by Budd Davisson

The Attraction to Hot Air

It was early and I was only about half awake as I cursed traffic on the way to the airport. I was cutting it close and there is nothing I hate worse than keeping a student waiting. In my book, being late is one of the worse black marks you can make against an instructor. I'd make it but not by much.

I was doing just fine until traffic, for no apparent reason came to an abrupt stop between lights. Oh come on folks. I can't afford this!

Then I noticed all of the drivers in front of me: Their faces were stuck against their windshields as they craned their necks to see upward. What the...!

Suddenly, a huge, ominous black shadow floated over the creeping traffic. It was coming from behind and I couldn't stretch far enough to see what it was. What ever it was, it was huge, round and threatening. The entire scene looked curiously like something out of Independence Day. I anxiously glanced around looking for men wearing black suits and sunglasses to save me.

The slow moving shadow continued creeping over us.

Suddenly, it drifted into sight. We were all being threatened by a humungous Double Whopper (with cheese). It had Volkswagen sized sesame seeds and the buns were ten times that. Egad, what a gastronomically oppressive sight.

I thought "Wow, when the aliens decided to assume an appearance which was universally recognized as having the capability of ending life, as we know it, they couldn't have picked a better subject to super-clone."

Then I noticed the wicker basket hanging under the bun and relaxed. There were two smiling and waving individuals hanging under the bun in a wicker basket equipped with the big Bunsen burner. Either they had been enslaved and forced to re-heat the monstrosity for eternity, or I was watching a hot air balloon cross Frank Lloyd Wright Boulevard at 50 feet. Since everyone in the cars and the pedestrians clustered on the curb were smiling and waving (none were drooling), I opted for the balloon scenario.

Then I noticed the floating Ryder renta-truck behind the burger. And the pink piggy bank. And the grocery cart. And dozens and dozens of other strange and elaborate shapes just then floating up from the other side of the high dike paralleling the road. I thought of one of my old college roommates in the '60's waking up to this sight. Whoa, dude! Musta been some really bad acid!

I found myself grinning. I had to work to keep from playing bumper cars with the other drivers who, like me, were trying to keep track of each new and bizarre shape as it appeared.

I also started studying the faces of folks around me, as I drove.

I saw a little old lady, a gray haired Hummel figure, standing on the sidewalk staring up. Her hand covered her mouth in amazement. And amusement. Her eyes were bright with delight. Behind her a burly construction worker with tattoos dancing up and down sweat-glistened skin was leaning on his shovel. He punched his buddy on the shoulder, pointed and laughed each time a new shape popped into view. His eyes were as bright as the little old lady's.

As those bubbles of creatively contained hot air made their escape into their element, they had a curiously uniform effect on spectators. Something about their benign and whimsical nature brought a look of child-like joy to every one within sight. What fun!

Every hour this same group of spectators ignored dozens of airplanes roaring low overhead to land on the runway which intersected the boulevard. Airplanes apparently don't interest them. These bags of hot air, however, definitely did.

They had the same effect on me and I'm not sure why. I thought about that for the rest of the morning because the effect was lingering and wide spread.

A tower operator intoned, "Beware of wake turbulence behind departing pink piggy bank." The reply came back, "Tally-ho on the pink pig, no factor."

"Tower, please be advised there's a bottle of Coors floating south east of the departure end."

Another pilot chirps in, "Negative on the Coors, I make that a Bud Lite."

A third voice, "I believe that's an Amsdel Light, gentlemen."

So much for proper radio procedure. I believe it was an Amsdel, by the way.

There is something about huge numbers of hot air balloons that makes just about everybody want to grab a picnic basket and flop down on freshly mown grass. The sight seems to put us in a laid back, smell-the-roses kind of mood. I wonder if it's because we all know hot air ballooning exists for one basic reason: To get the human animal off the ground in the least complicated way possible. It is flight as its purist. Also, even though we recognize the advertising potential of the exotic shaped balloons, we know the regular hot air thingy doesn't have a single practical use. It is simply a great place from which to view our planet and get above it all.

Yeah, I know I'm bound to hear from some hot-air honchos who will explain the scientific importance of what they do. But, please don't spoil the image the rest of us have of your sport. From the outside, it looks like one of the few aerial endeavors which is done for the pure joy of it. And God knows we need as many pure-joy endeavors as we can get to balance off the rest of life.

As for personally partaking of the hot-air third dimension, I don't think so. Not this kid. For me, it's purely a spectator sport. Did I ever tell you how severe my acrophobia is? Or why there are no step ladders in my house taller than three feet? Besides, I've always considered myself to be a weirdly shaped hot air container. I don't need to look for others.