Three hundred extra steps. Three extra turns. Two new avenues.
The giant balloons will follow a longer, curvier route that for the first time bypasses Broadway as they are led downtown on Thursday morning in the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade.
The new route — heading downtown along Central Park West, Seventh Avenue and Avenue of the Americas before ending at 34th Street — creates new challenges for those lugging tubas the extra distance, or wrestling an enormous floating Spider-Man around corners.
The six new corner turns have attracted some attention, given past problems with renegade balloons buffeted by high winds – people were injured in 1997 and 2005 when street lights were toppled – that prompted organizers to adopt stricter safety rules.
Because the parade previously followed the diagonal cut of Broadway, which is no longer an option because of its recent transformation into a pedestrian mall, the route used to be shorter and straighter.
Parade organizers played down the significance of the changes, emphasizing that the parade has long begun with a turn off 77th Street, where the balloons are inflated, onto Central Park West and ended with a sharp turn off Broadway. “There’s nothing here that’s new to us,” said Robin B. Hall, the parade director, “except for the parade route.”
However, experts agreed that turns tended to be the toughest part of any parade for trained balloon handlers, particularly in windy conditions. Traffic and street lights are removed or adjusted to make space for maneuvering, and wind levels are recorded at each intersection. The balloons are flown lower during the turns, with the movements of those manning the lines for each balloon directed by six-person captain and pilot teams.
“You can’t just turn,” said Brian Schwartz, a theoretical physics professor at the Graduate Center of the City University of New York. “You really have to plan for it.”
Charles Trimble, owner of Big Events Inc, a California company that specializes in giant balloons, said that the ideal parade street was wide, straight and windless. “That’s a balloon person’s dream,” he said. “That’s beautiful.”
“Getting all those people around a corner can be interesting,” he added. “They’ll work a little harder; the crowd loves that. They love to see you doing something with the balloon.”
The weather forecast appears favorable for a smooth event on Thursday, with temperatures up to the mid-50s, no rain and light wind, according to the National Weather Service.
Turning a corner smoothly can also be a challenge for marching bands in the parade. Kevin Pollock, the band director of Franklin Regional Senior High School in Murrysville, Pa., said that he has told his students to focus on staying in formation. “We’ve worked a lot with that because we knew there would be more twists in the road,” he said. “I don’t see it as an insurmountable problem.”
The parade’s change in path has also provoked the predictable bring-it-back-to-my-backyard griping from the home and business owners who lost premium parade views — including a late night complaint from David Letterman — as well as the predictable excitement among those on Seventh Avenue and Avenue of the Americas suddenly in possession of the prized window real estate.
“For everyone that loses a view of the parade,” said Mr. Hall, “there is someone who picks up a view of the parade.”
Sound One, a company that does audio work for movies, reluctantly canceled its annual 600-person parade party. “Some companies have family picnics, we had the Thanksgiving Day parade,” said Jay Rubin, business development manager for the company, pointing morosely to the sweeping view of Broadway from a corner office in the Brill Building. “It’s such a letdown we can’t do it.”
About a block away from the Brill Building on Seventh Avenue, Quad Recording Studios is planning a small Thanksgiving parade party of its own. Standing in a corner studio, Vince Orsini looked up Seventh Avenue and said, “It’s definitely going to be cool.”
The traditional Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade gets a new route and hopefully no balloons will get lost this year. Happy Thanksgiving!