Before Sen. Charles Schumer and the man in the giant leprechaun head made their separate appearances, and before the Westchester Firefighters Emerald Society in tartan kilts and dogs wearing shamrock sweaters did their thing on Pulaski Road for the third annual Kings Park St. Patrick's Day Parade, the grand marshal gave an interview.
"I'm proud, excited, I'm very surprised to be chosen," said Charles Patrick "Buster" Toner, 78, former director of Smithtown's Parks Department. "They tell me I won hands down."
He'd been born at home on Main Street just down the block, he said, back when the community -- now about 35 percent Irish-American -- had so many new and recent immigrants it seemed like a County Cork outpost.
Back then the Kings Park Psychiatric Center was one of the few sources of steady work, he said; back then, everybody he knew struggled; and now he was wearing a top hat, coat and tails about to lead a parade in front of a crowd of hundreds. "This," he said, "is great."
Nearby, members of the Brentwood Fire Department Wanderers limbered up and the Westchester men blew some practice notes on their pipes.
It's not easy for a young parade to line up bands this time of year but Kings Park had at least 14, organizers said.
Don MacLennan, a retired MTA fire chief who is the Emerald Society's drum major, said that after 40 weeks of practice during which they memorized 15 songs, his band will work a minimum of two parades a week for the next month.
The hard part is not the cold, kilts notwithstanding. "I'm not going to tell you you're not going to feel a cool breeze every so often," he said. But "these are wool and they're wrapped around us twice."
The hard part is wrangling the pipes. "You ever thought about wrestling an octopus and marching down the street at the same time?" he asked.
For more than an hour, dozens of groups including Cub Scout Troop 75 and Daisy Troop 3006 processed on foot, the Daisies throwing candy. Kings Park Fire Department engines, Smithtown Highway Department trucks and even hot rods rolled slowly, impressively buffed and honking in salute.
In the crowd on Pulaski Road, three generations of a family many generations removed from Ireland watched them pass.
Diana Neger, 65, of Commack, liked the hairdo on a marching band leader; her daughter, Kerri Coyne, 42, liked the leprechauns. Her husband, Anthony, 45, an NYPD officer, said nothing quite moved him like the bagpipes.
Their son Danny, 4, said he'd liked the candy; his brother Anthony, 6, said he'd liked the firetrucks, and that he was cold.