By Mario Kladis

Peter Fitzgerald came all the way from Inverness to march in last Saturday’s Bud Billiken parade. It was his first time, and hardly anyone knew him. But the senator refused to go unnoticed.

King Drive looked as wide as the Mississippi, and most of the paraders were happy to sit in the back of convertibles, waving to the crowds as if they were standing on the shore. Not Fitzgerald. He jumped out of his Dodge Spider and sprinted back and forth across the road for nearly two miles, grabbing every hand not already busy with a hot dog or a Coke. He ran down the sidelines high-fiving people like a star quarterback about to enter the big game. He looked like Richard Simmons.

People would have recognized Richard Simmons. Carol Moseley-Braun was the first black woman to serve in the U.S. Senate, Paul Simon wore bow ties, but Peter Fitzgerald? Even the parade marshals weren’t sure. When I asked where I could find him, they all answered with the same “Senator who?”

Fitzgerald must have known he had a problem. He grinned and told each new blank face he met, “Hi, I’m Peter Fitzgerald.” In order to drive the message home, one of his aides walked behind him holding a big sign that said “Senator Fitzgerald.” The rest of his people stood around pointing at him.

He picked up several babies, always with the same result: the baby would stiffen its little body and stare over the senator’s shoulder with a wet-diaper look on its face. Usually Fitzgerald would kiss it anyway. Once he just glanced around, put the baby down, and patted it on the head before running away.

He didn’t do much better with adults. Most people only shook his hand because he was offering it and they didn’t want to be rude, or because he was jabbing it at them and they wanted him to stop. The crowd was more interested in the V-103 convoy right behind him. Herb Kent and Hinton Battle were riding in a white stretch limo, and a souped-up van was playing dusties. Fitzgerald would announce his name and title, then get blasted by the music. The hand he’d been shaking would suddenly become a fist pumping in time to “Brick House.”

Fitzgerald did get one big cheer. It came about halfway through the parade. He was running along the sideline again, followed by the aide with the sign. About 20 or so people were yelling “Senator!” and pushing their hands into the air, motioning for him to “raise the roof.” For a second Fitzgerald faltered. His legs were still moving, but he looked confused. Those people were laughing, but what could he do? Ignore them? He’s their senator.

Slowly, almost cautiously, he lifted his hands above his head. The crowd roared, and the senator’s eyes lit up. He had raised the roof. He began to thrust his hands into the air repeatedly. The people went crazy. Fitzgerald waved and pretended not to see them elbowing each other in the ribs as he ran away.