2019 Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade

Everyone knows it’s windy

By Mark Voger, author
“Groovy: When Flower Power Bloomed in Pop Culture”

Team Gold Starflake gathered around 7 a.m. at the balloon area off 81st Street, where our pilot told us: “I have some tragic news. Last night while being inflated, one of the (two) Gold Starflakes got loose, flew across the street, crashed into a building and burst.” (We balloon handlers would be “doubling up” on the surviving Starflake.)

He added that there was further news which “terrified” him: As of this moment, the NYPD has cleared all parade balloons for flying.

Y’see, the wind was the big story going into the 93rd annual Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade on Nov. 28, 2019, with predicted sustained gusts between 25 and 40 MPH, and fears that the balloons may be grounded.

This is what two Gold Starflakes flying high look like.

My first parade in 2013 was extremely windy, but nothing like this. We had a bear of a time getting the surviving Gold Starflake out from under her protective netting and weights, as we struggled against constant gusts and a whirlwind of leaves, trash and even errant pieces of costuming that whipped around us.

Adding to the fun, I had a personal complication. For the last coupla months, I’ve been wrestling with an injured right knee. (No, I ain’t been to the doc; I was in my usual it’ll-go-away-on-its-own mode.) It’s gotten to the point where I’m using a cane to get around. But I chose to do the parade anyway. I would call this decision ill-advised, except for the fact that nobody actually advised me.

This is what one Gold Starflake flying low looks like. And there’s me (circled).

So naturally, it wound up being a bad year to do the parade with a bad knee. Costuming was relocated from the Manhattan Center to the Jacob Javits Center, a farther walk from Port Authority. (At 5 in the morning, I easily hailed a cab for the trek, but after the parade, traffic was snarled to the point of standstill, so I hoofed it.)

There’s always a bit of jogging required along the 2.5-mile parade route, which I’d factored into my decision. But this year, we flew the Starflake super low — one handler was assigned to correct the balloon whenever it hit the ground — and we kept falling behind the previous float. We made up the distance by doing “double-time” — jogging at a decent clip (though never for too long). This happened at least five times. Even though I was wearing two knee braces, compression pants and new sneaks, I felt white-hot pain in my right knee with every instance of heel-to-street impact during these jogs.

Plus, thanks to the ongoing wind and low flying, we were sometimes being pulled, basically. In other words, we balloon handlers weren’t handling the balloon. The balloon was handling us.

Anyways, cherish any mobility you have, folks.

The Singing Christmas Tree. It’s kinda cool.

We were positioned directly behind the Singing Christmas Tree (a live choir populating a giant, multi-level prop tree) and in front of the drag clowns. (My unscientific theory: The drag clowns appear to be “regular” guys having a lark, as opposed to “true” drag artists.) This year, the drag clowns wore purple wigs, lavender crinoline skirts, and candy-cane-striped tights. They had purple butterfly wings on their backs, and were topped with “cupcake” prop hats. Ru Paul would not approve.

Funny moment: Police dogs (marked “K9”) accompanied officers all along the parade route. One of the drag clowns was interacting with the crowd. A nearby police dog didn’t like the looks of this. He barked and barked. His master — a cop, of course — told him it was OK. The dog was quiet for a moment, but started barking again. He looked up at his master with confusion, as if to say, “You mean to tell me you’re OK with this?”

From left: Ciara, Kelly Rowland and TLC.
From left: Chicago, Debbie Gibson and K-poppers NCT 127.

Performing artists this year included Ashanti, Chicago, Ciara, Debbie Gibson, That Girl Lay Lay, Kelly Rowland, Black Eyed Peas, TLC, Celine Dion, K-poppers NCT 127 (which is also a pesticide), and Idina Menzel — or, as John Travolta once called her, Wang Dang Doodle.

Gold Starflake was my third non-character balloon; I must be on some kind of list. My balloons thus far: Yes Virginia (2013), Bob the Fireman (2014), Elf on the Shelf (2015), Red Star #2 (2016), C.J. the Elf (2017), Red Star #2 (2018), and now Gold Starflake 1.

Red Star #2 was great, because we were right behind Santa. Gold Starflake didn’t even get air time; after the Singing Christmas Tree performed (with a confetti-blast finale), NBC went to commercial, and we filed by unceremoniously.

I said the wind was the big story in the leadup to the parade. Actually, it was the big parade-related story. Otherwise, the impeachment inquiry took center stage in the news that week. Leave it to Stephen Colbert to tie them together. He joked that the transcript of the infamous July 25 call between Donald Trump and Ukraine president Volodymyr Zelenskiy will be the subject of a balloon in this year’s parade.

P.S.: I agree that we need a black Santa Claus in the parade before the 100th such event. Think of the love and healing that could happen on that day!

According to a 2017 New York Post article, the New York City Macy’s store has unadvertised black and Latinx Santas. But the parade would be the biggie.

I don’t know nuthin’ about the social media. Could one a’you Tweeters please take the following hashtag and make it a viral sensation? My understanding is that it’s the only way to get things done nowadays. Thanks, Tweeters.