When I heard they were predicting rain and high winds for the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day parade in New York this past Thursday, my mind couldn’t help but wander back to the year I rode in that parade back in the early seventies. It wasn’t wet and windy, but it was so cold I thought there was absolutely no way I was going to live to tell about it. To this day, it remains the coldest I remember ever being in my life.
I had been invited to ride on a float shaped like a giant rocking horse and sing my version of “The Unicorn.” That part was fine. I was excited. It was all the other parts they didn’t tell me about beforehand that nearly did me in.
Of course, they had no way of knowing how cold the weather would turn out to be, but they could have at least told me that we had to be at the staging area in Central Park before the sun came up. I recall setting my alarm clock for 3 A.M. Of course, anytime I do that, I lie in bed with one eye open and never truly fall asleep.
They also didn’t bother to tell me, or any of the other participants, that our dressing room would be a parked school bus….yes, a big yellow SCHOOL bus…with no heat!! Jody Miller, the lady who recorded, “Queen Of The House,” the female answer to Roger Miller’s “King Of The Road,” was assigned to the same bus, and she moaned and groaned so loud and long about being cold that they actually had someone travel all the way down to Macy’s before daybreak, go inside the store and gather up all the gloves, scarves, heavy socks, and thermal underwear they could find.
When they got back, Jody yelled, “Turn your heads, guys, I’m puttin’ this stuff on,” and we did and she did. And then so did I. But neither of us ever got warm.
The day dawned bright and clear, but because of all the skyscrapers in downtown New York City, the sun never hit the pavement until it was directly overhead. That meant about noon along our parade route. I was convinced we’d be frozen solid by then.
I mounted my wooden Unicorn about 8 A.M. and was told that I could wear my heavy overcoat and gloves until we got to the reviewing stand several miles away where the parade would pause and I would sing for the TV cameras. At that point, they said I’d have to remove all my outer wear and perform in a thin, western-cut suit. Nobody bothered to add that the wind chill was seventeen degrees below zero!
Before we got two blocks south of Central Park, even with the heavy coat, my legs were frozen solid from the knees down. The only way I knew I still had feet was when I looked down and saw them. The good part was I didn’t have to worry about smiling. My first big smile froze to my face and I couldn’t have gotten it off with a chisel!
By the time we got to the front of Macy’s, and some bouncy young production assistant came and made off with my overcoat, I couldn’t have told you what planet I was on. There is a picture somewhere of me grinning and waving to the crowd, but all I remember was the pain. They tell me I managed to lip-sync perfectly to the music, but all I recall is moving past the reviewing stand and someone saying, “You can get down now.”
“That’s easy for you to say,” I quipped. By this time I had no feeling in my legs from the waist down. I could not move any part of the lower half of my body. Three or four big husky guards from Macy’s came and lifted me off the float. Somebody said cheerfully, “Come inside and have some hot chocolate.”
I remember thinking, “Only if you’ll pour it over my legs and let me soak my feet in it!”
It was quite an experience, but come to think of it, I’ve had several interesting experiences riding in parades. Join me here around New Year’s, and I’ll tell you about almost falling asleep and off my float while posing as a Canadian riding in the Rose Bowl parade. Or maybe you’d rather hear about the time I was Grand Marshall of the Banana Festival Parade and my job was to ride in the back of a shiny blue a convertible and throw bananas out into the crowd. No, that’s not where or why I wrote the song, “Peel Me A ‘Nanner.”
But I’ve been tempted more than once to write one called, “I Love A Parade….NOT!”