Albuquerque is in the midst of its version of Mardi Gras: the Albuquerque International Balloon Fiesta. Businesses have hung banners welcoming hot air balloonists and offering Fiesta specials. During flight hours, local police officers turn a relatively forgiving eye to traffic violations as chase vehicles rumble pell-mell around town with their diesel engines. Invariably, crisp autumn weather chooses to alight for good at some point during these nine days. Not to mention the balloons themselves, which on occasion do actually stop traffic. Hey, when you gotta land, you gotta land.
It’s a magical time.
I’m lucky enough to serve on the crew of a balloon called Blew By You, piloted by my friend Charity [another example of local Fiesta spirit: when she purchased, shall we say, “some” bottles of champagne for post-flight tailgating, the cashier commented, “Oh, you must be a balloonist.”].
This is Charity’s second Balloon Fiesta as a full-fledged Pilot. She is one of the coolest women ever. Let me tell you, having witnessed her smash the hot air balloon glass ceiling – and I imagine glass ceilings are even harder to smash when they float hundreds of feet above the earth – and being able to hang out with her now, confidence radiating from her trademark pigtails down to her boots? Pretty freaking awesome.
Charity has introduced me to the world of ballooning and its tightly-knit group of inhabitants. There’s nothing quite like it. These are people who wake well before dawn for an activity that, depending on the exact strength of the wind, may or may not even happen. Then they launch into the sky, again at the mercy of the wind, or, if they’re chase crew, launch onto the roads, at the mercy of…well…roads. Then, assuming balloon and crew reunite successfully, the gear gets packed up and everyone makes their way back to the launch site, where snacks and beverages of allll kinds are enjoyed, usually, yes, before 10 a.m.
I had the opportunity to spend time in this world all day on Saturday. And when I say “all day,” I mean not my usual routine of showing up; helping with launch, chase, and pack-up; and leaving shortly thereafter. I mean we arrived at the launch field before 6 a.m. and left after the fireworks show that night. Whew!
Yes, it was a long day. But the terrific thing about balloonists is how quick they are to embrace you, literally and figuratively – hugs abound (like I said, it’s a tightly-knit group), and everyone has smiles, refreshments, and stories to share. It’s really, really hard to have anything short of a rollicking time. Don’t get the wrong idea, though; these folks are also some of the most sensible and protective people I’ve ever met. They have the conviction to not fly if it is NOT SAFE, even when it means disappointing lots of tourists. They have the compassion to help another pilot in need. They keep an eye on each other’s children. They have the wherewithal of Bear Grylls, and they can fashion a downright fabulous tailgate party so fast it would make Martha Stewart’s head spin.
I’m looking forward to spending more time in the world of ballooning. And if you’ve never paid it a visit, what are you waiting for?
Some photos from an Evening Glow: