Setting the alarm clock for 4:30 a.m.
Throwing on clothes in a half-zombified state.
Driving around in the pre-dawn inky darkness, eyes barely cracked open, trying to decipher road closures and navigate around other similarly sleepy drivers.
Wandering around in a crowd, creakily awakening enough not to bump head-on into someone else (although the occasional glancing collision is more or less expected), trotting at a brisk pace to keep warm, willing the sun to rise and boost the temperature even a few precious degrees.
The morning of a big race?? Nope – it’s the Albuquerque International Balloon Fiesta!
Mind-bogglingly fast, that time of year has rolled around once again. And I love it, even though as a local I’m probably supposed to be annoyed by all the crazed out-of-towners.
For you non-crazed, uninitiated out-of-towners, here’s a Turbo History Lesson: Once upon a time, some hot air balloon enthusiasts took a gander at Albuquerque and noticed its enticing air currents, its spacious open fields, and its delicious green chile breakfast burritos. They decided this place was PERFECT for a big gathering of hot air balloons from all over the world.
Thus, they invented Balloon Fiesta, and it was good. And they figured that Fiesta-goers would need pre-dawn sustenance, so they invented the CinnaCone, and that was good too.
And now thousands of people flock here for the spectacular pageantry and its many, many players: The balloon pilots, with their cool puffy jackets. The chase crews, who do their tailgating after/before/during the balloon chase, to no apparent detriment. The Fiesta officials (“Zebras” if you want to sound bona fide) in their striped attire.
And, of course, the fans, who are so pre-occupied with a) their cameras, b) collecting balloon trading cards, c) gazing upwards, d) eating their CinnaCones, e) not stepping on pre-inflated balloons and evoking swift, merciless justice from a balloon pilot, f) preventing their children from stowing away in balloon baskets (and don’t think impressment doesn’t happen!), or g) all of the above, that it’s really quite impressive that the whole crowd doesn’t end up in something resembling a rugby scrum.
But the real stars of the Fiesta are the balloons. They’re gorgeous as brave, tentative beacons during Dawn Patrol, they’re gorgeous lying unfurled on the ground, they’re gorgeous lifting off, and they’re gorgeous sitting regally in a sunset Balloon Glow. When a balloon plunks down for a landing in your backyard or almost careens onto the top of your car, or a German chase truck cuts off your vehicle while cheering and waving beer steins about, well….ok, you might say a few other words first, but you still have to admit those things are cool.
Now I’ve gone as a Fiesta spectator every year I’ve lived in Albuquerque, but this year my fantastic aunt is in town, and she’s a first-timer. Woohooo!!! In addition, I have a friend with a hot air balloon license in her pocket. Who also owns an actual hot air balloon, and kindly enough lets me help in the handling of it. So I can watch the spectacle and go behind the scenes. How cool is that?
All you Abq residents, I hope you make it out to Balloon Fiesta this year, or at least pause for a few minutes in the morning to soak up the view of those mass ascensions. And all you non-Abq residents, come on out one of these years. If I’m around, I’ll buy you a CinnaCone..and lots of coffee.