Thursday, November 22, 2007

Inflation Night 2007

Happy Thanksgiving! Local news reported that a record one million visitorsStatue of Theodore Roosevelt turned out for Inflation Night in NYC this year, thanks to mild weather and the Broadway stagehands' strike. Here's my one in a million experience.

The helium balloons for the annual Thanksgiving Day Parade were inflated on the side streets surrounding the Museum of Natural History campus. Y'know, the really, really big museum with the statue of Theodore Roosevelt in front. It's easy to get to (the museum has its own subway stop) and for visitors unfamiliar with NYC, there's lots of helpful signs.

Not to mention it's pretty hard to miss all the balloons. There's balloons advertising the parade's sponsor, Macy's department store; a bazillion small balloons for the kiddies; and assorted seasonal balloons like these big pumpkins. There's other free swag, too – balloon animals, headbands with Shrek ears on them, fleece headbands, new Terra Crinkle chips, chances to win Macy's gift cards, etc.

Macy's balloons   Balloons for the kiddies   Big pumpkins

But the unabashed stars of Inflation Night are the giant helium balloons, each of which has a namecard showing what it looks like inflated (because it's hard to tell when they're flat) and its debut year. I decided to watch Supercute Hello Kitty, making her debut this year. She's face down, with netting and ropes already in place, but no sandbags yet.

Hello Kitty balloon

I knew it was the right choice when first NYPD came by to get the rundown (it was obvious this officer has young daughters), then local media. Lou Young from WCBS-TV Channel 2 did a good job interviewing the young'uns and charming the old'uns.

NYPD gets the rundown   Lou Young interviews the crowd

The inflation crew, volunteers from the Stevens Institute of Technology in Hoboken, NJ, worked slowly and deliberately. Much time was spent making certain the ropes didn't foul anything and the freezing cold helium went precisely where directed.

Careful volunteers

The balloon was inflated in parts. At first, crew members had to lift a section of netting and balloon to let one person wriggle underneath to reach the inflation ports.

Crawling under

The only time I saw the crew moving fast was when the balloon first showed signs of buoyancy, at about half inflated. Then they quickly clipped a multitude of 25-pound (11-kg) sandbags onto the netting.

Adding sandbags

Eventually the crew needed tall ladders to reach the inflation ports. The whole process, from flat to pretty much done, took about an hour.

Ladder required

There was 'way more to see than is shown here. The, um, most high concept balloon has gotta be Rabbit by Jeff Koons. It's balloon art, a giant balloon with authorship, a version of his inflatable Easter bunny cast in stainless steel. It has a fake inflation nipple on the back of its head and would seem to have passed out.

Rabbit by Jeff Koons

My favorite giant balloon in this year's bunch has gotta be Scooby-Doo, easily the most expressive. Even in an obstructed view, it looks dynamic, just raring to go.


Overall, I enjoyed Inflation Night. I wouldn't say it's better than the parade itself, not by a long shot, but it's worthwhile. The crowd was in a festive mood and considerate of children, shutterbugs, and people in wheelchairs (the event is fully handicapped accessible). Some people make it an annual tradition.


Bezzie said...

Oh very freakin' cool! I'd also love to see how they sew those puppies together too.

Our plan is to do the actual parade next Thanksgiving--which will also be Chunky's birthday.

Bridget said...

Oh this looks like so much fun! I would love to go sometime, but I guess it's kinda far to go ... if I got my act together, I could see when/where they do it here for the parade ...

Happy Thanksgiving!

Thomas "Tarquin" Churchwell said...

Was that you I bumped into?

Kim said...

Neat-o! Looks like lots of fun. Happy Thanksgiving!

Devorah said...

Thanks for the "blogger's eye view." In all these years that I have lived in Manhattan, I have never gone...