News | Crowds celebrate saved parade

November 27, 2014

By Heather Alexander | Houston Chronicle 

There were bright blue skies and a crisp chill in the air Thursday as thousands lined the streets of Houston's downtown for the 65th annual Thanksgiving Day parade.

Some had been coming for years, others made the trip for the first time, lured by the rarity of a true fall day in the Bayou City.

"I've been coming since I was a little kid," said Martin Garza from The Woodlands, standing and waving at the passing marching bands with his own 9-year-old daughter beside him.

"It's really fun," shouted Elena Garza, bundled up in a puffer jacket and hat.

A few yards down the line they were joined by first timers so determined to get their front row seat they showed up at 7 a.m., two hours before the official 9 a.m. start time.

"It was perfect weather and we figured it would be a great opportunity to have a family outing," said Angela Strahlman from Houston, celebrating the giant helium balloons passing by. "I love the balloons, I've always seen it on T.V. ... so it's really great to be here, everybody is just so into it."

Just last year, Houston's parade was at risk of closing up shop completely as funds ran dry; classic floats, wheeled out for decades, were sold off for another city to enjoy. A last-ditch effort saved the event which visitors Thursday said now seems to have recovered.

"They haven't had a lot of the big floats, but the big balloons are cool, the bands are great," said Garza. "It is getting bigger and bigger, there weren't a lot of people last year, there's a lot more this year."

Crowds were stacked 20 deep for the start in the civic center at Smith and Lamar. Ticker tape filled the sky as the Varsity All American cheer leaders performed to Pharrell Williams smash hit, "Happy" from the movie "Despicable Me 2."

In the first float, grand marshals Bill Klein and his wife, Dr. Jennifer Arnold from TLC's reality show, "The Little Couple" sat inside a giant turkey. Arnold is also an assistant professor of pediatrics at Baylor College of Medicine and medical director of the Pediatric Simulation Center at Texas Children's Hospital.

The two formed part of a citywide Thanksgiving push for the Medical Center which had its own float this year; on board were Mayor Annise Parker and Dr. James Allison, chairman of immunology at the University of Texas M.D. Anderson Cancer Center, who has been credited with one of the most important breakthroughs in cancer history,

Friendly critiques

Allison was honored for that achievement and stood on a giant heart float next to his wife, Dr. Padmanee Sharma, a celebrated medical oncologist and immunologist.

"Each year Houstonians have so much for which to be thankful, from advances in medical research and practices in the Texas Medical Center and world-class exhibits and entertainment to international cultures that give this city its character and flavor," said Mayor Parker in a news release ahead of the event.

In the last year, tens of thousands have flocked to the city to take up jobs in the booming energy, medical and professional services sectors, they too were represented in the crowd.

While Houston natives bemoaned the 50 degree start to the day, others like the Werner family, new here from Detroit, Michigan, were basking in what was for them an unusually warm holiday celebration.

"It's much warmer, there's a lot more sun and no snow," said Jake Werner at the start of mainly positive comments about their new city's efforts. The only complaint, that the parade was too spread out.

"There's a lot of gaps in there, I hear people saying, "Is this it? Is it over?," then more come, but it's a good way to celebrate Thanksgiving before dinner," Sue Werner said. Balloons, marching bands and the Budweiser Clydesdale horses were a favorite with them. "It's not like the individual items aren't good they just need to be closer together."

Among other highlights were the specially designed Art Car float, showcasing miniatures of Houston's favorite vehicular art works, and the National Bird float, a low-tech spectacular where two grown men launched a turkey in a shopping cart around a mobile rollercoaster loop.

'Awesome' and peaceful

As the grand finale started with characters from Dickens on the Strand, onlookers took the opportunity to heckle Mr. Scrooge who yelled back a loud, "Bah, Humbug!"

Then Rockets mascot, Clutch, threw gifts into the crowd and Santa and Mrs. Claus brought up the rear.

Houston Police Department officers said that they were proud of the city as thousands peacefully filed out heading back home to their feasts.

"It was awesome," said 6-year-old Brianna Baldwin leaning over the metal barriers at the side of Smith Street. "I liked the part with Santa on the fire truck ... the horses and the police officers," said 4-year-old Ava Baldwin beside her.

When asked what they were grateful for this Thanksgiving, the two sisters replied, "Friends and family ... and giving kisses!"