Wild Pink Yonder
There I went, kicking and screaming, into the wild pink yonder. Just a few years ago, I was forced to face one of my biggest fears, flying without a plane or a parachute. Without much warning and with very little caffeine, I learned that, in less than an hour, I would be riding shotgun in the Macon Cherry Blossom Balloon Race. Although they didn’t have an actual firearm, my client (an official race sponsor) did have a contract with my ad agency, and succeeded in twisting my arm. At 5am, I didn’t have many options.
At least I had another co-worker, ready to hop on board. Of course, while I was looking for any way out, Vicki was irritatingly excited about the adventure. Like a good girl scout, she had actually volunteered to ride! So, looking just as glamorous as you might imagine, we headed to Wesleyan College under the cloak of darkness, to get this thing over with. We find our captain, who turns out to be a nice guy, and he gives us the lowdown.
More than 20 teams would compete for a coveted pink prize. After a shotgun start, we would drive with our deflated balloon in back of the van until we found an appropriate place to launch. Apparently, the aeronauts (that’s what they call people who fly hot air balloons) must use their keen wind and weather-predicting skills to navigate their way back to the starting point within a specific amount of time. Then, in a very scientific manner, the captain must drop a hand towel into a spray painted circle to finish the race.
Well, we ended up in a deserted dentist’s office parking lot somewhere and began to prepare for takeoff. Ready to watch this colorful spectacle unfold, I soon discovered that I was actually supposed to help fly this thing! I was officially a member of the crew. Bless their hearts! Even though I was terrified, I was still incredibly competitive. If I was going to die, I would die with a pink ribbon!
Hot air balloons may look as light as a feather, but that sucker was heavy! Amazingly, within just a few minutes, the loud hissing sound of a propane tank on steroids filled the air while it filled the colorful bubble with magic gas. The giant balloon with our department store name emblazoned on the banner was ready to ascend. If only I was!
Vicki and I climbed into the over-sized Easter basket and waited. As the captain boarded, the ground crew untied the ropes that safely tethered us to Sweet Mother Earth. Terrified, paralyzed and mesmerized, we began to fly. The world was eerily quiet, randomly shattered with short fiery blasts. It was awesome! I felt like Tinkerbell, with my wings and heart fluttering, as we glided undetected over historic neighborhoods and green pastures. Mind you, I was not ready to lie down in one of them. Everything looked different up there. Sparkly. Fresh. Magical. Before I was ready, the captain threw in the towel and we floated back down to reality.
On the ground, as we were told all new aeronauts do, Vicki and I knelled to thank the gods of the wind and sky for a safe journey. When we lifted our angelic faces toward heaven, we were suddenly showered with cheap champagne and presented with a new set of wings. With sticky hair, runny mascara and a huge grin, I proudly walked into the Waffle House, with my wingman, as an aeronaut.