This is the granddaddy of the New York City Parades. It has a live television feed that goes around the country. It’s completely scripted so that it starts and ends on TV time with commercial breaks included. Santa arrives at noon on the last float and symbolically marks the start of Christmas retail frenzy. We all know the hype.
Tourists, locals, and the curious from the suburbs crowd the parade route. There are special viewing stands and invited VIP’s. The crowd forms up early. I got there about 1 ½ hours early and was ten deep from the curb. It’s not bad for the balloon viewing. I did not want to make the effort to get close and arrive earlier. It would have entailed waiting in the cold for hours. That is not a bit of fun. As it was, the temperature at 8AM was reported at 37 degrees.
Still, I wanted a better vantage than from the sidelines. Times Square is fun but the vantage would not be special. So off I hiked to the south end of the parade route. At 34th St, in front of Macy’s the parade turns right from Broadway. At this point on 33rd St, you can get a head on view of the balloons and then watch as they turn 90 degrees. Cool. From this vantage I had the balloons lined up. Broadway is a pedestrian mall now, so the balloons come down 6th Avenue. The featured performers still strut in front of Macy’s front door. I haven’t figured out the logistics of how they get the acts into position yet.
There was a police bus parked across Broadway, which effectively blocked out all view to the north of anything at street level. So the bands and floats were hidden. It turns out that the police use the bus for their own special guests, kids, and family. They can watch in relative warmth and have a splendid view. At least they don’t stand on the roof of the bus.
Once the parade started, a large police truck tried to get in through the crowd to park near the bus. It wasn’t civil disobedience. It was simply that no one could move to let this truck through. Nice try.
Anyway, the balloons are the special feature of the parade that is unique. There have been many stories and some problems reported in the past. A stiff wind was blowing from the west at about 10 mph. This meant that the handlers kept the balloons low to avoid injuries to the spectators. After that a band is a band. No insult intended here, but the most fun is watching bands from the south underdressed for the cold weather shivering as the parade moves slowly allowing for the proper television spacing. One year we were close enough to see the goose bumps on the poorly dressed majorettes. The northern bands, by the way, were dressed head to toe in heavy sensible wool.
The crowd is very similarly underdressed. You can pretty much count on someone fidgeting in front of you to eventually leave because of the cold. I also learned that the parade loops back uptown along 7th Avenue. The reason? Ah! It is in order to park the floats on the side streets until they can be driven away. After the parade there is chaos on the streets with spectators taking over the cross-town streets and avenues as a giant pedestrian mall. I do believe that this is what a crowd of a million people looks like. They actually disperse fairly quickly.