Inside a white, lighted trolley car at Oak and School streets perched five Parade of Lights judges who had an enviable elevated view, but were tasked with choosing the best float, marching band, horse team, walking group and decorated vehicles.
The Parade of Lights had 70 entries this year, and the theme was "Celebrating 100 Years."
Unlike last year's near-freezing conditions, wind wasn't blowing and not a drop of rain fell.
Sidewalks were stacked three and four deep, and Downtown Lodi Business Partnership Executive Director Jaime Watts estimated 40,000 people attended.
Each twinkling, blinking, colorful, animated, noisy, musical group crept northward on School Street, and judges had to look and write quickly as they graded each on a paper sheet.
Each entry could be scored zero to 25, in creativity, interpretation of the theme, use of lights, and overall appearance.
Judges were chosen by the Downtown Lodi Business Partnership.
They were new Mayor Bob Johnson, City Manager Blair King, community volunteer Sara Heberle, Farmers Market coordinator Phil Biddle, and DLBP past president Peter Westbrook.
"It's all about the lights, something that has a wow factor to it without just slapping the lights every which way," King said, in his second year as a judge.
Watts said she'd know the winners in the next few days.
Generations gathered to ring in the holiday season and celebrate Lodi's centennial year.
Watts said there was great communication between the parade organizers, police department and streets crews. But there were a couple of miscues.
Early in the evening, police officers had towed at least three vehicles parked along the route. One of the cars' owners was being sought on a felony warrant.
The parade was supposed to start at 6:17 p.m. but apparently the float carrying Grand Marshals Bill and Carol Meehleis ran out of gas and the event started late.
A paving crew worked along Church Street at about 4:30 p.m., while people started looking for their seats.
Mila and Tom Hale were waiting at 3:30 p.m., armed with sandwiches, cupcakes and other snacks.
"It's a parade. You gotta have junk food," Mila Hale said.
Eight people were to join Robert Nottingham and Cindy Taylor outside First United Methodist Church. They liked the spot because of the carolers who sing throughout the night.
Soon enough, the sun went down and families started lining the streets. High school bands held last-minute practices. Holiday music blared from stereos. Gas generators roared as they powered Christmas lights.
The Lodi Zin Divas - a chapter of the international women's social group the Red Hat Society - created an old-time saloon float, bordered with real Tokay vines, a poker table, spitoon and a 1900s-era piano. The "whiskey" (hot apple cider) flowed freely, and chapter "Queen" Adel Liebelt waved to people between honky-tonk piano tunes.
"Merry Christmas," shouted young people. "Wave hello," urged their parents.
Children rode on parents' shoulders, or they snuggled in red wagons, baby carriages and folding chairs. Grown-ups sipped cups of cocoa, coffee and cider. Many snapped digital photos, or pointed camcorders at each float that passed by.
Under blankets, bundled up in winter coats and wearing fuzzy mittens, they waved at marching bands, equestrian teams, marchers dressed up like barnyard animals, lighted RVs, trucks and boats, football players and cheerleaders.
On School Street, Linda Alberti marveled at the turnout of fellow Lodi residents, as she sat with her daughter Sharon Flemmer and two young granddaughters, Kendall Flemmer and Lauren Flemmer.
"I think they've really outdone themselves this year because of the centennial," Alberti said.
The Flemmer girls' eyes widened as "Chippy," the California Highway Patrol's mascot, circled in a miniature squad car.
Lauren Flemmer loved the off-roaders maneuvered by the Joaquin Jeepers. Drivers rolled up slowly and "climbed" up on each other's vehicles so at times they were steadied by only three wheels.
Santa and Mrs. Claus arrived at about 7:50 p.m., shouting from the Lodi Fire Department's ladder truck, "Santa is so happy to see everyone! Merry Christmas!"
By the numbers100,000: Number of lights used (estimating 1,000 to 2,000 lights per entry)
40,000: Estimated number of attendees
1906: The year Lodi was established as a city
7:51: Ending time of this year's Parade of Lights
70: Number of parade entries
30: Number of horses in equestrian and mounted units
11: Years the Parade of Lights has been held in downtown Lodi
11: Number of portable restrooms placed throughout town
5: Number of parade judges
Source: Downtown Lodi Business Partnership.
First published: Friday, December 8, 2006