At the edge of Central Park in New York City, the engines in a police motorcade revved. A woman at the head of the assembled motorcycles wore a microphone clipped to her head and held up her hand high in the air, signaling to wait, wait, wait.

The band behind them practiced numbers. The feature twirlers tossed their batons and rubbed their hands to keep warm.

And then at the magic moment, confetti burst into the air and the 90th Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade started with the Pride of West Virginia Mountaineer Marching Band taking the lead in an event that has been the way to start Thanksgiving for as long as many of us remember.

The band of nearly 400 West Virginia University students was ahead of the sign announcing the parade, the giant balloon of Charlie Brown tangled in a kite and the rest of the lineup of bands, floats and balloons.

Along the way, Mountaineer fans cheered, shouted encouragement, and in one case, released gold and blue balloons from a balcony on the parade route.

You got to see your band on the TV for not much more than a minute as they played George Gershwin’s “Strike Up the Band.” But their journey began sometime around 1 a.m. as they put on their uniforms, hoisted their instruments from piccolo to tuba, and walked onto buses that took them into a moment of glory for them and an entire University. 

We followed them on that journey. It was long. It was funny. It was tiring. It was exhilarating. Here, you take that journey with them.

— Diana Mazzella