Darkness still covered Detroit as the volunteers approached the costuming building for America’s Thanksgiving Parade, which for the other 364 days out of the year serves as the Wayne State University student center. At that moment, my thoughts were far from the fact that 148 television markets would have their eyes on the city, or that 19,000 runners were in the Turkey Trot, or that countless people would be lining the parade route down what seems to be a constantly changing Woodward Avenue … it was to find some coffee, and stat.

Inside, people of all manners and sizes were transforming from UPS drivers, corporate types and schoolteachers into dancing suns, caped crusaders soon to walk underneath an appropriately named “Captain Underpants” balloon. There were also, animals, circus ringmasters and other fanciful folk.

When you see the parade on TV it’s pretty easy to think it is just magic. The Parade Company, which also stages other events such as the fourth of July fireworks, make it look that way. But there are countless hours throughout the year of float-building, costuming, fundraising and more … and then a couple of hours before hundreds of people “step off” over by the Detroit Institute of Arts where you realize this is not only a big deal, but the life work of many people. It’s their Super Bowl.

So here’s a different kind of Detroit Thanksgiving parade gallery. Not to take away from them, but here you won’t find Vanilla Ice or the Grand Marshals U.S. ice-dancing gold medalists Meryl Davis and Charlie White. What you might find is a ground-level perspective that proves no matter how big this event has gotten, sometimes it’s best viewed one smile at a time.

Organized-Chaos-Dressing Room

It’s organized chaos early in the morning as parade walkers come in to put on their outfits


The epic combination of having a fish on your head while you get your face painted early in the morning


The artists really love what they do. She was all smiles all morning long…


And take a look at this makeup case! All the tools to transform anyone into someone magical.


The theme this year was “Walking on Sunshine,” so of course, there was a phalanx of happy suns staged and ready to hit the streets of Detroit.


Even the Gingerbread Man succumbs to modern life as he checks his smartphone early in the morning.


A pair of excited parade participants pose for the camera


Every costume has different intricacies. Some are basically furry jumpers, others have lots of accessories


Good morning, Clownie – he oversees the turnaround point of the Turkey Trot.


Hi-fives all around for the dedicated runners


Check out the pair on the left. They’re dancing their way down Woodward Avenue. It’s good to see people still do that sort of thing.


The new float by Lear is staged on Woodward


Unicyclists get ready to make their way downtown


One can’t miss this version of a tin man!


Crews make last-minute adjustments to a float. Preparations happen all the way up to the point the parade steps off.


The disco dogs and cool cats of S3 practice their dance moves before hitting the road


Farther into the parade, here come the Distinguished Clowns with SuperGrover overhead


What’s fun about the Midtown portion of the parade route is that there’s so much access. High-fives all around for the kids!


Here comes the giant fish!


This lion will never lose the faith in the Lions!


The Detroit Mounted Police are really a group to be proud of and are an important addition to the Detroit Police Department


Here comes Clownie!


People come from all around for the family event that is America’s Thanksgiving Parade


The Detroit Fire Department Clowns bring joy to Detroiters. They’ve been around since the 1930’s.


The Chippewa Valley High School Marching Band


Skaters operate on a moving half-pipe past onlookers in balconies


This Model T looks totally in place next to the building in the background on the right


The Southgate High School marching band


The Cousino Patriot Band


And of course, who can forget Santa!

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