You might know that I’m a professional foodie, but what you might not know is that I was literally born into this career choice. The year that I was born, my mom enjoyed two Thanksgiving dinners, at each respective grandparent-to-be’s households. Feeling like she had had a little too much to eat was instead labor pains and I was born the day after Thanksgiving at 8 AM. I love that my birthday so often falls on or around this holiday because it involves close family and friends, delicious food, and allows me to have a huge say in the cooking, since it is also my birthday meal.
Over the last few years, I have somehow managed to convince my parents that walking three miles in coordinated jumpsuits on national TV pulling a large fictitious creature would be a great way to spend Thanksgiving/my birthday. We have held three balloons in total over the years, the Blue Elf around Santa, Beethoven, and Virginia.
I’m always asked about what happens in the life of a balloon handler, so here goes! We line up outside the New Yorker Hotel at 6 AM Thanksgiving Day and suit up in jumpsuits that all make us look like convicts. My 6’4” father is always given a suit that is not long enough, and my mom and I always have a mother-daughter moment as we stand there laughing through tears as he tries to unsuccessfully stuff himself into it. As we make our way out to the buses at 34th Street at 7 AM, we were among a sea of other costumed characters: a spool of thread, a movie usher, a large man dressed in a diaper, a group of Rubik’s Cubes. We arrive at 72nd Street to greet our balloons that are inflated, but strapped to the ground by nets that makes them look like beached whales on a fisherman’s ship, or since we are outside of the Natural History Museum, something from “A Night at the Museum” with Ben Stiller.
As the parade is announced at 9 AM, each balloon enters the parade. We remove the netting, and ease our contribution into the air. We work as a team with 50-60 other people to make it dance for all the passersby on the street and apartment dwellers pressed up against their apartment windows on Central Park West. When there is no wind, it’s a breeze to walk the balloon; when it’s windy, you feel like you are pumping weights at the gym to keep your feet on the ground. When we approach the broadcasters in front of the Macy’s store at 34th Street, you feel like you are making your stage entrance as you take in all the cameras and bleachers of people that are not watching you, but rather the balloon far above you head.
And just like that, it’s over! We deflate our balloon on 8th Avenue by walking, sitting, and smoothing it until it deflates. We return all suits and hats and head home to start cooking!
Thanks to all for the birthday wishes. Have a wonderful Thanksgiving!