[Ed. Note: All photos by James Navarro.]
"This is a celebration of America," the 21-year military veteran said as the annual parade to honor George Washington began. "People forget about the good things sometimes. And Washington was one of the Founding Fathers, the first general, the first president. It's appropriate to honor him."
Sitting next to wife Maria and surrounded by some of their children, the Washington Redskins fan had something else on his mind.
"My daughter is in the parade," he beamed. "She's with the Twirl Factory of Virginia. This is an opportunity for our family to be together, to enjoy doing something together."
Unfortunately for him, his 7-year-old was scheduled to be among the last to march -- meaning the black clouds rolling in would, well, rain on his parade.
A few feet away, a man named Louie watched as the parade kicked in to the next gear. The City of Alexandria Pipes and Drums strolled by, the bagpipes and booming beat bringing people to their feet. A local fire truck let its siren rip.
"This reminds me of growing up in Boston," he reminisced. "We had all these parades ... it was very patriotic there. This gives me that same feeling."
It was exactly the kind of sentiment that brought me there. I wanted to take advantage of another opportunity to experience and celebrate the bonds that hold the red, white and blue together. It's often hard to feel a sense of community and country in the rush of daily life. Parades take us back in time, and closer to each other.
The people lining the streets all felt it. Adults and children alike waved American flags and cheered every group that walked by. African-Americans, Caucasians, Hispanics, and Asian-Americans spoke to each other without the slightest barrier between us. Biracial couples and their children bore testament to the slow but steady progress we're making toward an America in which color genuinely does not matter.
The canine-Americans in attendance might have a head start on their upright walking companions, though. Black Labs, white bulldogs, Golden Retrievers, German Shepherds, big 'ol Newfoundland mixes, itty bitty Beagles ... all took in the parade without so much as a growl.
Maybe they sensed their owners' reverence for more of the parade's participants. A group of people representing the Military Order of the Purple Heart went by -- all but one of our gray-haired heroes riding in shiny new cars. One man wanted to show his heart was still strong, however. The crowd applauded ever more loudly with every gimpy step he made.
We gave it up for the T.C. Williams High School Marching Band, American Red Cross, U.S. Postal Service, Freemasons, Sons of the American Revolution, National Park Service and more. Shriners in midget cars raced by. A gaggle of clowns hit the streets making kids and the young at heart laugh out loud. One raced up to a man with a home video camera and stuck his big red nose right into his lens.
"Is that TV?," he asked. "I'm so excited. I'm going to be on TV! I'm going to be on TV!" The man's grandchildren couldn't get enough.
The next group in the procession was the one I most wanted to see: Revolutionary War re-enactors marched in perfect cadence. Their sharp blue coats and crisp white pants, though, gave them away a bit. So did the fact that they all had shoes. Many of Washington's men weren't so lucky. The soldiers who gave us the nation we have today were often tattered twigs that walked barefoot. They ate tree bark to fool their stomachs into keeping them alive for one more day.