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110 in the big city, part 2
A personal account of the Marching 110's experience as lead band in the 2005 Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade

Dec. 10, 2005
By Natalia Lavric

Thursday, November 24th: The Big Day

1 a.m. -- good morning! We're out the door at 1:30 in our uniforms and roll into the city about half an hour later. I am not awake or excited until we watch the band's 2000 performance and groan as Matt Lauer calls us "the hundred and ten" instead of "one ten." After seeing the giant crowd and the band's energy, though, I am more understanding about being up at such a horrible hour.

Photo by Natalia LavricWe warm up outside Macy's and march down 34th Street to the giant Herald Square star -- the band only runs the drill twice and listens to what seems to be the voice of God, since we can't see the parade director, as he gives us directions. "Run, band, run!" he tells us, and we oblige, scrambling back to our spots. We can't help smiling as we look upward, watching snow begin to fall past the Christmas lights surrounding Macy's and onto 34th Street. Incredible.

The Hard Rock Café is our next destination, and we eat at a breakfast buffet and chat with staff members that look tired but are as upbeat as one can be at 4 a.m. After we eat and drool at the rock memorabilia -- oh my God, can you believe that the Beatles' suits are here? We board the buses again and take a pre-parade nap. I sleep a little; although I'm physically tired, my mind races thanks to strong coffee and adrenaline.

"Oh, by the way," a groggy senior says right before we leave the buses, "Happy Thanksgiving."

We watch the preparations while we walk from our group photo in Central Park West to the parade-starting site, around 88th. Balloons stand, waiting, on a crossroad, and the floats, each pulled by a GMC Denali -- product placement, anyone? -- wait to inch forward. They all look bigger on TV. Tom Turkey, our fine metal-feathered friend, is not nearly as large but is every bit as creepy as I pictured him. All of the floats are subject to last-minute testing, and it's funny to see everyone getting ready. The Sesame Street float holds a decapitated Big Bird, who will come to life after the woman inside the costume finishes her cigarette, and we watch Pilgrims wearing jeans and Chuck Taylor tennis shoes under their skirts as they finish their Starbucks drinks. We are waiting to see celebrities and are generally disappointed. Why are the Cheetah Girls famous, and why are they wearing so much makeup? We catch a glimpse of Al Roker, Biff Henderson from "The Late Show," and "Queer Eye's" Jai Rodriguez, who is adorable and should go on a date with me.

"Five, four, three, two, one . . . let's have a parade!" Cheers from excited parade participants run rampant. "Just kidding! We're going to kick off the 79th annual Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade in 45 minutes!" The morning's theme is "hurry up and wait," but the last hour before we start marching is the worst. We line up in our block and await the official go-ahead from Robin, the skinny, gray-haired parade director who nervously smokes cigarettes nearly the entire time.

As soon as Dr. Suk gets the official signal, we line up, stand motionless at attention, play "Stand Up and Cheer," and begin our two-and-a-half-mile pilgrimage across the city. As the street numbers get lower, the crowds get bigger, and the first 20 blocks are a blur. I am tired -- my "chops," or my ability to play my trumpet, are holding up, but it becomes harder to lift my legs up at a 45-degree angle as I play "Dude Looks Like A Lady" for the third time. The parade is a sort of tour through midtown Manhattan, and although I hadn't had the chance to visit the Ed Sullivan Theater, we march past it and smile for the cameras nearby. My favorite part of the parade is marching through Times Square; I look up, see the steaming Cup of Noodles (which, incidentally, does not run at 4 a.m.) and think, "this is so cool." It's a once-in-a-lifetime experience.

The "quiet zone," beginning near 36th and Broadway, is where we reblock and get ready for our nationally televised debut as a band. We have a little downtime before we march, so as some of us catch our breaths, some grin with friends and remark how quickly the parade had gone, and some of us look up at the skyscrapers sandwiching the streets, trying to take in everything around us. As I look up and to my left, kids of all sizes are leaning up against the fourth-floor windows and waving at us. When my friends and I wave back, they giggle and clap their hands with delight. I feel like a rock star.

The NBC performance at Herald Square is over in seconds. I remember running to my spot and seeing a line of Rockettes and their plastered-on smiles standing behind us. Katie Couric says, "Ohio University," and Matt Lauer says, "110," but after hearing the "tweeeeeet, tweet tweet tweet tweet" and yelling, "Up, two, three, four," I am too busy concentrating to take in much else. Am I in line with the people to my left? What's that note? The dance break's coming up . . . ready, go.

I march, they march and we march. I try harder than ever to point my toes and make sure my legs are up high enough. One, B, three, four, once, GAB, BCD. Swaggering. Using my peripheral vision to look right and left. Good, I'm in line. We turn, snap our horns down, and start to dance. I can hear the "5, 6, 7, 8s" that we yelled during practice in my head, but they're silent now. We can't help grinning at our dance partners, and once we hit the splits, the crowd cheers.

It never gets old.

Photo by Natalia LavricThe song ends, we turn to the right and march off-camera playing a medley of holiday songs. We turn the corner, and it's over.

When we find our buses, we return to the hotel, peel off our uniforms and Under Armour -- I was overdressed, since I'd expected the weather to be 20 degrees cooler -- and go to bed, waking up around 3:30 p.m. to get ready for our dinner cruise around the island.

The food is not what most of us expected; as Woody Allen, one of my favorite New Yorkers, jokes in "Annie Hall," "There's an old joke -- two elderly women are at a Catskill mountain resort, and one of 'em says, 'Boy, the food at this place is really terrible.' The other one says, 'Yeah, I know; and such small portions!'" Both apply in this case.

Despite the food, or lack thereof, the view on the cruise is incredible; we can see the skyline and the Brooklyn Bridge, and many of us try to capture it on film from the boat's top deck, where the high winds whoosh by and throw the deck furniture to one side of the floor. It's cold -- I've got my arm around a friend and we huddle together to keep warm -- but the view is worth it. As we pass the Statue of Liberty, the DJ plays cliché patriotic ballads, and although I roll my eyes, it makes the moment memorable. The second floor of the boat has a dance floor, and conga lines run in between tables. We all "jump on it" when the bass-heavy song demands it. The adults on the bottom floor cringe; the ceiling shakes each time 200 of us bounce up and down in time with the music.

We get back on the buses, complain about the lack of food -- after all, this is Thanksgiving dinner, and most of us were expecting to eat enough to make up for the caloric deficit caused by marching all morning. When we get back to the hotel, most of us order pizzas, and the girls in our room watch David Letterman in hopes of seeing ourselves on TV.

Friday, November 25th

Photo by Natalia LavricBlack Friday! There's no better time to be in the city. My friend Megan and I brave the crowds and visit the Manhattan Mall and Macy's, both of which are crowded but have sales that make the trips worthwhile. I find what I'm looking for -- a hat, sweater, and the goofy-looking, yet stylish, gaucho pants that everyone here wears. I meet up with the other six members of my family, all of whom have made the 12-hour drive to watch the parade, at Macy's, and we run around the city, stopping in the Times Square McDonald's and Rockefeller Center. When my sister and I give the Salvation Army bell-ringer our spare change, he invites us to sing a Christmas carol, and we do. It wasn't our finest performance of "Rudolph," but now I can say that I've sung in front of a bunch of strangers in New York. They go back to their hotel after a few hours, and I visit stores that surround the ice rink. "Librarie de France" has books on sale, and I purchase several after saying "bonjour" and having a brief conversation in French with the cashier. I love this city.

We visit FAO Schwarz, the Starbucks in Trump Tower and Tiffany's, where I pick out my engagement ring, which is a steal at only $10,000. I meet back up with my friends, who have come down from the "Top of the Rock" tour, and we eat some of the best -- and certainly most expensive -- cheesecake I've ever had at Roxy's before heading to Central Park to ice skate on Wollman Rink, owned by Donald Trump.

Mixing in with the rink regulars, we teach Megan how to skate -- push out to the sides with your feet, bend your knees, and watch out for that guy! -- and enjoy ourselves on our last night in the city. Despite a tactical error on the subway, we manage to make it back to our hotel in Newark, N.J., by 12:30 a.m.

The last night in town is bittersweet. We've had an amazing week, and I know I'll be living in Manhattan someday, so I shouldn't be so disappointed to leave, right? It's the last time I'll see a lot of my friends for six weeks and the last time I'll see the NYC skyline for quite a while, but all in all, the experience was incredible, and I'm so glad we were a part of the parade. It's a week I know I'll never forget.

Natalia Lavric is a member of the Marching 110 and a student writer with University Communications and Marketing.

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Published: Dec 12, 2005 10:50:00 AM
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