A Day in the Life of a Macy’s Thanksgiving Parade Balloon Handler

Macy’s Thanksgiving Parade gets people excited – at least judging by some of the responses I got when I posted on social media last week that I would walk with the Pikachu ball.

Growing up, I often watched the parade on TV. I have fond memories of a Sesame Street float, a vague memory of a float with Marvel heroes and villains, and I’ve always been in awe of the Superman ball. (Turns out there was Three. The last Man of Steel balloon made its final parade appearance in 1987.)

But as a kid, I never thought about the production it has to be for a successful show. A year and a half ago, I started looking for a way to participate. (I first tried to do this last year, but Covid reduced parade time, balloons, volunteers and spectators.)

I was brought into the ranks of the ball handlers – it almost sounds like a whispering web, you have to know someone who knows someone – by a former colleague who had walked several times. I told her I was interested in participating and she helped me volunteer on her team this year.

Credit…Idris Solomon for The New York Times

The registration process involved uploading my proof of vaccination, watching a training video on proper balloon handling care and more. I added a new phrase to my vocabulary: “bone manipulation”. It is the device used to hold and tow the lines that facilitate the balloons along the parade route and, later, to the deflation area.

As a native of New York, I can’t wait to participate in such an experience in the Big Apple, although it will be a long day, fortunately, if the forecast is correct, with mild weather. I have to check in at 7:15 and probably won’t be done until 12:30.

My only concern, as a mama’s boy, was being late for my family’s Thanksgiving lunch, a tradition that dates back to when my sister and I worked evenings at the New York Times. But I dutifully visited my mother on Wednesday afternoon, asked her to keep an eye on me on TV, and promised I would eat plenty when I arrived.