I open a birthday card from Captain: A hot-air balloon ride! That sounds awesome. It starts at 5:00am. Wait, what?
We drive to Salem, NH, the town the balloon leaves from the next morning. Not a destination. There are lots of cute little New England towns and Salem isn’t one of them. We find a good place for dinner and wait for the 8pm phone call to confirm our balloon ride. We get the call. Woohoo! Captain starts calling the few random hotels in the area. The first one is full. The second one is full. The third one is full. The last one is full. What is going on in Salem, NH?
Our alarm goes off at 3:30am. Happy Birthday to me. We drive back to New Hampshire. We pull into a lot with a few other cars. A scraggly old man, with long greasy gray hair, a torn sleeveless shirt, and a cigarette hanging off his lip, walks up to the car. He asks,
“Here for the balloon ride?”
He reeks of alcohol. This man is not taking me anywhere. Especially not in anything that leaves the ground. He tells us,
“Your balloonist will be here soon.”
“We never know where we’re going to land. It all depends on the wind. Chances are we will land in someone’s yard.”
Maybe they’ll give us breakfast. The safety news continues,
“Chances are we’ll have a soft landing, but we may have a hard landing. It could be like jumping out of a second story window. All you need to do is keep your knees bent and you’ll be fine.”
I don’t know anyone who can jump from a second story window and be fine as long as they keep their knees bent. I climb into the hot-air balloon basket.
We soar above the trees into the sunrise. It’s gorgeous. People come out of their homes to take our photo. Who are all these people awake and ready to take photos at 6:00am Sunday morning?
Forty minutes later our balloonist announces,
“We’re over half-way through our fuel, we need to land.”
We float over suburbia looking for a good yard. We drop down fast, taking half of a dead tree with us. It’s a soft landing. The homeowners do not appear to be home. Either that or 12 random people milling around their backyard with a giant balloon is not a good enough reason to get out of bed before 7am.
We pack up and head back to the parking lot for a champagne toast and our award ceremony. Awards below. I give my award to a co-worker. She declares,
“I’m concerned that you went on this.”