I used to think that the Macy’s Thanksgiving balloon inflation was an event known only to locals. Not even my friend Susan, who has lived in NY almost her entire life, has ever walked along Central Park West pre-turkey day night. Back in 2000, the year that I moved to the city, I breezed past the balloons outside of the Museum of Natural History, stopping when I wanted, taking photos when I felt like it. I never fought snarky crowds or grumbled about tall people, poofy hair or fuzzy hats blocking my view.
In the past few years hordes of people have begun showing up for balloon inflation night. Last night’s turnout along W. 81st to W. 77th and Columbus and Central Park West swelled to ridiculous proportions, as enormous and monstrous as a giant Kermit the Frog pumped up high on helium. So much for stopping and snapping tons of awesome pictures as I used to do.
Balloon inflation officially started at 3 o’clock in the afternoon. Due to a last minute trip to Kitchen Arts and Letters and an apple pie purchase at Zabar’s, Sean and I reached the route a little later than planned, around 5:15. (Actually, it was Sean and I and roughly 3,500 other gawkers showing up around 5:15.) Clustered on the corner of Columbus and 79th, we waited what seemed like an eternity before shuffling across the street. It took another 15 minutes of jostling through the throngs, clutching my Zabar’s bag and hoping that the Thanksgiving dessert survived, before we saw the first balloons — Ronald McDonald and the late Keith Haring’s “heart” — on 77th.
In spite of the wait and multitudes we arrived in time to watch two remaining balloons go up. Working beneath weighted nets, men and women hustled to erect Sesame Street’s Abby Cadabby and good old Sponge Bob Square Pants.
“Fish! Fish! Fish!” a favorite balloon as well as the mantra chanted as it glides down CPW, was already inflated and in place. Likewise, Snoopy a/k/a the Red Baron, Shrek, Horton, Beethoven, Kermit and the new Smurf — or as some weirdly called it, “Schumurf” — and Buzz Lightyear were blown up and tied down in anticipation of the next day’s parade.
Along with famous cartoon faces, we and countless others spotted Michael Bloomberg among the balloons. Cell phones, little digital cameras and even a medium format Mamiya captured Bloomberg as he talked to reporters about the recent MTA terrorist threat.
Oblivious to the topic or to whom she had photographed, a woman standing smack in front of me yelled out, “I got a picture of Bloomberg! I got Bloomberg! Now who’s Bloomberg?” Guess it’s not a locals thing anymore.
In the end we spent two hours wandering down 4 blocks, looking at 13 big balloons. Amazingly, the apple pie survived all the jolts and jiggling. And so did we!