Excitedly, Mamie made her way to the exit door of Penn Station having traveled only from Brick Church Station in East Orange New Jersey for her first ever Macy’s Thanksgiving Day parade. It took her only 30 minutes by train. But it was the culmination of a 50-year lifelong dream to see the parade in person.
It almost didn’t happen. Her husband waited with her for the 7 a.m. train in what the weather app described as a “real feel” of 6 degrees. After a 15-minute wait, they were ready to throw in the towel and head back home where it was warm. As they were getting ready to exit the platform, the train came into view. Away they went.
About 30 minutes into the parade, Mamie found herself desperately pushing and shoving her way out of the throng of parade enthusiasts. She had her fill before things even officially started. As she leaned against the grain, she discovered she was not alone. A train of parade escapees was right behind her.
The NYT told half the story in the headline, “Paradegoers Brave Coldest Thanksgiving in New York Since 1901.” The story left untold was of the hundreds, if not thousands fleeing the scene not long after it started. It wasn’t just cold. It was dangerously cold, the kind of cold when newscasters usually warn people to stay inside if they don’t absolutely have to go out.
The only currency that mattered was body heat. Strangers became intimates without a hint of self-consciousness. Mamie recently moved from the Southeast. She did not come prepared with those chemical hand warmers everyone else seemed to be carrying. They were stuffing them in gloves, shoes, and everywhere else that might need warming.
When Mamie saw that the Macy’s website was suggesting people arrive by 6 a.m. if they wanted a good viewing spot, it was already 6:15. Mamie almost gave up before leaving home. At 5-foot 5-inches, good sight-lines were almost impossible to come by. She didn’t get one.
Exhausted and sore from the long and circuitous walking route required to get there, she waited, first eagerly, then not so much. She was actually one of the lucky ones. There were many people not blessed with her stature. And they had been there even longer.
By the time the parade made its way to 39th St. and 6th Ave., many were already heading back to their hotel. Some had traveled great distances and rented nearby hotels. They had chairs up front and had been there for several hours to maintain their spot. They couldn’t take it either. At one point, the line of people heading out was as thick as the line of people coming in.
The floats were spectacular. The bands were exciting. It was as fine a parade as could be hoped for. But there was a definite and literal chilling effect from the weather. At no point could any of the parade goers set aside the unrelenting misery of being there. The heartiest of them grinned and bore it.
When asked if she would come back for another try next year, Mamie’s reply was a repeated and emphatic, “Never again!”