I have a confession to make. When I travel abroad and people ask me where I am from, I don’t tell them Albuquerque. I don’t even tell them New Mexico. I tell them…wait for it ... Santa Fe. (Go ahead and start throwing rotten tomatoes
– I deserve it).
Why on earth would I diss the Duke City?
Because people 'round the world know about Santa Fe. And once they get a point of reference, then
I can tell them Albuquerque, bypassing that whole Old Mexico/New Mexico confusion
, which is compounded by the fact that my Spanish is a mess – a mélange of Mexican/Argentinean/hard of hearing accents.
Sometimes Santa Fe isn't recognized, but Roswell
is. Once in a very rare while, the mention of Albuquerque gets a smile. Almost always, that smile is followed by a question about the Albuquerque International Balloon Fiesta
Fifteen years ago I attended my first Balloon Fiesta. Years earlier I had attended a similar event in Napa Valley, and even knew a few balloonists there, so I thought I knew what I was getting into. When my Albuquerque native neighbor told me that we should leave at 4:30 in the morning, I was skeptical. Still, I followed her advice, thinking that throwing the kids in the car and letting them sleep might be easier than wrestling to wake them up at 7 am.
Despite arriving on time, I was so unprepared.
For starters, I didn’t bring a camera. The sacrilege
I also thought that Mass Ascension
had religious connotations, and was extremely skeptical of a merger between hot air ballooning and New Mexican Catholicism.
I didn’t realize an Albuquerque October morning could be quite cold
before dawn. I had bundled up my children properly because I’m a bit of a neurotic mother, but I figured that jeans and a sweatshirt would be enough to keep me warm.
I didn’t reckon on seeing people eating pizza and turkey legs
at the crack of dawn.
I didn’t know which breakfast burrito stand had the best burritos.
And I didn’t know that I should have brushed up on my German. I think I had three different people try to converse with me in German as I passed the Warsteiner Biergarten in the dark. WTF? Do I really look like I speak German? (Vielleicht. Ich bin eine deutsche arabisch Amerikanerin.)
So there I was, at 5:30 in the morning, making my son run around in little circles with me as I pushed his sleeping sister in a stroller – all to keep
me warm. And then I heard him shout in a gleeful little voice, “Mommy! Look! Look at the balloons!”
As we had been running around on the field, the dawn patrol
had launched. (I’m sure this was probably what they were telling us on the crackling PA system, but this hard of hearing mama couldn’t decipher those sounds).
We stopped in our tracks, watched the balloons rise against the mountains, burners firing and envelopes glowing as the sun slowly made an appearance. It was magical.
And it just got better after that – zebras
and champagne and pigs and cows and shoes
We came home, the kids crashing to sleep in their car seats. Minutes after I unloaded the car, I was zonked out on our couch, having just sat down to “rest my eyes” for a bit. (That was the other part I was unprepared for – getting up at 3:30 am and chasing kiddos around Balloon Fiesta park meant a hard afternoon nap was coming up, whether I wanted one or not).
As we sunk our roots into Albuquerque, we met balloonists, participated in tether rides at local schools, helped chase crews find their way around Albuquerque streets, and when work schedules permitted, enjoyed daytime festivities like the key grab and the chainsaw carving competition. In short, we became balloonatics
As my kids got older, they became blasé. The Balloon Fiesta was for little kids, they scorned.
Still, my son and I developed a tradition of going to see the gas balloon
launch every year – the crowds were small, few small children were present, and parking was easy. We could get up close to some of the best gas balloonists in the world, wish them luck, and even snag an autograph.
The folks at the gas balloon race launch just seemed to be more hard core about ballooning than the hot air crowd. They also seemed to have a helluva lot more common sense – I never saw anyone in this crowd trying to light up a cigarette
next to a gas balloon, though I saw people attempt this almost every year at the hot air balloon events.
I claimed the America's Challenge Gas Balloon Race
as my favorite Balloon Fiesta event.
As we all know, this year is different.
Albuquerque gas balloonists Richard Abruzzo and Carol Rymer Davis are missing
, having lost contact last Wednesday when their gas balloon moved into heavy thunderstorms and descended rapidly over the Adriatic Sea.
At this point, even optimists are replacing worry
And I cannot help but shake my head at the timing, just days before the Albuquerque Balloon Fiesta. This annual event that brings smiles to the dourest curmudgeons has had a pall cast over it
I’ll be watching the gas balloon launch
on Tuesday evening. I wouldn’t miss it for the world. (I have a feeling it’ll be a bit more crowded this year than usual so you might want to get an early start). When those balloons lift into the air, I’ll be clapping and waving and smiling as I do each year.
But I can’t promise that I won’t shed a tear or two as I think of Richard and Carol and hope for a miracle.
Header image courtesy of Albuquerque International Balloon Fiesta, Inc.