"I got 14 supervisors out there ready to reroute," says the CTA superintendent. "They're here on Sunday, their day off. Just for this."
"This" is the third annual "Don Quixote Crusade" Cinco de Mayo parade, and its organizer and grand marshal Ramon Cervantes is holding an impromptu press conference in a Burger King on Wacker Drive.
Cervantes is a man with a mission. In 1971, his brother Marco Antonio suffered a fatal accident while playing football for Senn High School. For 16 years, Cervantes has tried to keep his brother's name alive.
"I have been in touch with the chief editors--the chief, not just the editors--of the major newspapers and the general managers of the television and radio stations.
"I have sent invitations to the major corporations and have contacted every important Hispanic in the city. I have hand-delivered 50,000 fliers. I have even invited the president of Mexico."
Cervantes's crusade has made him a familiar face, if not a household name. He's the droopy-faced Mexican in an enormous sombrero who always manages to show up at any important political event, press conference, or parade.
"The Poles were mad at him because he was part of their parade yesterday," comments a sandy-haired cop who stands at the corner of Wacker and Michigan, the start of the parade route. "But he had space for float number 117, so they had to let him in.
"He hangs out a lot at City Hall," the cop continues. "He's got an old beat-up van. Police are afraid that the cost of a parking ticket will be more than the value of the van."
Inside the Burger King, Cervantes is telling a reporter about his political clout.
"I'm a leader of the community," he says. "Self-proclaimed, of course, but I know I can lead my people well. I endorsed Hynes and had over 200,000 votes lined up for him. If he would have stayed in the race, they would have come out."
Cervantes still wears two Hynes bumper stickers pasted to his sombrero. His tie is festooned with campaign buttons from a variety of candidates--Hynes, Byrne, Vrdolyak, Washington. All except the one of Harold Washington are pinned upside down.
"They're upside down because they all went kaput, except for Washington," explains Cervantes.
"By the way, what time is it?" he asks the reporter.
"It's after one."
"Holy shit," exclaims Cervantes.
"It's supposed to start at one."
He exits through the revolving door and rushes to the lamppost where he has tied his sandwich board and Mexican flag.
The board is an unofficial Cervantes museum. There are Hynes bumper stickers, of course; a Cook County Department of Corrections ID with Cervantes's name and picture; a picture of his brother; a photo of a Mexican parade queen; photos of Cervantes with a bishop and with Senator Paul Simon, and a yellowing copy of a photo of Cervantes from last year's Sun-Times captioned "Ramon parades his cause--alone."
A Tribune reporter in an army jacket peers into a squad car and asks the policeman for an official crowd estimate.
"You're looking at it," the cop replies.
Cervantes unfastens the sandwich board and flag, and the parade begins. Flanked by three police cars, he marches down Michigan Avenue toward Van Buren. Cervantes turns on his bullhorn and shouts, "Good morning ladies and gentlemen. This is a Cinco de Mayo parade."
He spots three sailors crossing the street.
"Fellows, don't be afraid to join me."
But they ignore him.
The Tribune reporter is working his way down the nearly empty street, desperate for a story. "We should interview each other," he tells the other reporter.
But the other reporter has spotted a potentially quotable source, a Mexican kid on a bike.
"What do you think of the parade?" he asks. "Ever seen anything like it?"
"When is it gonna be?" says the kid. "Next Saturday, next Sunday, or what?"
"This is the parade," the reporter responds.
"You're kidding," says the kid. "This guy must have problems."
The reporter turns back to the parade. The wind has blown Cervantes's hat from his head, and he's having a terrible time trying to pick it up with the sandwich board and Mexican flag flapping about him.
The Tribune reporter returns from an interview with a security guard who had stepped outside his building when the parade happened to file by.
"You missed the highlight of the day," says the other reporter. "Cervantes's hat fell off."
"Yeah?" replies the guy from the Tribune. "Well it fell off back there too. I'm sure it's been recorded."
At the corner of Michigan and Madison, the two reporters spot a man in a softball uniform who is intently watching the parade. He is carrying a "Stone for Alderman" placard.
"Bernie Stone, Bernie Stone," the man shouts at Cervantes, waving the placard. The reporters rush toward him.
The spectator is one Tom Bon Jovi, and be is not just an innocent bystander. Bon Jovi has come all the way from Logan Square on this blustery day to actually watch the parade. And he is enthusiastic to boot.
"I got down here about a quarter to one," be tells a reporter. "There was nothing going on then. I read about the parade in the Sun-Times, and I just had to come."
(Michael Sneed snidely noted that the city had ordered the Michigan Avenue bridge closed from 1 to 2 PM the coming Sunday to accommodate a parade that the year before had attracted "one lonely marcher.")
After interviewing Bon Jovi, the Tribune reporter heads back to the Tower, probably satisfied he's got his story.
The other reporter sees the parade to its conclusion, accompanied by Bon Jovi. Cervantes steps onto the sidewalk just shy of Van Buren and thanks the officers over his bullhorn. It is exactly 1:30.
"What did you think of the turnout?" the reporter asks him. "Was it affected by the weather?"
"The weather had nothing to do with it," replies Cervantes. "It was the Sun-Times article. Thirty groups failed to show today because of that article."
"That article is the reason I showed up," says Bon Jovi.
"Amigo," says Cervantes, "next year will be the best parade this country has ever seen. Not just Mexican but any group."
The reporter wishes Cervantes luck and starts to leave.
"I will announce tomorrow where the dinner dance and coronation of the parade queen will be held," Cervantes shouts after the reporter. "I am on my way now to the chefs' union to reserve the biggest banquet hall."