Philly's Thanksgiving Day parade just another day at the office for these folks

Eagles cheerleaders and drummers drew raucous applause from the throngs lining JFK Boulevard on a chilly Thanksgiving morning.

“It’s going to be the same weather in Minneapolis when we play in the Super Bowl!” yelled a man from a truck leading the NFL team’s cohort in Philadelphia’s annual Thanksgiving Day parade.

The crowd roared approval. Standing in front of them, across the street from the Comcast Center, Greg Dixon remained composed. The Philadelphia Police highway officer was working his first security detail on Thanksgiving, and was dividing his attention between the parade and the hundreds watching it.

“I’m watching both,” Dixon said. “Got to pay attention to both.”

He was assigned to work, he said, but didn’t mind.

“I love it,” he said. “Great people.”

Dixon has plenty of company working a holiday. About a quarter of America’s workers are on the job on Thanksgiving, Christmas, or New Year’s Day, according to the 2014 Allstate and Atlantic Media Heartland Monitor poll. At Philadelphia’s annual Thanksgiving celebration, those workers mingled behind and among the crowd, watching, helping, or hustling to make a buck amid the city’s holiday cheer.

At the Corner Bakery Cafe at 17th and JFK, a long line of people sought coffee, hot chocolate, or just a respite from the cold. Greeting them was manager Seth Middleberg, 52, who looked like a North Pole refugee in an elf sweater, leggings, pointy shoes, and a high-peaked hat.

“People see this and they just start smiling,” he said.

Camera icon Jason Laughlin
Seth Middleberg was a picture of holiday cheer.

It was Middleberg’s seventh straight Thanksgiving on the job. His day began at 5 a.m. when he and his staff began baking muffins and bagels. When they opened their doors at 7 a.m., there were already people waiting outside. The shop had served 20 gallons of hot chocolate by about 10 a.m., he estimated, and 30 gallons of coffee.

Beneath the parade, in the concourse leading to the Market-Frankford and Broad Street lines, two young men in bright-yellow vests hung out near a SEPTA Key kiosk to help travelers unfamiliar with the new fare card. They were working from 8 a.m. to 1 p.m., and for one of them, it was all about the overtime.

“I’m getting paid to do it,” said Chris Hamilton, 24.

There hadn’t been a lot to do as of 9:30 a.m., Hamilton said.

“I might peer out at the parade myself,” he said.

His partner, James Coleman, 21, said he was happy to work while his family prepared dinner.

“Most of the food’s not done yet, so there’s no reason to be there,” he said.

Among the most visible working the celebration were the men and women hawking pretzels, cotton candy, and gloves and hats from shopping carts. As an enormous balloon of the Very Hungry Caterpillar bobbed past, Ernie White and Michael Gall pulled their carts alongside one another and chatted. White, 61, has been working the Thanksgiving Day Parade for 20 years. Gall, 43, has been at it a decade. They peddle their wares whenever there’s a gathering in Philadelphia, be it an Eagles game or a competitive run.

Camera icon Jason Laughlin
Michael Gall peddled his wares Thursday morning, then planned to watch football.

White, of North Philadelphia, said after the parade he would go to his daughter’s home to celebrate Thanksgiving and his birthday, which was Wednesday.

“They’ve got a little birthday cake just for me,” he said.

Gall, from South Philadelphia, wasn’t planning to see family.

“I’ll probably go home and chill,” he said. There was football to watch later, and, he said, “I’m a die-hard Cowboys fan.”