children lined up behind a Bouncy Castle gladiator arena. Inside two kids were sparring with long padded paddles. One was much more enthusiastic than the other.
“It’s kinda funny just to watch,” said Bradley Kisbaugh, 13, of Soldotna, leaning against the edge of the arena. “This kid’s getting rallied.”
Next to him, his friend Brant Krieger, 13, of Soldotna, said he thought the parade this year was shorter than last year’s.
Kisbaugh disagreed. “It was pretty good,” he said.
“I liked the street cars,” Krieger said.