November 2018

Floating High over Gotham: An in-person view of the Macy’s Thanksgiving Parade

Author: Stephen Prudhomme | Photographer: Stephen Prudhomme

I grew up in New Jersey and visited New York City a number of times before moving to Atlanta as a teenager. I did not, however, go to Gotham City to attend the Macy’s Thanksgiving Parade but instead watched it on TV as religiously as I ate turkey, stuffing and other holiday staples and watched football. My wife, Fran, an Ohio native, likewise settled for the televised version of the parade, a tradition we continued after getting married in 1995 and that our son Paul started shortly after he learned to walk. We vowed to one day attend in person.

That day finally came in 2017. We drove north with millions of our closest friends on the busiest travel day of the year and arrived in Manhattan late that Wednesday night. Fran had procured a hotel room a short distance from Central Park for a mere $200 a night; it was a nice room but not overly spacious. Welcome to New York, the city that never sleeps on a chance to make a buck.

On Thanksgiving morning, we walked about a half mile to the park, the streets teeming with people with the same destination in mind. There was a feeling of anticipation and excitement in the cold air as we scurried along, exchanging greetings with the on-duty police officers we encountered along the way. Having worked before on holidays, I appreciated their presence and wanted to thank them.

We came to a street across from Central Park and sought some choice standing spots among the gathering crowd. Since we were several blocks away from where the parade started, we knew we had a bit of a wait before Charlie Brown, the Pillsbury Dough Boy and their giant friends came floating by.

We chatted with some people standing near us and learned they were from Georgia and, like us, were attending the parade for the first time. We saw heavily armed police and military in the area, scanning the crowd for any signs of trouble.

It eventually came in the form of a belligerent, young woman who was arguing with a policeman about something and eventually earned a spot in the back of a patrol car. Alas, she wouldn’t have a chance to dance with the Rockettes.

Shortly after this way-off-Broadway play ended, we heard the sound of music and knew the parade was getting closer. Finally, after several hours of waiting, the first float came into view—Scrat, the squirrel from Ice Age, whose pursuit of an acorn remains a fruitless one, as the nut continually eludes its grasp or, in some cases, escapes its clutches following yet another mishap to the hapless rodent.

Meanwhile, it felt like they were filming a sequel to Ice Age. It was cold and breezy, and since we were standing in one spot, it was difficult to say warm. Any thoughts of going to Times Square for the New Year’s Eve celebration, when it’s colder, more crowded, and the wait time considerably longer, quickly floated out of my mind. There are certain advantages to watching the ball drop and the parade on TV.

As floats go, the squirrel was average in size and appeared almost lifelike. I kept waiting for a tree or skyscraper to fall on Scrat. A parade of floats followed, including Charlie Brown, the Pillsbury Doughboy, a Power Ranger, Spongebob Squarepants, and a host of modern cartoon characters that I asked my son to identify. The Pillsbury Doughboy and Power Ranger were among the larger floats, seemingly taking up the entire block as they moved slowly along, filling me with the awe and wonder of a child as I gazed up at them. After all the years of watching the parade on TV, it felt surreal to finally see it in person and take in the artistry and size of the floats. As with a sporting event or concert, live is better.

The floats, while definitely the biggest attractions, shared the parade route with marching bands and a lineup of celebrities that included Smokey Robinson, Jimmy Fallon and the actor Common.

There was nothing common about our parade experience, however. Although we were ready to leave after standing for three to four hours in the cold, it was a good kind of tired. We truly loved a parade that proved to be larger than life and had us floating on cold air, just like our airborne friends.

“It was an amazing experience,” Fran said. “It was exciting. The floats were smaller than I thought. They look larger on TV.”

Speaking of TV, Fran says she’ll likely watch future parades from the comfort and warmth of home. “I couldn’t believe how frigid it was,” she said. “I had to wrap my whole head in a scarf. It was a once-in-a-lifetime experience.”

Paul found the parade to be cool and cold. “It was really cold,” he said. “Still, it was just a cool experience to finally see it in person after seeing it on TV all those years. The floats are something else. Seeing famous people was pretty cool.”

With the parade over, our next challenge was to float a loan from a financial institution to cover any charges we incurred while staying in New York for two days after Thanksgiving. Although there’s no charge to watch the parade, finding other freebies in the Big Apple is about as likely as Scrat finally getting a hold of that elusive acorn.

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