"You'll never get ahead if you don't take care of what you have." - Doris Waddell, RIP

A historic building on our U of M-Morris campus - morris mn

A historic building on our U of M-Morris campus - morris mn
The multi-ethnic building was the original home of the music department at UMM. (B.W. photo)

Saturday, March 30, 2013

Take a balloon ride, do a Hail Mary

We looked skyward in the 1980s and saw an occasional hot air balloon in Stevens County. The first Donnelly Threshing Bee I covered for the print media had a hot air balloon attraction.
Midday ballooning seemed rare because any wind could quickly bring complications.
It seemed so peaceful and serene, those balloonists up there. The Fifth Dimension had that popular song with the lyrics "Up, up and away" in that "beautiful balloon."
We don't seem to see these objects anymore locally. Maybe the hobby isn't as peaceful as it seems. Might there be quite substantial insurance costs?
Controlling a hot air balloon would seem to have its issues. Isn't this clear in the closing scenes of "The Wizard of Oz?" Dorothy was about to be taken home to Kansas. The eccentric pilot seemed at the mercy of the balloon. Dorothy would end up having to tap her heels together. We don't know what happened to the balloon. The pilot was the guy who played "The Great and Powerful Oz."
"Pay no attention to the man behind the curtain."
Do you still remember the "balloon boy" incident? The media aren't helping us remember it. The media became profoundly embarrassed focusing on this episode for several hours. And you wonder why media people are cynical? Why they're so quick to suspect the worst in human motivations? It's not just because of Watergate. We are surrounded by charlatans.
Cable TV news was taken for a ride, so to speak, in the "balloon boy" incident. Wolf Blitzer came to the rescue at the end. The hard-hosed reporter, prodded I'm sure by that journalistic virtue of cynicism, coaxed an admission by the guilty family. He actually coaxed it out of the young child. Bless the children for they see things as they are.
A balloon incident is part of Minnesota history. It has faded into some obscurity. It was a minor regional story at the time. Cable TV news would have fixed that today.
Cable news would have gathered like bees around honey in December of 1969. It was truly "balloon boy" with no contrived element at all. It was truly dangerous. And it must have looked just like that closing scene in the "Wizard."
You see, controlling these lighter-than-air crafts seems to be at least half the challenge. The date is December 14. The backdrop is a Minnesota Vikings football game. A substantial amount of snow fell during the game. This was pre-Metrodome when the elements were fully a part of our sports viewing experience.
Outdoor sports in December? My but we're hardy folk. It's a testament to the popularity of the Minnesota Vikings.
Fans gathered at our old Metropolitan Stadium which was built for baseball. They gathered to watch the "purple people" play the San Francisco 49ers on that mid-December day in '69. Ballooning was a halftime attraction. The idea was to promote the St. Paul Winter Carnival balloon race.
There are those who might suggest St. Paul is a jinxed city. I don't know about that, but the halftime show hardly went as planned. The plan was for a balloon with its red and white stripes to merely glide the length of the field. A young man named Ricky Snyder, 11 years old, and his mom boarded the gondola.
The Snyder family owned the balloon. The "best laid plans" started going haywire. These things are certainly more dangerous than they appear. Safety wasn't guaranteed with five men holding a 200-foot mooring line.
The balloon was a little stubborn leaving the ground. Ricky's mom decided the weight in the gondola needed to be lightened. So, she got off. Whoa! The balloon took off as if on sudden impulse. The mooring line came loose. Whoa!
Ricky is now a genuine "balloon boy" and in a way spelling real hazard.
The first potential hazard was the left field light towers. (I told you the stadium was built with baseball in mind - we use baseball terminology.)
Ricky, seeming just like that eccentric guy in "The Wizard of Oz," barely missed the towers. Oh my, what next?
Southeast Bloomington opened up in front of him. He was at the mercy of his unwieldy craft. Again, what are the insurance costs for this pastime? Ricky had never before flown without a tether. His trip would cover three miles. An account tells us he "guided" the balloon to a "splashdown." Perhaps he was controlling the heat input. But would anyone seek a "splashdown" in a river in December?
I'm sure Ricky did the best he could, but his predicament seemed very real when he ended up in the Minnesota River. All that really matters is that there was a happy ending. The balloon tipped on its side. Ricky had about 25 yards to swim to get to shore. An at-large motorist spotted the odd scene, was certainly thankful to see the young man healthy, and gave a ride back to Metropolitan Stadium. A Vikings physician attended to the young man.
Young Mr. Snyder hadn't been hurt at all. Hallelujah.
But wait a minute, there's still an element of disorder going on. The Snyders and Winter Carnival people had taken off in pursuit. They knew nothing of the rescue. Such quaint times: no cellphones, not to mention no immediate gathering of the cable news people.
The situation became more confusing when the balloon just refused to sit still in the river. It had life left in it. It got reinvigorated just like the inflated "Otto" character during the movie "Airplane" - the "auto pilot," remember? The balloon rose off the river. It glided a ways more before coming down in some mud flats near the Black Dog plant of Northern States Power Company.
It's hard to believe confusion could reign for so long! It's hard to believe a mere random motorist would pick up Ricky, when in fact we might expect "gawkers" to gather. But those were different times, we must remind ourselves.
The Snyder parents waded through snow and mud only to discover the empty gondola and no Ricky. The caveman type of communications we evidently had then finally caught up. The stadium and the "chase crew" got on the same page.
Ricky probably wished he just could have clicked his heels together like Dorothy. This was no dream fantasy. And it was no "balloon boy." Or, let's say it was "balloon boy" but in the most real, non-contrived sense. And who the heck cares how the St. Paul Winter Carnival balloon race turned out?
Ricky claimed he never got real scared. He estimated being up about 1,000 feet. He remembered being in the clouds. His mother complimented him on his pilot work. But I can't imagine that a river splashdown in December would represent any sort of successful resolution.
We can be profoundly thankful this young man survived it. It's too bad Wolf Blitzer wasn't around to do the interview.
The Vikings beat the 49ers 10-7. This was the Joe Kapp era. Kapp passed 52 yards to Gene Washington for the game-winning touchdown in the final quarter. Snowmobile suits were everywhere.
A storm passed through in the first half, leaving in its wake two-plus inches of snow. Measuring for first downs became an issue. The storm ended for the second half and the sun actually came out.
Kapp and Washington did their thing but the defense had a big role too. Remember, these were the defense-fueled "purple people." Kapp just rode the gravy train for a while. Earsell Mackbee recovered a fumble and made an interception. Roy Winston made another key interception.
The problematic weather hardly held down attendance. There were over 40,000 shivering souls there, to see not only the Vikings' heroics, but Snyder as the real "balloon boy."
- Brian Williams - morris mn minnesota - bwilly73@yahoo.com

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