Roger Byers, 59, has been digging his job as the official Gold Cup parade pooper scooper for the past 12 years.
Byers has been working with the City of Charlottetown’s public works department for 23 years but it was only a little more than a decade ago they assigned him to clean up after the horses on the parade route.
“The first year I went without a costume and the embarrassment of the job . . .’’ Byers laughs, shaking his head.
So, he decided to dress up for the occasion, adding a straw hat from the Dollar Store, overalls, a long grey beard, a double-sided sign and a black vest, dubbing himself ‘Mucker Joe No. 1’. The No. 1 simply means he’s the No. 1 pooper scooper.
“Now, I have a blast and a lot of people know me.’’
His interaction with the crowd usually results in a greeting followed by requests for garden manure deliveries. It ends with roars of laughter.
“This is the most enjoyable job I’ve ever had,’’ he said proudly. “I’ve watched the parade since I was a child. I always used to like the clowns because they made you laugh and (I've always loved) the Community Clash (Band). Now, I’m making people laugh.’’
Byers didn’t stop there.
Recognizing that P.E.I. has an ever-increasing immigrant population, he decided to learn a few words in French, Japanese and Italian in order to try and communicate with different people along the parade route.
“Kon’nichiwa,’’ Byers says to one group, which simply translates to ‘hello’ in Japanese.
He prefers to walk most of the route, although Byers hitches a ride once in a while with friend and colleague Bill McCormack, who drives the tractor Mucker Joe uses the store the manure he scoops up.
“He’s awesome,’’ Byers says of McCormack. “I won’t do it unless Bill is there.
Byers says it’s hard to find the words to put the pride he feels in perspective.
“I mean, we’re talking about one of the biggest parades in Eastern Canada. We have a beautiful Island here and I’ve seen the parade evolve over the years. It’s just gotten better and better.’’
Lottie Arsenault, one of the estimated 50,000 to 60,000 people who turned out on Friday, agrees.
"I’ve missed one parade in my entire life,’’ Arsenault said. “I like the social part of it where you get to see old friends and I always like see the Gold Cup and Saucer (Ambassadors).’’
Like many who watch the parade, Arsenault says the Community Clash Band is one of her favourite entries. Arsenault practically sprung out of her chair when they came by on Friday.
Steve Blackie and his wife, Lisa Faulkner, come over from Cape Breton to vacation and say they never miss the parade.
“Whether it’s raining or sunny, we’re here every year,’’ Blackie said. “We love seeing the veterans. (The parade) is great every year. We love everything it has to offer and we love (capping it off) with the Gold Cup and Saucer Race (on Saturday).’’
Eight-year-old Max Packwood took one look down at his eight-week-old miniature dachshund puppy on his lap when The Guardian asked what he was most excited to see.
“I want to see lots of dogs,’’ Max said.
“I want to see some dogs, too,’’ replied his five-year-old sister, Kallie. “I’m hoping there are going to be some horses, too.’’
Knowing that the parade continues to appeal to the young and old is part of what keeps Byers going. "Mucker Joe" sees no end in sight.
“I’ll do this as long as I can walk and talk, probably,’’ Byers says. “I can’t see myself not doing it, you know what I mean? I have a blast. I just feed on the people. It’s just unreal. If I can make them laugh in any way I will.’’