A common question that we all had while watching the teams set up the balloons and gondolas, thinking that if you had to go while flying around in that thing, there wasn’t much room for privacy, nor for squatting (at least for the female flyers). We began imagining scenarios, team mates giving each other support, helping out with the gymnastics of purging the system. Jelly bags? What about those on the ground?
Eventually, we were informed that the teams only fly for an hour or two at most, set the balloons down on a field somewhere far, far away, far enough that our illusions about flying across the world on one of those balloons would not be shattered by seeing them crash down across the way, spending the rest of the day eating, dilly dallying and waiting for the evening show.
Most of the balloons were inflating rather quickly, but a few notable ones had problems lifting off the ground. The square shaped Whiskas (cat food) balloon took at least 30 minutes to get into its box form, then another 15 minutes of watching two men come close to being incinerated by the flames of the hot air blower to finally gain lift. Perhaps it was also the shape that made it the “bully” on the field, it would lean sideways bopping its neighbors on the side. Another wisecrack among my groupmates was first started after we translated the German blurb on the Whiskas balloon that said "Cats would buy it."; with what we wondered? Cat coins? Cats dressing up to go to the grocers to get their box of cat food, then dragging it home, only to find the box had torn along the way, leaving a trail of cat kibble all down the sidewalk.
Another problem balloon was the “lead” balloon, a rather sad spectacle, noticeably older, ragged around the edges. This was sponsored by UPS (one of the major sponsors, who according to our more expert advisers courier the balloons and equipment for free), which had its canvas logo taped on to the main balloon. The announcer on the loudspeaker said that this balloon should lead the pack on a “hare and hound” chase through the fields. What kind of hare was this? It could barely get itself off the ground! It listed so often, and eventually, collapsed (not enough air? Bad pun, sorry), then was dragged away.
There were a few funky balloons, other than the square shaped cat box (which we named the litter box), there was a balloon with shades, a lovely pucci colored balloon (no amoeba swirls, just a 60’s inspired rout of purple, green, and pink), and the Festo blimp that had a motorized control gondola, so they could swish in and out of the other balloons, wave at spectators below, glide up and down through the field. One of the Japanese balloons had an odd amoeba/ghost cartoon logo on it, sort of like two happy cells about to break apart, holding flowers. So Japanese.
On the ground, inflated but not quite ready to lift, the row of 20+ balloons reminded many of us of a beach spectacle, soft, pillowy mammaries on display. We were all female who mentioned this. Did I mention that we had not had any coffee or breakfast at this point?
Eventually, one balloon was off the ground then another, and by 8 a.m., the whole scene (minus the forementioned UPS straggler) was dotted by balloons in the sky, reminiscent of a film scene, or a magical wallpaper where the balloons float in the blue sky like lanterns in a fairy tale. It was a lovely, spiritual moment.