Geneva, IL
June 25, 2006
Story by Chris Rhoads (dustrho)

Twenty-four hours ago I suited up in my sandtrooper armor to participate in the Chicago Hunger Walk, but that wasn’t the only mission I would end up doing this weekend. The Midwest Garrison needed troopers to march in Geneva’s Swedish Days parade, and without hesitation I volunteered to march in it. It was a no brainer since Geneva is only about twenty minutes away from me, and there aren’t too many events that happen that close to home. Plus, anytime I can put on the armor I’m going to, because it’s a great feeling and truly an honor to be wearing something that means so much to me. This was an event I would not miss out on.

I loaded up my Dewback with my armor and BFG (big freakin’ gun), and ventured off toward Geneva. It had been raining that morning and was already starting to be a warmer day than the previous day, so I had a feeling that it was going to be a muggy day for me. I arrived at 1030 hours, just as we had been asked, and I realized I was the first one that showed up. A man approached me stating that I couldn’t park in the main parking lot, because it was going to be used as a “holding area” for all the floats and others who would march in the parade. I learned that there really wasn’t anywhere to park that would have been that close to the starting point, so I decided to drive to the ending point so I could make a quick getaway if needed.

After finding a good parking spot I suited up, grabbed my gun, threw the bucket on my head, and started my way toward the starting point. I must have been stopped at least four different times by people who wanted to have their picture taken with me, but that’s something I look forward to every time I suit up so of course I enjoyed stopping for them. One guy with an expensive looking video camera asked me to say something to him while he videotaped me. I asked him, “What exactly do you want me to say to the camera?” He said, “You can say anything you want, but say something about Swedish Days.” A few seconds later I came up with only this, “It’s 2006 and we’re about to have the best Swedish Days parade ever. You don’t want to miss out on it!” I didn’t hear who he said he was with, but I think it was something to do with the city. It sure would be cool to see that video though.

While I was walking on Roosevelt Road (Route 38) a car pulled over to the side of the road, and had a conversation with me of course about Star Wars. He was asking questions like, “Where are you from, how’s the Empire doing these days, have you ever met Vader in person?” Not entirely sure if he was just mocking me or not, but him and his friends seemed to be having a good time with it so it didn’t matter much to me. I played along and answered him with responses that any good sandtrooper would say. After he took off, other cars driving by me honked their horns, while others yelled at me saying things like, “Look, it’s a stormtrooper!” From all the distracting I caused I couldn’t believe no one got in an accident.

Once I got to the staging area I noticed that several groups were all gathering around, but I didn’t see a single person from the MWG. I showed up in my armor around 1100 hours, and I thought someone would have been there by then. I did remember that everyone was meeting at TB-9442's house at 1030 hours, so maybe everyone was over at their house still. So, while I stood under a big tree that provided some great shade for me, I spoke with a couple different people from other parade entries. After speaking to this one guy who was playing the tuba for some marching band unit, I learned that he is married to an old band teacher from my high school. I played trumpet in high school and he is married to the director, so talk about a small world!

It was now 1200 hours and still no signs of anyone from the MWG. I was started to get a little worried, because I couldn’t believe I was the only one here. Even people from other entries asked me, “Are you going to be the only stormtrooper marching in this parade?” Of course I wasn’t going to be the only one, but it sure was starting to feel like that. One of the volunteers walked by me and I stopped him by asking, “Do you happen to know if anyone has seen anyone in Star Wars costumes around here?” He said, “Yeah, they’re all over there [pointed down one of the side streets].” I then asked him if I was in the right spot for the parade, and he told me that I was definitely where I should be. So, why weren’t they standing where I was at, where we were supposed to be meeting up at for the parade?

While I was waiting there by myself, a couple of younger guys approached me and asked if I could do something for a video that they were making. I told them sure, and followed them just to a parked Scion car (one of those boxy looking ones). They initially wanted me to sit in this thing, and I told them that there was no way that would be possible. I had my backpack on and even if I didn’t have it on I still can’t sit down very well in my armor. They understood and then asked if I could just stand next to the vehicle. On the side of the car was a big Circuit City logo, and I then noticed they had that same logo on their shirts. It looked like I was about to be in some kind of advertisement for Circuit City (at least that’s what I thought at the time). They were all psyched about me doing this for them, and they kept thanking me for doing that for them.

After I finished up that little video shoot I walked back to where I was supposed to meet up with everyone. And not too much later I saw the whole MWG crew marching across the parking lot. It was only fifteen minutes before 1300 hours, the time when the parade was scheduled to start, when they decided to show up in our designated spot for the parade. After speaking with a couple members I learned that they were all simply hanging out by their cars, enjoying the shade and trying to stay cool. I felt much better knowing that I wasn’t going to be the only on in this parade, so it was good seeing them all heading my way.

We did have some time before the parade started, so we decided to do a group photo under the same tree I had been waiting under. You think it would be a piece of cake to get everyone together to get this photo taken, but it took about ten minutes to get everyone settled and there were five cameras that had to be used to capture the moment. After the pictures were taken it was time to line up. The parade was about to start.

Now, I’ve been in a few parades with the MWG since joining the club last November, but this was going to be the biggest one that I would march in so far. There were more than 90 entries, so you knew this parade was going to last a long time. Luckily we were very close to the beginning of the parade, so we were off within minutes of the parade’s starting time.

Looking down the street I noticed that there a lot of people lined up all along the route we were about to travel. I couldn’t believe how many people came out to this parade. The parade moved at a very decent pace, and it allowed us to interact with some of the onlookers. On several occasions, people got up from their lawn chairs to stand next to me for a picture. Others just took snapshots from where they were standing or sitting, so of course I had to do an action pose for them. Most of the time I just pointed my BFG at them, and everyone seemed to love it. If I had to guess, I would say we were the highlight of the parade.

My parents, my wife and my one-year-old son were going to be at the parade, and since I hadn’t seen them yet I knew that we would be approaching them soon. We were more than halfway down Third Street when I finally spotted them on the right side of the street. My wife stood up with my son, I walked up to them, and my son started crying hysterically. I felt really bad that I made him cry like that, but it’s not like that was my intention. My wife walked away from me laughing because of how he just freaked out. It was kind of funny in a way. I said a quick “hi” to my parents and continued walking. Two blocks further and the parade was over. Mission accomplished.

After the parade was over I met up with my family, but of course I had my helmet off so that I didn’t traumatize my son any further. He recognized who I was, at least the rest of my armor didn’t scare him. It was just the mask that scared him. While I stood there so many people came up to me for a picture, that I couldn’t even really just stand there to speak with my family. So, I took a few photos with other people, and then I just looked as if I were too busy to do any more photos (for the time being anyway).

Shortly afterward my wife and son left to go home, and I chose to hang out with my parents for a little while. The same thing happened to me while walking around with them… people wanted pictures taken with me. The look on my parents’ face was priceless, as you could see they were just in awe at everyone’s reaction toward me. Most wanted a picture with me, while some wanted autographs and others wanted to simply talk to me about my armor. One kid actually came up to me, who looked like he might have been 2-3 years old, and gave me a hug. That’s the first time any kid gave me a hug, and it was a great experience to an already great day.

Since there was a thunderstorm approaching, I felt it was time to call it a day. I told my parents “goodbye” (they were going to leave as well) and started walking back to my Dewback. I was only about a mile away, but since more people wanted pictures with me it took me about twenty minutes to make it back to my ride.

Although the day started off gloomy and wet, it turned out to be a gorgeous day. Sure, it was warmer and much more humid than the previous day, but at least it was only in the low 80s so it was bearable. It’s always a lot of fun trooping with members of the MWG, but it’s even more fun when so many people (young and old) want to interact with you (i.e. photos, autographs, etc). Nothing is more rewarding than putting a smile on a young child’s face, or when you see grown ups with that look in their face that says, “I loved Star Wars when I was a kid and I love it now.” There’s no age requirement or limit to be a fan of Star Wars. That’s what makes it so special, but what’s even more important and worth noting is that Star Wars will be around forever.

To see the photo gallery containing 41 photos click here.