You will never find me naturally and happily awake at 6 am (or 7 am, or really even 8 am if I have a choice). That's just not who I am. I don't spend mornings leisurely sipping coffee, collecting my thoughts for the day. I wish I was that person, that sounds lovely! But no, I'm a snooze button pusher, hurry out the door, shit-I-forgot-my-coffee-I'll-find-some-when-I-get-there kind of gal. [Note: Sadly, I'm not the late night, eyes wide open party girl either - I just need to sleep.]
That's why when my husband, Troy, mentioned the hot air balloon festival was this weekend I was super excited to experience something new, and fascinating, and beautiful - until he casually threw out that it started at 5:45. Ante Meridiem (I just googled that, had no idea "AM" stood for a Latin phrase - cool). Like the time when even the sun is hitting the snooze button...
It's 10:30 pm the night before, we are driving back from a lovely evening with his mom. I'm already bone tired and looking forward to a nice 9 hour slumber, but the idea of watching hot air balloons is definitely alluring. The simplicity of their design, their pretty colors, and the old-worldly feeling you get when you see one in the air speaks to me (who knows why, I don't have any childhood nostalgia featuring an eccentric, loving uncle giving me extraordinary hot air balloon rides and fulfilling every child's dream of being special - I've never even been within 50 ft of one).
"If we are going to do this, we have to commit now. Like a real commitment, not a 'we will see how we feel in the morning' commitment. I'll totally fail if given the option to stay asleep at 4:30 am," I tell Troy. We would have to get up at 4:30 to make it, ugh, I'm half hoping Troy will come up with some excuse that is valid enough not to set The Alarm, but, alas, he's excited to go (unlike me, he does have childhood nostalgia about waking up with his family at an ungodly hour to go watch the hot air balloons take off).
Thanks to him we do it (he said later he alllllmost asked if I'd rather sleep, but decided not to). We manage not only to get out of bed and throw on nice-enough clothing to be presentable, but we also have enough time to go to Starbucks! Thank the heavens, caffeine is a miracle!
Ok, so I'm feeling good about this now. I'm awake, it's summer so the sun is actually up and it doesn't feel insanely early. I've got my hot tea, the freeway is clear because it really is insanely early, and we are going to see the hot air balloons take off! I'm imagining the experience we are about to have - a serene field with a few people loitering around as the magic of raising hot air balloons starts to happen. Quietly, pleasantly we will snap Instagram-worthy photos of this memorable morning. Maybe make some bad jokes about whose head is full of hot air (he has to start working on his dad jokes soon anyway). It will be charming and relaxing. All because we got out of bed on time.
I'm feeling accomplished, eager, positive, and - wait, WTF is this. We are stopped, 4 blocks before the parking area of the festival. No, no, this is bad! It's 5:47 already and the first balloon will go up at any moment. We can't be stopped here! What - who are these people? How did all these families with tiny children wake their asses up so early? Surely ALL these people aren't here for the balloon festival? WHAT IS GOING ON? Like a rocket my anxiety takes off. We aren't going to make it there in time, all the balloons will be gone by time we get through this parking madness, I had to wake up at 5 am [I know, I said 4:30 but I hit the snooze button a few times] to see the balloons and now we are going to miss everything! I voice these concerns (in no sweet tone) to Troy. Laughingly, lovingly, he tells me to simmer. "It will be fine," he says, and reminds me we would be able to see the balloons even from here, but none have gone up yet, we have time. I don't simmer. Instead I reach a new level of grumpiness as we twist through a substantial number of switchbacks ("for a parking lot, why? Shouldn't this area just be parking, not switchbacks? This is so dumb, and why are there so many flaggers? There doesn't need to be so many flaggers! Look right there, there are like 3 flaggers and it's straight. What are they even doing?!" Now we are two cars trying to go to the same place, and the flagger is just steadily waving her arms not actually signaling who should go first. I'm highly offended, "this is your ONE job, your MOMENT, your time to SHINE, why do you think you're out here?! To fix confusion like this!! WHO SHOULD GO, FLAGGER?! USE YOUR FLAG!"... The other car let's us go first).
Troy stays calm, and gets us parked. We follow the herd of other people to the ticket booth. The line is massive. Everyone is loud and many are as grumpy as I am. I'm ready to spike my drink to the ground, "I THOUGHT THIS WAS GOING TO BE SERENE!" Troy laughs, pokes at me a little, and I laugh too understanding how wildly I'm overreacting to what should be an expected part of an event described as a festival even if it is 6 fucking o'clock in the morning.
We see the first balloon go up as we stand in line for tickets. It's beautiful - green and gold, and framed perfectly next to a 3/4 moon that is still visible in the sky. We haven't missed anything. I start to slow my roll.
More balloons take off as we walk to the park where the festivities are. We have to walk past a preserved marshland and the composition of the natural scenery with the balloons is breathtaking (so is the walk, I'm 7 months pregnant and can't breathe after walking more than like 4 steps). We walk into the park and it's a boisterous crowd; kids throwing boomerang-like objects, people cheering as the balloons fill with enough hot air to make it off the ground. Basically it's the exact opposite of all my imaginings, but somehow still perfect.
We spend an hour watching the balloons go up. We talk about how people get into hobbies like this and what the "industry" must be like. I think some folk are just there because it's the only thing I can think of where you get to legitimately use a real-life flame thrower.
The balloons are massive, inspiring feats of technology (when you remember that they were created in the 1700's) and I'm so happy I got to see them in action. The experience was all the better because I was with Troy, we watched the other families and dreamt of next year (ok, maybe a few years) when we can watch our son be mesmerized for a moment by the monstrous balloons before he tears off demanding his daddy to chase him. It was definitely a tremendous start to what turned out to be a fun-filled day all around (farmer's market, and a bbq with our very best friends were to follow)!
What experience have you had, Perfect Stranger, that went so differently than what you expected (for better or for worse)? Let me know in the comments!