At the Chester County Balloon Festival. This is the side of the trailer parked next to the tethered hot-air balloon that’s giving rides.
Upon seeing this, I immediately marched over to the ticket booth and asked for two tethered-ballon ride tickets. While paying, I asked the nice lady behind the desk: "Does the price include the story about the alligator castration?"
She looked deeply startled. I realized she must be a volunteer, not one of the tethered-balloon crew. "Oh", I said, trying to sound noncholant, "you probably don’t know what I’m talking about, do you? You see, the alligator castration…" and I waved feebly over at the trees where the trailer was parked.
"No…" she said uncertainly and visibly edged away from me.
You can see Grant Aiello (the casual hero) wowing the crowd on Flickr here.
UPDATE: We came back at 6AM the next morning for an hour-long balloon ride, but when we got there, the trial balloons they had sent up had gone directly towards the approaching storm front, and all ascensions were canceled. So we hung out at the Balloon Pilot’s Tent, drinking champagne. Of course we drank champagne. I asked the pilots if they had any coffee, and they gave me a blank look. “…We have champagne…” one of them offered helpfully after a brief silence. For balloon pilots, I think champagne is the only liquid that exists. They can’t even see water, or coffee, or milk. Maybe their pancakes always taste awful when they’re cooking at home.
While he was washing last night’s dishes in a big plastic tub filled with Moet, Grant told us lots of great stories about:
- International balloon races (it’s not speed; you go away at least two miles, then you come back and try to throw a sandbag into the center of a big “X”, with the result that anytime he sees an “X” on the ground anywhere, he has an urge to throw something at it),
- Whether or not balloon competitions have white-coated heroes and black-hatted villains (Grant assures me that they do), and
- If Grant would be willing to land his balloon squarely in the middle of the audience at a Guerilla Drive-In showing of “The Great Race”, “Around the World in 80 Days”, or maybe “The Wizard of Oz”. (Grant accepted immediately, especially when I promised to make the biggest, whitest “X” over the audience seating area that he had ever seen.)
Kate and I both told our stories about growing up in Chester County, and how you’d occasionally hear the big dragon WHOO-O-O-OOMP outside, and you’d run out and see a balloon directly over your house. The pilots looked at each other and nodded sagely. “Must be Dave”, they said. This adds a new dimension to my childhood memories — inside that peaceful-looking Gondola was Dave, the Mad Ballooning Daredevil of Chester County, flouting rules and convention in order to buzz the locals and bring them out on their lawns? EXCELLENT. I imagine a leather flight helmet and a billowing white scarf. And, of course, champagne.
The Chester County Balloon Festival will be running again in 2010; according to the site, you should check in January for information on next year’s event. I’ll see you there!