What a day for the Irish! New Yorkers and visitors from all over the globe lined Fifth Avenue a dozen deep for the world's oldest and largest St. Patrick's Day parade Wednesday.
Lugging a 25-pound tuba up the 2.1-mile route from 44th Street to 86th Street, Glen Gagnier of the 198th Army band but said it was so exhilarating he would have marched double the distance.
"When it's done I'll want to do it all over again," he said.
NYPD Police Commissioner and Parade Grand Marshal Ray Kelly was a few minutes late for the traditional 8:30 a.m. mass at St. Patrick's Cathedral.
Kelly, however, had an excellent reason: He was being a Good Samaritan. Kelly had stopped to help a bleeding 55-year-old Manhattan woman knocked unconscious by a bicyclist on the Upper East Side. Kelly stayed with the woman until paramedics rushed her to the hospital to treat a fractured skull.
The 249th St. Patrick's Day extravaganza in New York City was to be the last of the Big Apple's world-famous parades to take place before new restrictions go into effect April 1 requiring all parades to be shorter to save money.
The city issued the new rules in February, requiring all parades to trim routes by 25 percent and reduce time to less than five hours, changes estimated to save $3.1 million in police expenses.
Some welcomed the idea of a pared-down event.
"It'll be good because people will be able to get where they're going easier," said Yogesh Pai, of Henderson, Texas, as he navigated the crowd with his 5-year-old son.
Politicians seized the moment, too, to appear before large crowds and soak up attention in what is shaping up to be a busy election year. Republican gubernatorial candidate Rick Lazio marched the route, and so did his potential primary opponent, Suffolk County Executive Steve Levy.
Representatives of lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender groups were not allowed to participate in the march — at least, not under their own banner. Members of the Ancient Order of Hibernians, who run the parade, argue they may invite whomever they please.
Outgoing Gov. David Paterson, who is being investigated over free Yankees tickets and whether he made illegal contact with a woman who made a domestic violence complaint against a top aide, skipped the parade after attending morning Mass at St. Patrick's Cathedral with Mayor Michael Bloomberg. Bloomberg — not currently running for anything — marched while waving an Irish flag.
Meanwhile there was a mix of lighthearted cheer and serious politics at the White House, where President Barack Obama met with Irish Prime Minister Brian Cowen.
Obama noted that 36 million Americans claim Irish ancestry, adding, "I'm sure more do on St. Patrick's Day."
"And it's a testament I think to how close our two countries are that America has been shaped culturally, politically, economically by the incredible contributions of Irish Americans," he said.