Behind the Parade: the hidden Thanksgiving

Ruddy cheeks, frosty breath, chestnuts roasting in the street, Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade— all familiar markers of my favorite holiday, the one day that all Americans celebrate together. But what goes on behind the scenes? How does New York prepare? There are long lines at local markets and a lot of activity in the city’s kitchens, of course, but some of the preparations never make it to the glossy magazine spreads.

The city cordons off the area that encompasses 77th to 81st Streets from Central Park to Columbus and sometimes as far as Amsterdam Avenue.  These streets host some of the floats and all the trucks that inflate the gigantic balloons that distinguish this parade from every other one. They splay their air compressors and huge, serpentine hoses over the roads. Parents bring their kids, and teenagers come with their friends to watch the balloons come to life during the night. The crowds are enormous, but smiling faces and a festive air make the wait on long, snaking lines bearable.

The city’s traffic department reroutes both pedestrian and vehicular traffic— a thankless job, confronting angry people that can’t get where they want to go. The graceful lampposts that arch over Central Park West have to be rotated to make way for the iconic balloons.

What about the people who live and work in the parade-launching area? How do merchants and apartment dwellers manage the disruptions? The answer is: not easily at all. Beginning on the Monday before Thanksgiving, barricades line all the streets. That mostly affects jaywalkers like me who can’t cross in the middle as they usually do.

Coping with restrictions gets progressively more difficult. From early Wednesday morning until Thursday afternoon, the entire area is off limits.  All cars, moving or parked, are banned. Residents, their nannies and housekeepers who’d like to go home must show a government-issued photo ID before they can enter the quarantined district. Their guests need not only a photo ID, but also a copy of the invitation and the host’s phone number. Merchants and restaurants are out of luck. Patients can’t see their doctors and clients can’t visit their lawyers. The subway entrances are closed and the Museum of Natural History can’t remain open if no one can reach it.

This is the triumph of the 99 percent: in order for the many to revel in the epitome of a New York Thanksgiving, the few who live in some of the most desirable addresses of Manhattan are subject to martial law on the week of our national holiday.

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