CHICAGO (CBS) — Richard Pfeiffer’s work to get the Chicago’s Pride Parade ready to go on Sunday is just getting started.
As the parade’s coordinator, Pfeiffer said the planning begins in February with emails and phone calls going back and forth, but the heavy lifting to fix problems or unforeseen issues takes place on the day of the event.
“We get people to line up, we give people their numbers, but we have to make sure they’re in their proper place on the proper street,” Pfeiffer said. “We have to make sure the entries step off on time.”
He’s had the job for 45 years, almost as long as the parade has been around (this is the event’s 50th anniversary). Pfeiffer has seen lots of changes since becoming parade coordinator in the 1970s, when he said there were about 100 marchers gathered at Washington Square.
“It was an era where you had a lot to lose if you were openly gay (but) the parade basically saved my life. I just watched all these people who were just like me marching down the street, being proud of who they are and it made me come out of my shell.”
Today the event is pulled off with the help of hundreds of volunteers who will help coordinate 160 parade entries; including floats, vehicles, marching bands, and dozens of elected officials and candidates for elected office.
Mayor Lori Lightfoot is 2019’s grand marshal. She and the other attendees will wave to crowds along the route, which is a little over two miles. Around a million people are expected to pack the area.
“It used to be 17 blocks, but we had to expand it by four blocks because people were getting crushed. It was so problematic,” Pfeiffer said.
“The only thing I can think that’s bad about the situation is that parking can suck,” said LaToya Hills, who’s lived in the neighborhood for 17 years.
Her advice? “Use public transportation! I’m on Belle Plaine and on my block, you can’t park after 7:00. So many people get towed.”
Michael Applebaum said people should take it in stride and expect that with thousands of people flocking to the area, delays are inevitable.
“I get more annoyed with the Cubs games, having to drive around that,” Applebaum said. “This is once a year, a celebration. How can anyone get upset about that?”
It’ll be a busy day for the Taco and Burrito House, which sits right on the parade route. Normally the restaurant sees around 150 customers. On Sunday, based on previous years, they’ll see at least 2,000.
“The line starts outside the end of building,” said worker Antonio Castañeda. “People are going to be thirsty that day, so they’ll come in to drink and eat.”
One place that won’t be open is Egoist, a menswear shop, also on the route. Manager Sylvester Jurczynski said he was open one year and not much happened.
“People come and enjoy and celebrate the day. They don’t really come to shop,” Jurczynski noted.
But for Pfeiffer, the parade is a celebration he takes in for a few moments here and there, because he’s too busy working as one of the more than 130 marshals along the route.
“(They) make sure that people don’t jump over the barricades and come in the middle of the street. They make sure that people aren’t jumping off and on parade floats. They line the whole parade route,” Pfeiffer said.
It costs around $270,000 to put on the parade. The city’s fee alone is $40,000. The money covers everything from security to portable toilets to signage. But that money comes mostly from the entries, the corporate sponsors. While New York City’s Gay Pride Parade goes through the city’s downtown area (although this year there will be more than one parade) Pfeiffer said, logistically speaking, it’s better to have it in the Lakeview neighborhood, home to Boystown.
“If you’re on Columbus Drive, you got a four-block parade route. If you’re on State Street you got a six-block parade route. When you’re downtown, you can’t be that long,” Pfeiffer said.
The parade steps off at Montrose and Broadway, snakes south on Broadway, ending at Diversey and Sheridan.
Looking back when he got started decades ago, and looking towards the future, Pfeiffer has nothing but pride to express how it’s grown, along with the acceptance of his community.
“You sit back and say ‘oh my gosh it’s grown and it’s helped to save lives.’ The legacy is that it reaches everybody to live full lives, to save lives, to live full lives as human beings.”
In honor of Pride Month this year, several crosswalks on the parade route were painted in the colors of the rainbow.
The Northalsted Business Alliance and several Chicago aldermen dedicated the rainbow crosswalks to represent LGBTQ pride.
The project was funded by public donations collected at Chicago’s Northalsted Market Days and Pride Fest. The rainbow crosswalks are primarily in the Boystown neighborhood.
“Thirteen of the crosswalks feature the rainbow design that’s been a symbol of the worldwide LGBTQ+ pride movement since the 1970s, and the 14th crosswalk at Melrose is dedicated to the transgender community with blue, pink and white stripes found on the transgender flag,” said Ald. James Cappleman (46th.)