Thursday, September 18, 2008

The Ride

"Damn, this is too early to get up!" They all groaned when the alarm rang at five in the morning. They needed to be across town by six. Getting all four of them dressed and in the car in thirty minutes was nearly a miracle. They met with the pilot and all other passengers at a McDonalds, had a quick breakfast and drove up to the launch site to began the process of assembling and inflating a hot air balloon.
Mr. B was a new industrial arts teacher at the school, but he was also an elected official on the board of the local community college, and a balloon pilot. In the teacher's lounge he'd asked a number of his colleagues to if they'd like a balloon ride and set up a series of Sunday's for all who wanted ( and who wouldn't) to go up.
On this day there was an English teacher Mrs. A and her two daughters, Mrs. L the head principal, a man and his teenaged son from the community college, and the family of Mr. P (wife, son and daughter).
Mr. B had a Jeep Cherokee with a trailer that held all the parts that are required for a balloon: Wicker gondola, envelope with cover, large blower, burner and propane tanks with all the lines and holding gadgets. Getting out in the still dark chill air Mr. B started explaining the procedure of assembly and what everyone needed to do. Everything was taken off the trailer. The envelope was opened up and laid out on the ground. The gondola was placed on its side once the burner and tanks had been installed. Cables were then attached to the envelope and the blower was turned on to cold inflate the envelope. [caveat here, the writer is not a balloon pilot and is trying to remember the procedure from memory so the order of things may be wrong and some details left out] Anyway, the envelope filled up with air and Mr. B turned on the burner to heat the air, the envelope rose off the ground, those assigned to the outlying guide ropes walked it up until they needed to let go. In short order the balloon was up and struggling at the tether line hooked to the trailer. Everyone gathered around the basket with Blair already inside. He pointed to Mrs. L, and his two friends to join him. Mrs. L found trying to lift middle aged legs over a fairly high basket rather difficult. She placed her arms on Mr. P for support and as she finally got in the basket looked back at him, all of a sudden eyes very wide. "Oh, P__, what am I doing."
This was an interesting moment. She's the administrator, the boss, the one in charge and she's turning to one of her teachers not in this capacity, but as a human being in fear and needing support. He laughed, "Have fun, E___."
Mrs. A unhooked the tether line, with a hiss of propane and blast of welcome heat the balloon lifted off the ground as was heading west out over undeveloped mesa. Everyone else then got back into their vehicles and followed Mrs. A who was driving the Cherokee. 
No houses had been built on this part of the mesa yet, but there were plenty of dirt roads and Mrs. A was easily able to chase the balloon. About five miles from the launch site he brought it down. We all got out and held down the basket as the three passengers then climbed out and Mr. B pointed to three more to get in. Now it was Mr. P's turn to have the realization that it is possible to go up in this thing and not make it down in one piece. Before panic set in B hit the burner and they were off.
It was so quiet once the burner was off. The ground pulled away. The people, cars and shrubbery got smaller and smaller, but to those inside it didn't feel like they were moving at all. B was looking around, "That looks like a good place to land over there."
Land, Mr. P thought, we just got up. 
Slowly the objects on the ground started getting bigger and the area he'd picked out came closer. 
"Aren't you worried about the cactus and shrubs?' one of the other passengers asked.
"Not at all," B replied, "They're my brakes."
The sage brush got larger and larger as they approached and sure enough when the gondola hit down and started bouncing whenever it hit a bush the whole balloon slowed down until it was calm and peaceful again. Time to switch passengers again.
B took off and landed three times more making sure everyone went up. Finally out of propane it was time to pack it all away. It doesn't take many people to set up and launch a balloon, but folding it up requires buns.
After unhooking the burner and tank from the basket B directed everyone to take a position around the now stretched out envelope and start folding it inward. Once it was folded up he started stuffing it inside the gondola. After a certain amount of fabric was inserted he'd then say, "Buns on," and everyone would sit on it to pack it down making more room then, "Buns off" so more could be packed in. It took about three, "Buns on" to get it properly packed. Everyone then had to help lift it onto the trailer.
Once everything was stowed away Mrs. A brought out the coolers and all the first timers were asked to kneel on the ground. B then said the Balloonist prayer and cold champaign was dripped over everyone's head. The ritual for all who fly in a balloon for the first time. There was more to drink and eat to celebrate a beautiful and glorious day.

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