Leading the way: Grand Pooba takes charge of parade


It’s 23 degrees outside, and the sun has yet to break the horizon. The Union is oddly quiet, despite the small team of organizers scrambling to prepare for the arrival parade of volunteers. Abby Settje, the 2012 Hobo Day Grand Pooba, is bent over a table on the building’s Main Street, worrying over several color-coded stacks of instructions for volunteers. For Settje and the rest of the Hobo Day Committee, the big day has arrived early — it’s 6:00 a.m., and they’ve been here for 15 minutes already.

Some of the stacks were improperly stapled, and Settje is having to tear them apart and re-staple them. She can’t have volunteers go to the wrong place and do the wrong thing — not today. She, like the rest of the committee, is dressed as a hobo, her outfit of patchy overalls and pigtails is easy to spot.

There is a nervous tension in the air almost thick enough to cut with a knife or a well-placed joke — which explains the laughter that occasionally echoes through the nearly empty Union. There’s excitement written on almost every face in The Union this morning. Even the Committee adviser Nick Wendell, a 12-year Hobo Day veteran, seems excited.

They only have a few hours to put the final touches on one of the biggest events in SDSU history.


A troop of security team volunteers files in, heading straight for the breakfast and coffee at the far end of the Market’s seating area. Several of them are wearing Air Force ROTC cold weather jackets. They’d been setting out barricades since 5:45 a.m.

Soon the floodgates open, and before long The Union is filled with quiet early morning conversation — subdued, it seems, by the fact that the sun is still nearly an hour from rising. Wendell helps make sure all the committee’s ducks get in a row and stay there, for the most part anyway.


The noise level has increased considerably and more volunteers have arrived. From faculty and staff to students, they’re all waiting for Settje’s instructions. She and the rest of the committee are handing out radios and lanyards, making sure contracts are signed and everyone knows which channel to be on.

“Hey everybody, there’s coffee and doughnuts over there,” Settje says, pointing to a line of tables.

There are more volunteers than lanyards.


There are few questions as Settje explains the routes for the different parade entries one last time, with a now familiar PowerPoint presentation. Bands, special entries, dignitaries and security all have their own maps, routes to starting points and special instructions. The volunteers break up to receive more instructions from the coordinators they’re assigned to.

Cord Hopkins, a Hobo Day Committee member from 1980, wanders in and shouts, “What day is it?”

The crowd of committee members and volunteers shouts back with a resounding “Hobo Day!”

The eastern sky is beginning to brighten and volunteers are headed to their posts along Medary Avenue.

It’s still dark.


The temperature has risen to 25 degrees. There is almost no wind, and they have less than two hours until the parade starts.

Settje and Wendell have taken their positions on the corner of North Campus Drive and Medary Avenue. They seem oblivious to the cold, though their faces have reddened. There’s too much else to worry about.

Both Settje and Wendell are carrying two constantly chattering radios apiece. Every now and then something intelligible can be heard; mostly, it’s hard to understand.

A brown Cadillac somehow finds its way into the parade route despite the barriers and security volunteers’ best efforts. There’s a minor panic attack played out over the radio, but Settje remains calm.

“There’s so many holes right now,” Settje says, shaking her head, “but it’ll be all right.”

Wendell is already thinking about the future.

“I think we should just have the security guys stay out here next year,” Wendell says.

By the time Security Coordinator Mark Hayes pulls up to the intersection, the Cadillac is off the route. He calmly explains what happened to Settje — which is, according to Wendell, not normal.

“Usually our security guy is smoking a cigarette and screaming at people by now,” Wendell says.

The sun has finally climbed over the horizon and begins to warm things up, but not much.


There’s a line of floats up Medary from North Campus Drive to Highway 14. The Armed Forces Association float is cranking an old-fashioned air raid siren; from what it sounds like, they’re trying to raise the dead. The sound isn’t helping anyone.

The radios are becoming a problem: they’re clashing horribly, and Settje is having trouble understanding what’s being said.

“Is someone speaking Spanish, or is it just me?” she asks no one.

Four buses arrive at the barriers closing the western end of North Campus Drive to vehicles, each carrying a high school band trying to park in the Northern Plains Biostress Lab parking lot. There’s a backlog of people and vehicles at the barriers. All Settje can do is shake her head at the potentially dangerous situation. It wasn’t supposed to have been this way.

“There are so many cars down there,” Settje says. “I’m not liking this.”

Her plan is changed, and the buses find their way into the Lab’s parking lot.


One hour left.

The Pride’s drum line starts warming up, adding its own roar to the already boisterous intersection.

Settje hasn’t stopped moving since arriving at the intersection. At least one band, the Alumni Pride, is missing, and no one seems to know what it’s doing. Settje has been constantly bombarded with questions ranging from important to ridiculous.

She’s beginning to get tired of monitoring two radios.


There are only 45 minutes left.

More than 28 student floats are lined up along the north end of Medary Avenue.

“Student organizations really responded this year,” Wendell says.

The floats were supposed to have been judged for awards 15 minutes ago. Two of the three float judges have gone missing. Settje has to run across the road to find out what happened.

“Don’t worry,” she tells Floats Coordinator Erica Coomes. “We’ll take care of it.”

Settje looks worried.

The Alumni Pride has been found, at least. They had gone to the wrong place.


There’s only half an hour to go.

“Wow, we have 16 minutes,” Wendell says, “16 minutes until the Pride is on the street.”

Settje still looks worried. And the radio chatter is starting to pick up even more as 9:30 approaches.

A call comes over the radio asking where the Bummobile is. Neither Settje or Wendell has the faintest clue.

“If anything was wrong with it, we’d’ve heard by now,” Wendell says.


The Pride starts down Medary. Wendell’s face lights up.

“This is fun,” he says. “They’re moving! You should be excited.”

Settje slips off the curb and nearly falls for the second or third time of the morning.

“I’m having fun, I just wish I had thicker socks,” she says, “and I keep falling off this curb.”


Over the radio Weary Wil and Dirty Lil are reported to be in the Bummobile, which somehow has made it to the Agricultural Heritage Museum on time. Settje and Wendell send some special entries and floats, which had finally been judged, down Medary to prevent a gap behind The Pride.

The alumni band is just now arriving and forming into marching order.

“That alumni band is going to give me a heart attack,” Settje says.


The alumni band starts down Medary Avenue.

“Make sure the bands know they can’t stop to play,” Settje says into the radio.

The Brookings High School band fills in behind the alumni. Settje is planning on the fly, filling gaps when they appear and making space when needed. She has to run around the BHS band to tell the director to get moving before she runs to hold the Mickelson Middle School band on North Campus Drive so that floats can be sent.


Several people on the Newman Center float — one of the first ones sent — are dancing and jumping off the float as it moves down the parade route. It’s a safety hazard Wendell warned them about earlier, but he asks the committee members and volunteers to try and keep it to a minimum if they can. It’s a minor frustration.

“We’ve got the mayor walking down the parade route shaking hands and talking to people,” someone says over the radio.

Settje rolls her eyes.

“That’s OK … he’s the mayor,” she says.


The BHS band keeps stopping to play and holding up the parade.

“There’s not much we can do about them,” Wendell says. “We’d just end up paying for it later.”

The alumni band has the same problem, but they can be told to keep moving.

Most of the bands have been sent on their way, but there are several floats still waiting in line.


The Selby High School band, the last band, is lined up and ready to go. There’s still a long line of floats waiting for their turn. Settje and Wendell decide at the last moment to hold the American Society of Mechanical Engineers float, a replica of a Saturn V rocket, for the end of the parade. Wendell runs off again to let Coomes know to hold the float.

While he’s gone, a truck posing as a float rolls past Settje on Medary with a giant sign saying “Vote No on 16” taped to a cooler on the back. The sign is an obvious violation of the Hobo Day float policy, which forbids openly political messages. They can’t let it go through. Wendell is again forced to chase down a moving vehicle. A few minutes later a frustrated Wendell returns to the sidewalk.

“They said somebody in the committee office said they could be in the parade because it’s not a partisan issue,” he says, rolling his eyes. “They’re not happy.”


The ASME float rolls past, blaring a loud recording of a countdown and rocket sound effects. Settje, now alone on the sidewalk, takes a last look to the north. Medary and North Campus Drive are empty.

“Well, that wasn’t that bad,” she says with a slight shrug before heading south along Medary.

There’s one thing she has left to do.

The old Model T is waiting for her outside the Ag Heritage Museum. With one last look around, she hops up into the back seat and it’s her turn to be in the parade she’s spent the last eight months planning.