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Beth Lucas
When Beth Lucas says she puts the icing on the cake, she's talking parade floats, not pastry.  Photography by Nick Romanenko

Beth Lucas never gets Thanksgiving off. She spends the holiday working at the kind of grown-up job that every kid dreams about: assembling the floats for the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade on the Upper West Side of New York City. “We work all night, and by the time the sun comes up, we’re putting together the last odds and ends,” says Lucas MGSA’84, the head scenic painter at Macy’s Parade Studio. Then the crew takes a bus downtown, arriving just in time to greet the first float at journey’s end. “Then we have to pack it up. It’s a long day.”

Well before Thanksgiving, Lucas knows the floats intimately: her paints and brushes help transform wood, metal, and styrene into giraffes, turtles, and cupcakes. In August, Lucas celebrated her 25th anniversary on the job, which she started soon after earning an M.F.A. in painting from Rutgers. Her Hoboken, New Jersey, workplace is a cavernous warehouse, where a staff of 24 creates five or six new floats each year. As a saw blade whines, 20-foot-high plywood ducks look on. Mementos of dismantled floats perch everywhere: a giant silver-wrapped Hershey’s Kiss, an ornate cuckoo clock, a fire-breathing dragon. Lucas has painted with sponges, cardboard, even a mop, as she creates feathers, marble, or, once, a wood-grained Gibson guitar. “A lot of it I really learned on my own,” she says. “I taught myself my own tricks.”

Lucas—who has two teenage daughters with her husband, whom she met at the studio—finds little time for her own creative work painting decorative floor mats. But she counts herself lucky to have that rarest of treasures: full-time work as an artist, doing what she loves. Turns out, even those missed Thanksgivings have a silver lining: on Friday, Macy’s treats the parade staff and their families to dinner with all the trimmings. — Deborah Yaffe