Friday, December 4, 2015


Each year, the day before Thanksgiving, the giant balloons for the Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade come to life to the oohs and aahs of children and adults alike. It's supposedly quite a sight to see as SpongeBob, Big Bird, Garfield and the others fill up with helium on the streets of Manhattan's Upper Westside.
We had done the parade when Emmy was little. In fact we did it twice: once without a ticket and the second time with one. Without a ticket means you need to get there early, very early, in order to get a space close enough to the action that you can see what's going on unless you happen to be tall enough to see over the crowd. We learned our lesson on that trip since we didn't get there early enough and we were definitely not tall enough. We hung out for a few minutes and then went home where we had seats in front of the TV. The second time we had bid on tickets at a school charity auction. There are bleacher seats that line the east side of Central Park West. With a ticket you are allowed in but there are drawbacks with this arrangement as well. The year we had the tickets happened to be one of the coldest Thanksgivings on record. We bundled up as best we could but we couldn't beat off the numbness in our fingers and toes and once your in the roped off bleacher area you can't get out and return. There are no port-a-potties in the bleacher area. With a six-year-old in tow no bathroom means when she has to go we all had to go. We maybe saw a third of that parade before we were back in front of the TV for the climatic Santa entrance.
This year, since we had decided to spend the holiday in New York and our apartment was only a few blocks from the start of the parade and now that Emmy has grown beyond childhood and the weather was on the mild side for this Thanksgiving, we decided we'd try to see the blowing up of the balloons on the night before. The viewing begins at three in the afternoon and is open until ten in the evening. Giant nets are used to hold down the balloons white they are being filled with helium and securing them until just before the parade. This year's latest additions include; Angry Bird's Red, Ice Age's Scrat and his Acorn, Snoopy & Garfield, Hello Kitty, Shrek and Abby Cadabby. Almost none of which I could identify without a "whose who" cheat sheet.
Those foolish enough to arrive early only get to see the flat latex lying out on the road, a huge disappointment. The time to see the balloons is after seven or eight when the latex has transformed from blob to balloon. Most people have figured this out so what happens then is the line to visit the balloons grows to tens of thousands of hopefuls after the sun has set and the massive lights have been turned on making for a more Halloween feel than Thanksgiving. By the time Emmy and I got there, around nine, the line was so long and the crowd so packed we decided to abandon our idea.
I, of course, don't like to give up on a quest I've started out on so my new plan was to get up at five in the morning and see if I could sneak in to see the balloons unencumbered by the crowds. It sort of worked. Under cover of night at five in the morning there weren't any crowds only the security guys posted at the ends of each block where the fully inflated but imprisoned cartoon characters now rested awaiting there celebrity positioning in the upcoming parade. There was just enough light to see the figures as generators continued to pump life into their now inflated forms.
There was a black and white photograph I had coveted of Spiderman being inflated taken by the photographer, Stuart Sperling, back in 1998. The photo had been donated several times to another charity auction we were a part of years before we left the city. This was the main reason for my obsession with going to the inflation. I'd hoped to recreate the image. So I snapped away trying to capture the essence of Sperling's photo.
I caught Dino the Dinosaur cowering over Harold the Fireman looking very apologetic at having either having tipped him over or killed him.
Snoopy seemed ready for takeoff with a rye smile as if he knew something I didn't.
Thomas the Train looked more bank robber than children's hero, the netting squishing him like a thief's nylon stocking mask.
The eerie quality of Toothless from "How to Train Your Dragon" was by far my favorite and the closest I came to capturing the mystic of Spiderman.
After the balloons I some how got to walk up Central Park West as the light was just coming up. The workmen were now assembling the floats that would accompany the balloons and the bands and dance groups.
I hit the eighty-first street subway exit just as the Spirit of America dance group was climbing up the exit stairs. The police barricades only allowed enough room for two people to pass each other. I couldn't count them but it seemed like thousands of little girls kept coming out of the exit some wrapped in the thermal silver blankets marathoners use after they've completed the race.
It was a short walk back against a crowd that was going the other way, some dressed in turkey outfits having eluded the butcher and someone else's Thanksgiving table.

Eddie Cantor Balloon, 1934
Photographer Unknown
From the Getty Archives


  1. Delighted to see my photo as part of this article. Just discovered it.

    Best, Stuart