First, thanks to those of you who helped push the total views on this blog over 10,000 recently! And I apologize for the prolonged dry spell … between moving kids out of dorms, graduations, parties, college orientations and a cat with failing kidneys, I haven’t had a second to think sarcastically for awhile! Hopefully, we’re back to just normal chaos.
The good news is that while I wasn’t writing regular blogs, I WAS able to maintain a regular drinking schedule. Whew! So I’ve tried a few new wines that are worthy of mention, starting with…
Recommended wine for today’s entry: Monticello Blanco, a “dry, smooth and fruity wine with notes of pear and wild apple. Suited for drinking as an apertif or with grilled or sauteed fish, seafood, pasta and paella.” I found it to have just the right mix of fruit and dryness for these hot HUMID days we’ve been experiencing. It’s from Spain.
My friends Pennie and Steve just went on their first hot-air balloon ride and she posted pictures of her experience on Facebook. It led me back to some forgotten (a therapist might say repressed) memories of my own balloon adventures.
The first was in, wow, like 1986, I think just after the hot-air balloon was invented, or at least soon after the L. Frank Baum made them popular with the Wizard’s departure from Oz. Like Oz’s flight, ours had inauspicious beginnings.
As I constantly tell my daughters: No good decisions are made after midnight.
So there we sat at a table already sticky with spilled tequila shots, sipping our beer nightcaps at around 2 a.m. We were in the mountains of Colorado for a “business trip,” actually a sales incentive payoff trip, and we’d already ridden horses, taken a gondola up a rock ediface, and had a three-martini lunch and a ten-tequila dinner. This was not the time to be making decisions about anything, much less air travel.
So we decided to go hot-air ballooning. The radio station who was hosting us had a trade agreement with a couple who owned a balloon. The trick was, in order for the air to be cool enough for the balloon to rise, and the winds calm enough to allow it, liftoff had to be REALLY early in the morning. So when we decided at 2 a.m. that we were going, we had three hours to sober up and brush our teeth.
I have to admit, we pulled it together pretty well, and six of us went up … two guys from the station, my husband and me, and the husband and wife team who owned the balloon. Well there were a LOT of reasons for me to cause the drama in the gondola … like when I sobered up, I remembered that I can’t look out of glass-walled elevators and I don’t like things that sway and tequila almost always makes me cry and throw up (in that order).
But it wasn’t me that was the problem. We got really, really high off the ground and I was doing fine — looking at the horizon, I stayed calm. Tequila was staying down. Feeling of movement was actually soothing and not unstable-feeling. I don’t think I was scared.
Until the owner/operators got into a loud, heated squabble. We tried not to eavesdrop, but since the gondola was four feet by four feet and there were six of us packed in it, we heard everything and felt the accompanying spittle when they shouted.
It ended with, “…if you think you’re so much better, why don’t YOU just fly the damn balloon!”
…and… “screw you, I’M not flying this thing!”
And then, I have to admit, I was nervous — exceedingly nervous — and no amount of tequila was gonna help. Well, we finally crash-landed … a gentle bump and a toppling over of the gondola, spilling us out like the initial splash of a game of Barrel of Monkeys … right against a majestic mountain. By the time the chase crew found us, far, far from the anticipated site, we’d given the couple the celebratory champagne that we clearly didn’t need, and they’d made up. I was happy and surprised to be alive and vowed never again.
So about 20 years later, I went up again. This time I was photographing the Kentucky Derby Festival Great Balloon Race for the weekly newspaper for which I was a writer. I know, they should have sent a photographer. Or at least someone who wasn’t afraid of heights and didn’t hate getting up early in the morning. But I went anyway.
Again, I wasn’t nervous at first. I think I was still half-asleep. Our group, again packed into a space meant for maybe two people, consisted of a Baptist minister and his wife, a man who smelled heavily of machine oil and Old Spice (not an excellent combo), me and our pilot. At least this time, I knew our pilot was a pro because this was a prestigious contest and these guys were the best of the best.
I did fine until we flew over Churchill Downs and, mind you, it’s Derby Week, so how do you not look down at the incredible thoroughbreds out for their morning workouts? There was a slight mist still in the air and I got teary eyed as I gazed down.
Teary eyed because I was suddenly scared out my mind. Tell me you can look straight down and NOT visualize yourself plunging through the air at 100 mph toward the unforgiving ground. Well, my gorge rose, seriously, and I had this scenerio in my head: me throwing up over the side of the gondola, right on the Derby favorite’s head, startling him and causing him to bolt for the barn and cause irrevocable harm to himself and the horse racing industry in general.
So I quickly turned to face the interior of the gondola, where machine oil man’s car keys, apparently in his pocket, were pressing so hard against my thigh that I thought he’d cut me. But then I had a vague recollection of him throwing his keys to someone to hold just as we took off.
So now I’m scared, nauseous, claustrophobic and apparently in a new relationship. At this point, I turned back, snapped like a thousand pictures of things at a distance … the other balloons, downtown, anything on the horizon. Our only job was to assist the pilot by watching other balloons rice packets to see if the wind sent them a certain direction when they were dropped for the target X.
Straight down? Not me. I laid that task off on machine oil man. He needed to get his mind on something else anyway.
Maybe I was dumb to get in those gondolas in the first place. Maybe I was dumb to drink my weight in tequila. Maybe I was dumb not to stand next to the Baptist minister.
But I’d do it again. It’s pretty cool once you’re back on terra firma.