Friday, November 25, 2016

Macy's Balloons on Thanksgiving Eve

About a decade ago (which really means 15 years ago). Don and I took a trip into NYC on Thanksgiving Eve to watch the balloons become inflated.The year was 2001, only two months after 9/11. It was a pretty quiet event. The few pictures I took that day showed we walked around the usual tourist spots -- Rockefeller Center, Times Square, the New York Historical Society (which was having an exhibit featuring the 75th anniversary of the Macy's Parade) and had dinner at Hard Rock Cafe. I was about 3 months pregnant with Ashley.

I'm so glad we took pictures from that day to prove to ourselves our memory was not off. The flyer reads "you can watch your favorite cartoon characters getting pumped up for the parade on Central Park West between 77 St. and 81 St. Wednesday November 21. All night from 10 PM until the parade starts."

We have one photo from 2001 that looks like daylight (I didn't scan that one), which to me implies we saw them starting, left to get dinner, and returned later. In the pictures you can see they were definitely still inflating the balloons as we walked by. It was also not crowded. There was no fence around them. I don't even see a net around Ronald McDonald. I do remember it was a festive scene, but not at all crowded, sort of something only insiders knew about. Not even sure how we learned about it, though I suspect it was from a co-worker since this was pre-FaceBook era.


Fast forward to 2016. Due to being downsized, and recovering from open heart surgery, Don was not working that day. Ashley was home by 1. It was a brisk 43 degree fall day. We took the train into Penn Station (and in deference to Don not yet being at 100%) took the C train to the 81st Street subway station. All that took us until 4:47. It didn't help we caught the local train out of Princeton Junction (making the ride 1 hour 20 minutes long), and at least six E trains stopped before a C train did (but not until we dashed to the express platform to catch the C train). Ugh.

One of the first changes you'll note is that viewing is now from 3-10 PM, not all night as it had been. You'll also note HUGE crowds. We got off at the subway stop in the middle of the Balloon Inflation Viewing area on 81st Street (there are two exits from the subway station, we just got lucky by going away from the crowds in order to get outside). After seeing the first half (really the second half) we joined the long, but moving steadily, queue on 79th Street. Don and I were both surprised by the length of the line. People were friendly. No one was complaining. Talking to people I learned many flew in for the parade. I was glad good weather was in the forecast since none of this is fun in a cold rain. Been there. Done that. (Pre-blogging days, guessing about 10 years ago.) I looked around the crowd wondering if we would bump into anyone we would know.

The next big change was all of the balloons were already inflated. They all had nets on top of them, weighed down by sandbags. Each  balloon was behind a fence. Seemed like each one had a personal port-o-pot for the those inflating the balloons. The port-o-pots seemed to be strategically placed in order to end up in most photographs. In general, it was too crowded to get a decent picture. The other side of the balloons had a prime passageway for locals to be able to check them out without having to stand in line. I guess being inconvenienced a couple of days a year has its perks.

An hour and 20 minutes later we made it back to where we started. It was now 6:05 PM, and still 43 degrees. For some reason instead of dashing back into the subway station we decided to keep walking and see the balloons again.

Now I remember why we did this -- it was to try to get a better "family" picture without the port-o-pot in it. We asked several people to try to take a picture of us. Each time explaining that is really our last name, and no we won't make them do this for us in front of each balloon. The best picture was taken by a man who said "the family photographer" was at home.

We could not get back to the 81st Street station. Fortunately there is another one at 86th Street (much to my pleasant surprise). We retraced our steps. Another bonus for the day was that the train we wanted to take was 10 minutes late. Rather than missing it by 2 minutes and having to wait about 50 minutes for the next one, we only had to wait 8 minutes.

On the train ride I looked at FaceBook and saw several other friends were also looking at the balloons. I was not to far off when I wondered if we would see anyone we knew.

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