Tuesday, November 18, 2008

The Moon's A Balloon

By the way, if you've never read David Niven's first volume of his autobiography (same name as the blog title), then do yourselves a huge favour and beg, borrow or steal it - it's probably the best autobiography I've ever read and I've read a few.  

Ok 3 maybe, but it's still an excellent read.

So anyway, last Friday a few of us from the park (that's Buttonwood Bay if you didn't know) drove a few miles to the Sebring Racetrack to watch a balloon festival.  Personally I wasn't expecting too much but the description, balloon festival, was almost what we got.  One balloon !

Damn their cunningly worded posters !!!  Now we know what happens to ex White House script writers.

We had read somewhere that they usually get about 20 balloons at this shindig but 15 of them must've decided it just wasn't worth the effort and so we were left with 4 simple classic balloons and one that was in the shape of a dog.  For a few tantalising minutes anyway.

We'll never know if they had a problem with the blowers or if the wind just was too strong, but just as the front legs of the pooch were beginning to take shape and leave the ground, the crowd and the balloon became equally deflated and suddenly we were down to 4.

We weren't in Albuquerque anymore, Toto.

But at least we had ReMax who always have a balloon at these events - I mean it's a realty company with a hot air balloon as it's logo so it HAS to be at any balloon festival going.

The idea on Friday was to give paying customers a tethered ride in the balloon of their choice and of course, most had lined up for a ride below the doggie. With Rover now lying in an airless heap on the ground, attention switched to the 4 remaining rather drab balloons, remembering that one was probably last used over the offices of the local estate agents.

Our little group headed for the balloon that looked like it was being tended by people who actually knew something about balloons. Given that any balloon 'flight' can be rather dangerous, statistically speaking, then picking one that is tethered at the basket end and not just at the top of the balloon seemed like a good idea.

It was.

As the evening wore on, we all watched with some initial amusement as the balloon that had ropes only connected to its top started to rise up and get caught by the wind. It swayed dramatically from side to side, giving the mid Florida spectators a glimpse of what it's like watching Amy Winehouse in concert.

Amusement turned to alarm as the swaying became more pronounced.....it was now in serious Oliver Reed mode and the crowd below gave it a wide berth. The good (and bad) bit about a small show like this was that we could all get as close to the balloons as we wanted. Several people had to be treated in the medical tent for scorched nose hairs as when they fire up those blowers, anyone standing near the basket with a raw drumstick and 11 kinds of herbs and spices would soon be happily munching on a meal worthy of the Colonel himself. 

But more dangerous than the hot flames were the guy ropes. These connected the balloons to the backs of the trucks they came in - just to make sure the Sebring Festival didn't become the Miami Festival. Like I said, our swaying balloon friends seemed to have made a potentially catastrophic mistake by not tethering the other end of the ropes to the basket. This meant that, once launched, there was very little control as pulling down on the ropes only caused the balloon to slowly descend straight down whilst the basket swung around it like Evel Knievel on a wall of death.

Sadly I've no photos of this added 'attraction' as night photography is not one of my strengths at the best of times and I struggle enough with fixed objects. This was NOT a fixed object, much as the balloon crew wished it was.

Here is a shot of three of the other balloons.............kind of.

These ones are almost ready for fare paying passengers but I'm not sure they ever got any. It all got a big manic and confused as the human lines broke frequently and people dashed from one balloon to another in hopes of getting onboard. This brought its own dangers as the aforementioned guy ropes were now strung across the area in various stages of tautness and some serious garotting could've ensued if it weren't for alert bystanders constantly shouting "duck."

As you can see from the photo above, it took several handlers to cope with each frisky balloon and the idea was to have a new passenger climb onboard at ideally the same time as one got off. This led to numerous amusing incidents with the basket gliding across the grass with embarking and disembarking passengers hopping about madly with one leg on the ground and the other inside the basket.

It was one of those sights I'd have happily paid to have watched but having it performed in front of me for free was just the icing on the cake.

Having already diced with death just getting into the damn basket, the passengers might well have been ready for a decent ride, albeit a tethered one. Sadly this was not to be the case and low flying Jumbo Jet pilots need not have been concerned.

When I tell you that I didn't need my zoom lens to take that photo, you'll get the idea. I'm not great with distances either (as my golfing partners will tell you), but I'd say the basket rose about 20 feet. Enough to give you a good shaking up if you fell out but not enough to give you a nose bleed within the basket.

Still, it was a fun evening and as I'd slathered on enough bug goop to see off a biblical hoard of locusts, I only got one bite. The trouble was that I stank like a camel driver's jock strap and as we were going out to eat afterwards, I had to be driven home for a shower.

Smelling somewhat sweeter, we drove to the Olive Garden and as it was 7:50pm and the space shuttle Endeavour was due to launch in 5 minutes time, we drove past the restaurant and over behind a row of stores to their delivery area which afforded a view of the NE sky devoid of street lights. And waited.

7:55pm came and went. Nothing.  Maybe there had been a last minute delay.

Then right before our eyes, an area of the sky lit up as though someone a few miles away had switched on a bunch of those 6 zillion candle power lanterns. Seconds later a small incredibly bright object appeared and rose slowly but majestically upwards. The best way to rise, I always think !! In classic Hollywood fashion, Deb and I both said........OH MY GOD. I always maintained nobody really did that - but we did. And in unison. For about 10 seconds we watched, spellbound, as Endeavour started on her voyage to the International Space Station before she was enveloped by the clouds.

It was a magical moment.

So there you have it. Two free shows on one night. One had lasted about 2 hours and the other, about 12 seconds.

I know which one will live with me for the rest of my life and that's not just a load of hot air !



Milo said...

I would love to have seen the shuttle take-off, it sounded spectacular!

jay said...

Me! Me! I know! IknowIknowIknow!! Yes, I have read The Moon's a Balloon, and you're right - it's a great read!

Your description of the balloons going up (or not, as the case may be) was hilarious! What idiot thought that tethering them only at the top would work? I know nothing about ballooning (other than in the weight department) but even I could have predicted the result! LOL!

YOu are fortunate to see the shuttle go up. As you know, it's something OH would LOVE to do!

Milo said...

Your blogroll has gone funny. It's linking to the /feed pages rather than the blog itself.

Yellow Swordfish said...

She's right. We have been twice to Florida and both times I tried real hard to fit it around a launch but it was just not to be.

So yes - I am insanely jealous! The last time we were there was January 2003 and Columbia was on the pad for what would be it's last disastrous flight.

Paint me green.

Daphne said...

I love the way you write a very funny account of a none-too-spectacular balloon festival (even though I did like your photos) and then you just tuck away "and then we saw the space shuttle" on the end! I'd just like to mention that I've never been on an evening out that ended with "and then we saw the space shuttle". Hah!

Silverback said...

Oh they're like buses here, Daffy.

Seen one, you've seen 'em all !!

Katherine said...

Super blog post - loved the piccies.

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