When millions of Americans tune in to the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade Thursday morning, 1976 alumnus Mike Trageser will have a slightly different point of view. As a parade volunteer, he’ll greet thousands of New York City residents and tourists as he escorts a float through Manhattan.
“It truly is a great experience,” Trageser says. “To be in that parade and walk down the streets of New York and there’s just thousands of people that are there, it’s so much fun.”
This is Trageser’s third year as a float escort. In 2011, he escorted South Dakota’s float dressed as a park ranger and in 2012 he escorted “The Big Apple,” a New York-themed float, dressed as a taxi cab driver. This Thanksgiving, he’ll walk alongside the Marion-Carole Showboat float and its entertainers, the cast of A&E’s Duck Dynasty, as they make their way down the parade’s 2.5-mile course.
“You feel like you’re on Main Street, U.S.A.,” he says. “It’s one of the world’s biggest cities and you feel like you’re on Main Street, U.S.A.”
Just a few years ago, Trageser never could have predicted that he’d be a part of it.
That changed after a conversation with one of his employees at the Sands Casino in Bethlehem, Penn., where Trageser works as the director of marketing services. The employee had just finished walking around the casino floor asking customers to pick a balloon and pop it to see if they’d won a prize.
“I was joking around with her and said, ‘You really handled those balloons well,’ and she said, ‘Well, I should, I’m a balloon handler in the Macy’s parade,'” Trageser says.
To be in the parade, volunteers need to either work for Macy’s, be related to an employee or be sponsored by an employee who’s in the parade. Trageser’s employee, who also works at a Macy’s part-time, offered to get him in as a balloon handler if he completed the necessary training. But he said he didn’t have time. She then suggested becoming he become a float escort, which requires no training.
“I’m in,” Trageser said.
Trageser quickly realized what he likes most about escorting a float is the same thing he likes about working in customer service: Having the chance to make people happy.
“You walk down the street, shake hands and you touch a lot of peoples’ lives that day,” he says.
As he was making his way along the route in 2011, he came across a boy wearing a hat that said, “Cancer sucks.”
“I just went over and shook his hand and wished him a happy Thanksgiving and he had a big smile on his face,” Trageser says. “That was just really, really touching.”
The same year, he shook the hand of an elderly woman watching the parade with her family and wished her a happy Thanksgiving.
“She just brightened up,” Trageser says. “You could just tell that she was enjoying that parade. It just brings joy to a lot of different people.”
Being in the parade has also given Trageser a deeper appreciation for the work that goes in to it each year. With 82 floats and more than 10,000 volunteers and performers, the event requires months of planning and coordination to pull off.
“The team that puts this parade together just does an incredible job to make it happen,” he says. “People don’t see all of the work that goes in to this.”
On the day of the parade, Trageser arrives at a hotel near the 34th Street Macy’s at about 6 a.m. From there, he picks up his costume and is bused to the staging area along Central Park West.
Once his float leaves the staging area, Trageser says it takes about an hour to reach the end of the route. Depending on where his float is in the parade, that could be any time between 11 a.m. and noon. After that, all Trageser has to do is drop off his costume and he’s free to leave for his brother’s home in New Jersey for dinner.
Trageser says he hopes to continue his participation in the parade and wants to be there for the 100th anniversary in 2026.