We always had St Patrick's day off from high school. How could you concentrate on school when there was so much beer that needed to be consumed? We started drinking on the Long Island Railroad trains early in the morning. The trains were full of students from Saint this or Saint that school. Good Catholic students staggering off the trains at 9:30 in the morning. The drinking age was 18 and everyone had "proof".
My memories are pretty fuzzy now, but I remember the long walk along 5th Avenue going uptown looking for a good spot, preferably near a bathroom to view the parade. The parade was mostly catholic school bands which we would cheer or jeer and bagpipe playing firemen and policemen wearing kilts. Why were so many firefighters and cops Irish? We waited for the wind to blow. It isn't really a fabulous looking parade come to think of it. Who cared though? We were there to party. We peed in the bathrooms of some of the nation's finest department stores on 5th Avenue. That might have been the only time many of us would ever step foot into those stores.
I then went to Manhattan College in the Bronx for 2 years. It was a notorious Irish drinking and engineering school at the time. We took the subway down to the parade. Hundreds of us. Loaded to the gills. Some of the guys in the Gaelic society let a few of us girls march with them in the parade for the first time when I was there as the school was newly co-ed. Marching wasn't that fun though because you just walked and it was boring. We jumped off the parade into the crowd when we spotted our friends.
Years later when I was working at Citicorp on 53rd and Park, I strolled over to 5th on my lunch hour to watch the St Patrick's day parade for old time's sake. I actually ran into some old college friends of mine standing on a corner wearing corporate attire and just doing what I was doing. Watching. Thinking. Wondering what the big deal was.