Every year in mid-March, Stacie Collins takes out her beehive wig, diamond tiara and embroidered satin sash. She pulls on cowboy boots and grabs a bag of green tortillas.
And the Dallas executive becomes her alter ego: Queen Bubbles of the Texas Tortilla Queens.
With long-stemmed pink roses on their laps, the queens toss thousands of tortillas into a packed crowd that gathers along Greenville Avenue for the Dallas Mavericks St. Patrick’s Parade & Festival. The long-running event will continue this year on Saturday.
“It’s such a great Dallas tradition, and being Irish, it’s what we live for,” Collins said.
The parade, a celebration of Irish pride and green-beer-fueled revelry, has outlasted cold and rainy weather, reputation problems and a funding crisis to become one of Dallas’ biggest celebrations and a block party for neighborhoods in Northeast Dallas and the M Streets. It claims the title as the largest St. Patrick’s parade in the Southwest.
This year, the parade is expected to include about 100 floats and rely on more than 200 police officers in uniform and plainclothes. George Riba, retired sports anchor for WFAA-TV (Channel 8), will serve as the parade’s grand marshal.
But four years ago, Mavericks owner Mark Cuban saved the parade with a large check, after a sponsor backed out and left a $40,000 hole in the budget. The Mavericks have since become a parade sponsor.
Parade organizers also have tried to clean up the event’s beer-soaked image. They’ve made the parade more family-friendly by cracking down on excessive drinking and adding activities for kids.
Mauricio Navarro, the parade’s executive producer, said they’ve worked hard to make it an event he feels comfortable taking his 5-year-old daughter to.
“What I’ve said before is if I can’t take my own daughter to the parade, there’s something wrong,” he said.
It’s come a long way
Greenville Avenue business owners started the annual celebration in 1979.
In the early years, the St. Patrick’s Day parade drew a more intimate crowd and only 20 or 30 floats, said Jorge Levy, owner of Desperados Mexican Restaurants, which began with its original restaurant on Greenville Avenue.
Back then, Levy would drum up about a dozen police officers and pay them with a free breakfast of chorizo con huevos — sausage with eggs — along with salsa and tortillas.
Last year, about 70,000 people attended the parade, despite rainy weather. The previous year’s parade drew about 120,000, Navarro said.
Money raised by the parade floats and VIP bleacher seating goes to the Greenville Avenue Area Business Association Scholarship Fund. It has awarded more than $72,500 in scholarship money to Dallas ISD students, Navarro said.
To make the parade more family-friendly, recent rules ban floats that are sexually oriented and prohibit people from tossing alcoholic beverages, such as Jell-O shots, into the crowd, Navarro said. Floats that break the rules will be steered out of the parade route, he said.
Two family areas, the Family Zone and Mavs Corner, will offer kids’ activities, such as bounce houses, food trucks, facepainting and autograph signing by Mavs dancers.
But the event hasn’t forgotten its roots, either. A new Brew Fest area will cater to parade-goers who want to drink beer without the hassle of toting coolers and setting up tailgates.
For nearby restaurants and bars, the parade is a boon for business. It’s the biggest day of the year for many of them, from Ross Avenue to Park Lane, Levy said.
Tortilla queen allure
For parade fans, such as the Texas Tortilla Queens, the celebration is a ritual.
The queens, a dozen Dallas women from ages 30 to 72, let their hair down and bask in a moment of celebrity. They’ve appeared in Fourth of July and Mardi Gras parades in Dallas and a St. Patrick’s Day parade in Hot Springs, Ark.
Collins keeps a photo of her royal self in the hallway at home. “Being a queen is part of who I am,” she said.
Denise Koval of Dallas, a landscaping company owner, has been a queen since 2002. She’s learned to fling multiple tortillas at a time with one sweep of the arm. “We throw them like Frisbees,” she said. “They fly pretty good.”
Koval said, “The men love us and the women are envious.” Some approach for photos or ask how they can sign up.
And who can blame them? she asked.
“There’s not a care in the world when I am sitting in the convertible being a tortilla queen,” she said.
Levy said his favorite part of the parade is when he hops aboard his float, a flatbed truck with a DJ and banners for his restaurants. It’s the last float of the parade.
As he rides down the avenue, barricades start coming down and the crowd closes in behind the float.
Levy said he looks back and sees “a sea of people, and everyone is having fun.” (Courtesy of DallasNews.com)