This is my fifth year photographing a Thanksgiving carol-truck spectacle, which turns out to be the biggest fundraiser of its kind in the country. And as always, when the carollers step off at the corner of 62nd Street and Broadway, people begin cheering, shooting video, tweeting.
The problem is that the yard posted on Twitter usually counts about 2,000 cars. Since cars that stop then get in a frenzy with a smile and hands-on-hips anticipation of getting in the place, it can turn into a permanent crowd of literally hundreds of people. People streaming through, shooting video, taking photos, posting memes, again clogging the sidewalk.
So every year I go back. This year, they moved down 72nd Street to 59th Street, along to the other side of the street, and then back. By the time we got to 72nd and Broadway, I felt like a conductor signaling the musicians from behind me. Everyone’s on their feet, a great feeling.
Though this year, on several feet of cardboard are hand-painted grinches, emblazoned with a thought-provoking message: “Crowded and scary. Fix it!”
Borrowing the tagline from John Kennedy Toole’s classic novel “A Confederacy of Dunces,” one of my favorite illustrations, I carry a large, flat yellow banner with black lettering:
Do we really need the grid or not?
Have you ever stopped to ask yourself that question?
This was taken at 5:30pm on the darkest night of the year. As I approached the corner of 72nd Street and Broadway, I was met by several people taking photos, including Andy Rubin (@andyrubinj), who runs a popular tech blog called Re/code. If you’re not familiar with Re/code, it used to be a business magazine (before Wired went under), and Rubin launched it as a standalone website.
“Re/code is gonna be a website for people in our hometown. … We’ll have the latest tech news from the world,” he said, while many of us still waited to cross the street. “Nope, I think the “eng” in Re/code is going to go away.” I understood.
As the headline of his tweet stated, Rubin considered himself a “crowd” guy, and being in this crowd made him feel part of it. To me, he had so much feeling in this photograph that was equal parts cool, supportive, uncle-at-a-Thanksgiving-meeting and, well, just because it was beautiful.
Though the signs below the banners were “Bonfire for Kids,” Rubin said their true purpose was, “probably the best thing I saw that day.”
At the celebration’s conclusion, I met Johnny Richter, who built the carol-truck design. Richter told me he’d been inspired by the original, over 50-year-old one that had stood on 62nd Street for seven years. “I’d been up here many, many times and I loved the little quaint gum tree at the end, too. I just wanted to get some kind of idea of a really heartwarming vibe. Kids waving, people singing. And I think my way of giving back is, when people stop and pay attention to it, hopefully in some small way.”
“I’ve come to admire the whole operation behind what they do,” he continued. “They really work to get all these cars on, get it all sorted out, and deliver it, a lot of things you probably don’t know are involved. And then when people stop, well, you know, maybe it’ll make them smile.”