The first sign that I was doing my job right came when a woman on the Upper West Side recognized me as a balloon handler in the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade.
Covered in a white jumpsuit, with Pokémon written on the front and two of the characters on the back, I made my way to my fellow wranglers for the Pikachu balloon.
I felt funny in the robe. My doorman was not even startled when I walked past in the early hours of Thursday morning. What does he think of my daily fashion choices?
The woman, who was on her way to get a lookout, stopped me in West 81st Street.
“I thought you were a balloon handler based on your outfit,” she said. She said she was eager to see the Baby Yoda balloon. (“And yours,” she added, perhaps dishonestly).
My team had more volunteers than lines to send Pikachu. So I thought I would be on the sidelines and get the crowd energetic. By some fate – I often describe myself as the Forrest Gump of The New York Times thanks to my random career opportunities – I was near the front of the balloon when we got the signal to get ready.
I finally drove the giant comic book character to its final destination: the deflation station in 40th Street and Seventh Avenue. (Pro tip: Consider watching the parade from there! From 36th Street, it felt like an abandoned amusement park.)
The trip was like an intense workout. Dragging the line requires a degree of strength and coordination while responding to calls to lower or lift the balloon. We also sometimes had to adjust faster to close the gap between us and the raft forward. I can not imagine doing it in windy weather.
I did the NYC marathon and that day looked to me like New York at its best. People who encourage strangers. And this is the only day in town when someone can give me a cup of water, a piece of candy or a slice of fruit and I will take it and not think twice about eating it. Today was similar. It will be something I look back on with love.