Macy’s Thanksgiving Parade – Part 2: Parade

As reported in the previous post, and against all reason, we went into the cold night air to look at a bunch of balloons moored with giant nets, in anticipation of one of the world’s most famous and enduring public spectacles: the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade.

So, with the temperature hovering around 20 degrees F and winds of unknown but predicted seriously dangerous to people and possibly the balloons, we left home with high hopes. Our apartment building is almost exactly .25 miles from Columbus Circle around which the parade was reputed to pass on its way from the Upper West Side at West 77th Street to its destination at 6th Avenue and West 34th Street where sits … Macy’s Department Store. More about Macy’s in a future post.

Understand that the Macy’s website should be/must be the most precise and authoritative place to find information about the parade. It said that there was “no public viewing” of the parade at Columbus Circle. Yet, when we arrived there, hundreds or thousands of people were arrayed around the police barricades set up to keep viewers from interacting with the parade. Concerned that the police might clear the area at any time (“no public viewing”), we set out to find a place from which to watch and take some photos.

Aha! You can’t cross most of the streets in the area. They are blocked up with more barricades. The City of New York must hold an inventory of literally thousands of these gray aluminum contraptions that they haul out for every disruptive event in the city (they occur on average every week somewhere – street fairs, parades, protest marches, etc.). Anyway, keep walking away from the parade route to find a place to cross the street to find a place to watch the parade. We arrive finally in the middle of a crowd stacked up on 7th Avenue with a view of sorts of West 59th Street, the path of the parade after its circumnavigation of Columbus Circle.

From this place we could indeed see the giant balloons as they passed, although the band members (biggest bands in the world, comprised of seemingly hundreds of performers) could only be seen only if they were wearing tall hats or playing tubas. We also encountered my favorite kinds of people with whom to watch a parade. Some of them had camped out there since well before the parade started and left their folding chairs open so as to prevent other people from standing there. Others, including a particularly tall young man to my right, believed they could not be out on the streets of New York without a full backpack of … something. Every time this young man turned to speak to his friends behind him, his backpack collided with me. He never noticed this until I decided to stop being pushed aside and stood my ground. Still, he did not seem to notice that now he could not just swing around whenever he pleased. He actually had to turn his head. Victory was mine!

Meanwhile, the parade continued and we saw a lot of wonderful, gigantic balloons being pulled/handled/managed by teams of many people holding cables/ropes as best they could. The predicted wind did not seem to be a major factor and the crowd was so packed together after a while that their collective body heat effectively fought off the 21-degree air.

After more than an hour of this, we decided that coffee was in order, so we left to find same at one of the ubiquitous Dunkin’ Donuts shops on West 57th, then repaired toward Columbus Circle to return home. However, by now, for reasons not clear, a large percentage of the crowd had left the Circle and we were able to watch the last quarter of the parade there. This included the Grinch balloon, the Singing Christmas Tree and, of course, Santa Claus and his reindeer at the end. So, below is a gallery of photos that I hope you, who had more sense than we, will enjoy from the warmth of your post-Thanksgiving holiday.

I actually do recommend that anyone in New York City at this time of year should make the effort, and it will be an effort, to see the parade. Once may well be enough, but it is indeed a spectacle to remember.

Macy’s Thanksgiving Parade – Part 1: Balloons

Who is it that does not love a parade?

  • Very short people
  • People who cannot stand the coldest parade day since 1901
  • People who can’t stand crowds
  • People who hate other people who wear large backpacks in crowded spaces
  • People who can’t stand being pleasantly told by hundreds of police “no, you can’t cross here”

Well, ignore them. It’s a parade. A special parade that’s been going on since 1924 when Macy’s transferred the parade from Newark, NJ where it had been conducted by Louis Bamberger. Mr. Bamberger was an interesting figure in his own right, though he gets only a brief mention in the Macy’s Parade legend. According to Wikipedia (what else?), Bamberger was Newark’s leading citizen from the early 1990s. With his sister, he founded the Institute for Advanced Study in Princeton. When he passed away in 1944, Newark’s flags were lowered to half-staff for three days and his department store closed for a day.

But, I digress. Now back to the present. We decided we had to experience this in full. This meant that the first step was to attend the balloon inflation on the Upper West Side the night before the parade. These balloons are enormous and, therefore, cannot simply be inflated the morning of the parade that steps off at 9:00 am. The Macy’s website said to take the 1 train to West 78th Street and enter the queue to see the balloons.

The website did not, however, explain that the “queue” started on West 73rd Street and to get to the “queue,” it was necessary to walk, with about a million other people, down Central Park West from 79th to 73rd. Except, and there is always an ‘except’ when a million people choose to do the same thing at the same time, you can’t just walk down there. If that were the case, you would have exited the subway at West 72nd and just walked to 73rd.

No, it was actually like queuing up for a Disneyland ride. We shuffled (you can’t call it walking) from 79th toward 73rd, but were turned around at around 75th (?) to shuffle back in the direction we came from, then turned again to repeat the process, all the while jammed between metal barricades the police had installed to keep the crowd together and moving in the right direction(s).

So, after zigzagging back and forth for some time, we heard an announcement that the “viewing will end at 8:00 pm” which also contradicted the website. It was now 7:45 and there was no balloon in sight. And, to quote Jean Paul Sartre, there was “no exit.” So, ever hopeful, we continued shuffling until we reached a crossing street. We had reversed course so many times by then, that I didn’t know what street we were on. The snow/sleet/mixed precipitation had stopped (did I mention that when we exited the subway, it was snowing/sleeting/mixed precipitating?)

n any case, on the crossing street, the objects of our hearts desire came into view. The crowd went into a frenzy, taking group photos with iPhones in front of the balloons that were encased in netting to keep them from blowing away before the parade even started. There were big balloons, very big balloons and gigantic balloons. One was leaking and being repaired by a crew.

I, of course, took some pictures too, set out below, and we headed home to prepare for the actual parade on Thanksgiving Day. More about that in the next post.