Everyone loves a parade, the thrill of seeing decorated floats and vehicles and hearing the music from the marching bands brings out the inner child in all of us and here in Stephenville, we got to experience that earlier this month during the Veterans Day Parade. Every time I witness this great American phenomenon, I'm reminded of the time I got to go have the ultimate experience, this is my story.
The year was 2002 and I was a second-year music student at Cisco Junior College, where I participated in the vocal ensemble, the CJC Singers, who sang a variety of music including Big Band, Pop, Motown, etc. but the year also introduced the establishment of a Country-style orchestra called the Texas Fiddlers, for which I got the chance of being a guitarist and vocalist.
Our first meeting was pretty much a run-down of what to expect for the coming semester. Our director, Mr. Best reminded us of an occasional college tradition of the school's marching band and drill team, the Wrangler Belles going to New York for the Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade and he said "they're going this year and guess what… We’re going with them!”
The year before, after I auditioned for the orchestra and made the cut, my stepfather said "Just think, Tim. This time next year, instead of watching the Macy's Parade on TV, you're actually going to be there" and now, the prophecy had come true.
The coming months meant rigorous rehearsals of "The Bonanza Theme" and Aaron Copland's "Hoedown" (The song from the "Beef, It's What's For Dinner" commercials") as well as video shoots with the Band and Belles in order to prepare for this moment of making school history once again.
Finally, the big week came. On Tuesday morning around 5 a.m., the Cisco Junior College Wrangler Band and Belles, the Texas Fiddlers, and the many tourists from Cisco, Eastland, Ranger, and even as far as Abilene who wanted to come on the trip for support all met on campus in the auditorium, the band director, Mr. Viertel stepped on the stage and briefed us all on what to expect during the trip and as he finished, he smiled and said "Ok, let's go to New York City" and as the charter buses rolled down College Hill, bound for the Dallas-Fort Worth International Airport, these rowdy Texans were ready to take a bite of the Big Apple.
After a safe flight to New York, we boarded some more buses and headed to our hotel, the Broadway Plaza for some much needed rest because it was going to be a long week but we were ready for whatever came our way.
The next day consisted of a guided tour of the city, which included stops at Ground Zero (the site of the 9/11 attacks), Rockefeller Center, and Times Square, capped off by an evening of entertainment from the Rockettes at Radio City Music Hall. After the show, the orchestra headed off to set the sound system up on our float, a horse-drawn wagon.
Thanksgiving Day started around 5 a.m. for us, the Band, Belles, and orchestra had to meet on 34th Street and rehearse our routine, in order for the camera crew to get a good shot during the actual telecast. After that, we caught a quick breakfast at a nearby bistro then went back to the hotel to rest but that didn't last long because when I picked up the phone in our room, it was Mr. Best, the orchestra director telling us it was time for the big moment.
As we got on our float at the parade's starting point, 77th and Central Park West, I gazed in wonder at the larger-than-life balloons of Snoopy, Kermit The Frog, and Harold, The Fireman and I was in astonishment because I'd seen all these attractions on television over the years and now I was right there actually looking at them.
The official entry point of the Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade was right in front of the Metropolitan Museum of Art, where an attraction would stop and an announcer would give them the okay to enter the parade and when our group heard a booming voice say "CISCO JUNIOR COLLEGE, YOU MAY NOW ENTER THE PARADE", it suddenly became real to me as Mr. Best counted off the orchestra's opening number "Old Joe Clark/ Devil's Dream."
We could hear the spectators shouting "YEEEEEE HAAAAAA" as we all came down the streets of New York all decked out in our Red, White, and Blue outfits and ten-gallon cowboy hats, which made us proud to be from the Lone Star State. During the parade, I had a feeling of amazement as I thought to myself "All these years of watching this every Thanksgiving and now I'm here, this is incredible!"
The big moment came when our group played "The Bonanza Theme" as we came down 34th Street towards Herald Square followed by the marching band joining in on "Hoedown" as the Wrangler Belles did a dance routine right in front of the World's largest department store and as we turned off back towards Central Park, I could see Matt Lauer and Katie Couric in the broadcast booth and a sense of relief came over me, all that hard work had finally paid off.
After that adventure, we all went back to the hotel to thaw out from the 27 degree cold then fancied up for the evening's big finale, a dinner cruise along the Hudson River, which included getting to see the Statue of Liberty. It had been a long week and after a series of events, which included me being rescued from the elevator by the New York Fire Department, it was time for our group to saddle up and head back to Texas.
Tim Turnbeaugh is a musician who was born and reared in Eastland County, but currently resides in Stephenville. Tim can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.