For a moment it seemed New York City was almost back to normal.
After the pandemic forced an attenuated, blocklong version of the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade last year, this year the iconic event was set to roar back to life, with the full complement of floats, balloons, and marching bands expected to parade on Thursday all along Central Park West to Herald Square.
And once again it kicked off on Wednesday with another tradition, known locally as “Inflation Day” — the public viewing on 72nd Street of the giant Pikachu, Papa Smurf, Smokey Bear and other balloon stars as they were filled with helium for the parade.
“Anyone wishing to see the inflation of the balloons must get off at this station,” a train driver for the Metropolitan Transportation Authority said over the loudspeaker of an uptown C train as it pulled in to the 72nd Street subway station “This is where you see the balloons.”
Just up the subway stairs was another, less welcoming announcement. “Welcome to fascist New York!” an anti-vaccine demonstrator shouted repeatedly at the crowd, which included little children, parents, and veterans in wheelchairs, as they passed by on their way to view the balloons.
And as people streamed east on 71st Street, they were met by a gauntlet of people in red pinnies with “vax checker” written on their backs. The checkers asked everyone to show their identification and vaccination cards, and to put on a face mask.
On 81st Street, Diane Roberts, who works in media in Washington, D.C., was celebrating a what she called a milestone birthday a year late — she refused to say which one — with four best friends who were at last able to travel from around the country to be with her.
Just speaking about being able to see the parade brought tears to her eyes. She wasn’t bothered by the vaccine checkers, the crowd control or the necessity of masks. “It is a cloud over it but it but I still think it’s better to be here masked then not to be here at all,” she said.
A few blocks away was the Lamar family, visiting from Atlanta, Georgia, on their first family trip since the pandemic began more than 20 months ago. They were taking in a giant green dinosaur. “Moments of celebration are important,” Leroy Lamar, who runs a nonprofit organization, said. “And it is important that we do them together.”