On the first Friday of every month, Bixby Knolls residents can count on a dose of joy and excitement rolling through their neighborhood. In place of the popular “First Friday” events, the Bixby Knolls Business Improvement Association (BKBIA) has put a new twist on the monthly celebration, bringing the Long Beach Trolley on a parade route throughout the neighborhood.
The parade plots a course of just over 17 miles through Bixby Knolls, lasting from 5 p.m. until sundown. The Long Beach Trolley serves as the centerpiece of the parade, with classic characters like Mickey & Minnie Mouse on board to wave to kids and adults alike. This month, the soundtrack of the event featured plenty of classic rock, with impersonators of the band KISS leading the way on the bed of a pickup truck. There was also a patriotic flair to this month’s parade, with uniformed soldiers riding on horseback and an old military jeep bringing up the rear while waving an American flag.
The event is organized by Blair Cohn of the BKBIA, and has helped uplift the neighborhood for the past six months. In April, stay-at-home orders meant the cancelation of the traditional First Friday festivities at small businesses along Atlantic Avenue, but Cohn came up with an idea for a safer celebration in the neighborhood.
“We wanted to keep the momentum going and take the event to the people,” Cohn said. “It was huge and people just loved it. I get emails from people saying ‘This is so special, you’ve really lifted our spirits.’”
The event has grown and evolved every month since, and now features an improved soundsystem and more characters each time. The parade route is posted online a few days before the event, plus there’s a live tracker that allows residents to follow along on their phones and see exactly where the trolley is located.
During a pandemic that’s gone on for the better part of a year, even just a few minutes outside means more than it once did, and residents have relished having one evening a month where they can dance, smile, and spend a few minutes with their neighbors. Kay and Todd Hancock were regular First Friday attendees before the shutdown, and they have yet to miss a parade as it comes down their street.
“It’s really nice,” Kay said. “I try to let all my neighbors who have kids know, to come out and support Blair. He does so much up here for the whole community, and this is great what he does … Having been quarantined, it’s nice just to come out and see other people in a social event.”
Martha Michalczak was sitting in her backyard with friends when she heard the commotion pass by. It was her first time experiencing the parade, but it made for a great start to her weekend as she ended up with a Lola’s frozen margarita and a fudgesicle from Ice Cream Ian, which were handed out to residents along the parade route.
“This is great, it just gave us a reason to run and be outdoors,” Michalczak said. “It’s a nice start to a long weekend and it had a summer feel, too. We try to feel as normal as possible these days, and one of the positives during this time has been seeing these really creative ways to bring people out and put a smile on their face.”
The trolley will return on the first Friday in October, and the event will have a Halloween theme for the kids in the neighborhood. The newfound tradition has not only been a bright spot for the residents of Bixby Knolls, but Cohn said he has enjoyed the opportunity to connect with the community and bring a bit of excitement and fun to the neighborhood. Cohn, along with his wife and daughter, have taken to riding their bikes along the entire parade route so they can all share in the experience with the community.
“We follow it because we get to see the faces of the neighborhood, the joy, and we get to see people get a break from 2020 and all the negativity,” he said. “It fills my cup and it helps me recharge the battery. We see how diverse the neighborhood is, we see it all. It’s fulfilling for me and brings joy to the neighborhood.”
Photos by Tyler Hendrickson