October 6, 1997

Each morning, I'd get up half an hour before we were to leave, get my eyes in, brush my teeth, pull on the clothing that I thought would be useful for the morning coldness, and then stumble into the kitchen. That was where Cathie would have already been up to turn on the coffee pot so the kitchen would be filled with the scent of coffee. I'd pour my travel mug full of the dark liquid, add milk and sugar and then take a nice, loooong drag of the sweet, milky, potent stuff.

That's about when I'd notice who else was up.

We went a mile away to the Indian reservation where half the pilots had been told that they could take their balloons there and take off from the field, there. It was tremendously crowded, and there really wasn't that much room for everyone and anyone to lay out their balloons or take off.

There were also no flight directors in the area, which made things all the more interesting. Well, that's one way of putting it. The other way is to simply say that it was crazy, unorganized and dangerous to some extreme. It was mostly a freeforall. People parking wherever they could, between other balloons or not, and sometimes squeezing into places they shouldn't and then taking off whenever they wanted to instead of coordinating with neighbors or figuring out what impact their actions might have had on the others.

One idiot brought the balloon up, didn't have it hot enough, and released his tether line before the balloon was completely buoyant. This meant that while the balloon was up, and the cloth was quite capable of acting as a sail, there wasn't enough lift to get him and his basket off the ground. So he was dragged right at a car, whose drive had the foresight to jump in and drive away from the path of the basket, and then over to two other balloons' sites. While the balloon was acting as a sail, the side had caved in, so when the guy blasted into the balloon to put more hot air into it, the nylon moved into the jet of the burner. The nylon just vaporized. Two lower panels were burned out of the guy's envelope before he could get enough lift to get up and out of the way.

Turns out that a certain percentage of the lower envelope can actually be burned away and it's still safe to fly because the lift is mostly from the hot air in the upper part of the balloon. If a few of the lower panels go out, not all that much of the hot air can escape, but if there's too much gone, or if upper panels are blasted out, the balloon has to be grounded.

This guy got off the ground, and he could fly, but it also meant that everyone that saw him knew exactly what he did.

We set up Big Bird in a relatively clear section of the field. Some nasty bushes in the first site, so we packed up and moved to a clearer spot. There were some tumbleweed bushes at the far end, and to the left, if you were standing at the basket and facing the top of the envelope, but we thought they were far enough away that there wouldn't really be a problem with anything but the bushes at the top. Richard posted me at the top to keep it off the bushes over there. We did the cold fill and fairly soon the top lifted up enough that all the cloth was completely free of the bushes, but then Big Bird started to roll to the left. I wandered over there to find Deb completely buried under cloth, desperately trying to keep the nylon off four big bushes. There really was no way the two of us could manage it, so I ran around the balloon and managed to pull Patti and Paul over, and Big Bird started to just roll on us.

All that cloth is heavy. We also didn't know what was going on, because the inflation does not take all that much time, usually. Suddenly, the whole thing deflated, right onto us, but without the air and without the sail affect, we were able to just pile the whole envelope onto smoother ground, take a deep breath and come out from under it all to find that Richard had seen Big Bird rolling around and just stepped in and pulled the red line.

I then noticed that about half a dozen of our neighbors had done the same thing. There was a lot of cursing going on, but at least these guys were safe.

The air calmed fairly soon after that and we tried again. Patti and I used out shoulders and heads to keep the balloon off the bushes, just standing under the cloth as Big Bird gradually filled. My hat fell off about then, and I just stuffed it into my shirt. Fairly quickly Big Bird inflated, and we were freed from having to support the balloon on our backs. We just put ourselves between the wall of cloth and the sticker bushes and fended it off when it rolled at us. Patti was really wide eyed at my hair. You know what happens when you rub a regular balloon on your hair? Well, rub a 7-story tall balloon against your hair... Heh. It was all sticking up all over the place.

Deb wasn't as restrained as Patti was and started giggling a lot and saying, "You've got electric blue hair, now, Phyllis!" I had to laugh at that, with her.

I just stuck my cap back on and said, "I guess that's what the cap's for..."

Richard made absolutely sure that he had all the lift he needed before he asked the crew to let him go by getting the whole crew to hang onto the basket while he blasted hot air into the envelop. It nearly lifted all of us before he asked us to just let go. The balloon, basket and people popped up neatly into the air when we did, and floated away towards the official field.

Walt piloted while Richard watched, and Deb rode with them. We'd taken off from the reservation so that we could do a fly by of the field and allow Richard and Deb to throw for the chimney. A 20 foot tall chimney was set on the field, and every balloon had a couple bean bags tied to streamers with a bar code on it for the balloon. If they managed to drop the bean bag into the chimney then they'd have a chance at a house that was being given away. Everyone that dropped one in would be in the drawing.

We didn't get to see any of the competition because the moment they popped up we crammed everything back into the pickup and chased the balloon. Wheeee....

I hopped into the back of the pickup with Kevin and Charles and had fun waving to John, who was driving the VW van behind us. John got a pretty good picture of me at a stop light just grinning at him.

They ended up in the gravel pit, with another handful of balloons. It's a big open space, and a patrolman warned us that it was a working pit that morning, but we were welcome to get our balloon. They'd found a walled in area to set down, without any wind whatsoever, so they were pretty stable when we found them. It took Merry a while to actually figure out a path to them, as the ground around them was soft sand. Finally she just chanced it and drove over to them, without too much trouble for the truck. Before it had even stopped Kevin was over the edge. Charles and I waited until it had stopped and then sprinted for the basket, to put our weights on it as well. John stayed out on the road, but got close enough to drop crew so that they could run for the balloon. With that many bodies on the basket it was perfectly under control when Kevin took the crown line out and Richard had me pull the red line.

It was really cool, to look up into the yellow envelope, follow the two miles of red line as it snaked up to the top and, as I pulled, two-thirds of the parachute just gently peeled away from the top and Big Bird sagged quietly towards Kevin, who was pulling for all he was worth.

The air was also filled with the scent of Cocoa Puffs, as General Mills was right around the corner. Patti mentioned it and it was a very sweet, odd scent.

We packed up quickly as the pit was completely clear of all plants and the soft sand was really easy and nice to work on and then zoomed on back to the field. There wasn't enough gumption to get the normal tailgate potluck together, so we all took off to the concessions stands. It was way too early, still, in the morning, for me to contemplate bratwursts and heavier foods like the New Mexican classical green chili cheeseburger. I decided on getting a funnel cake and a lemonade. Funnel cakes are made by putting a pancake batter like substance into a funnel and then moving the funnel about over hot fat, so that the resultant thing is a lacy, deep fried cake. They then put way too much powdered sugar, a dash of cinnamon, and I had a funnel cake. It's a lot like a giant powdered donut, still crisp and hot from the grease.

John got a breakfast burrito and then another burrito along with coffee from different booths, and as we wandered along, I had a craving for Texas 'Taters.

Texas 'Taters are created with an ingenious device, which spears a potato and then when a hand crank is turned, the potato is spirally sliced very, very, very thin. The spirals are then dumped into hot oil (yes, more grease) and fried until they're crisp on the edges, gently chewy in the middle and quite fattening, yes. They pile 'em onto a cardboard container and have Cajun spices, salt, pepper, and malt vinegar as condiments. Yum. A breakfast with hway too much grease, but it was yummy.

As we ate, a woman wandered by and said, as she passed by, "Hey, that girl's hair is blue." a thoughtful pause, "I guess she must have stayed up in the sky too long."

We then piled back into the van and back to Walt and Cathie's. I had vague thoughts of helping Walt make green chili stew, but finally bagged the idea to go to sleep for a while, as I was sleep deprived from the previous three days' activity without naps. I slept for five hours, soundly, without dreams or troubles and woke to the magnificent scent of green chili stew. Basically, the recipe for it is whatever is in the refrigerator plus green chilies.

Paul, in the meantime, had been very busy and flew Deb and John and Richard around in his little plane. Sadly, in the flight for Richard, on the landing, Paul bounced it a little hard, and the leaf spring for the rear wheel snapped. This made Paul really upset, but a man who had done the same thing was a mechanic at the small airport and gave Paul the part number to order to fix the problem.

When I woke, John went off to get Paul. Walt finished the last things for the stew and set it to simmer on the back of the stove, and asked me if I wanted to go with him to get David, brother number two. I said sure and had fun on the ride with him listening to him tell me all about the local area. We ended up in the parking lot, which is a ridiculous $4 a day in the short term parking and $3 a day in the long term parking.

The Albuquerque airport is nice and small. All the flights coming into and out of the airport fit onto two TV screens, and that's all there is. That was really nice. We got to David's gate about five minutes before he came in. Hoorah! David liked my new hair color, he'd also liked the green, but the blue was more vibrant, he thought. He was well, the kids were well and adjusting to going back to school after a period of being home schooled. Neither of them really liked school, but both were learning at a tremendous rate. Emily still wanted green hair. He had a single, old suitcase, and we all piled back into the van. Walt did the tour guide thing for David and it was fun.

Dinner was a decidedly informal affair, people getting bowls as they could. There were tortillas and I squirreled some cheddar cheese from Cathie and made myself a quesadilla that then started everyone on making quesadillas, most of them with a hefty amount of green chili powder in 'em. Yeesh. It was fun and loud and boisterously conversational about the table. The chili stew itself was just this side of the edge of pain for me, and I thanked Walt for not making it hotter. Cathie laughed and said that she'd wondered why it was so wimpy but hadn't wanted to mention it except that I had. That was funny. She added a lot more green chili powder to hers. I was glad of my tortilla. This incarnation had pork tenderloin, potatoes, tomatoes, corn, and lots and lots of green chilies in it. Yum.

After dinner was nearly over Paul and Jan came back. Paul still quiet and morose about the 'accident', Jan far more social. She and I then helped Cathie with an apple pie that had all kinds of good things in it. Cathie and Walt had a machine much like the Texas Tater machine, but it could peel the apple and core them as well. So I had fun running a dozen apples through the Machine, and then making a filling to go around them. Jan made the topping while Cathie did the crust. Then the baking pie filled the house with the scents of apples and cinnamon. Drool...

I had some herbal tea and then went to sleep as it was already 9pm and we had another early day the next day. Even after the five hour nap I slept sound and deep that night.

© 1997 by Liralen Li

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