The difference between a hot air balloon and an aero bed

by Lorin Michel Sunday, February 14, 2016 9:36 PM

My mother used to be a hot air balloonist. Southern New Hampshire was a very big area for hot air balloons. It was nothing to hear them on an early Saturday morning. The gentle exhale of something large in the sky. The whoosh of silence. Then, after going outside, to look up and see them drifting lazily above the tree tops. She was fascinated. She started following the balloons and soon found herself as part of the crew. She loved it. She was part of the crew, part of the chase vehicles. For those who don’t know anything about hot air ballooning, which is most people, it is impossible to steer a balloon. It floats whatever way the air is moving. People on the ground follow along so that when it does finally land in someone’s field there are people there to take it down, roll it up and load it onto the trailer along with the basket. 

She eventually became the head crew member for her friend Gregg’s balloon. For decades they ballooned, offering rides for sale, taking off at ungodly hours of the morning, Gregg piloting, mom driving the lead chase vehicle with the rest of her crew following her. They had a number of friends in the area who also had hot air balloons. They were a small community Some mornings they would all launch from the same field, five or six, possible more balloons going up at once. It was magical.

This morning, we looked out the window in the master bedroom and there was a hot air balloon floating over the city. It was early, maybe 7:30. It seemed to be hanging there in the desert, suspended by an invisible string somehow tied around the edge of the earth. The morning was impossibly still. There weren’t even birds fluttering. We watched, fascinated. It was the first hot air balloon we’d seen here. We’ve seen them on the way to Phoenix, off and out above the desert, in the middle of nowhere. But this one hovered above Tucson easily, as if it belonged here. It gradually rose higher and started to drift a bit toward the west. It seemed like it was searching for a current that might dislodge it from where it was. Soon enough it started to drift down again, again hanging right above the city. 

We watched it through the telescope, its perfect, upside-down tear drop shape, the basket attached below. Hot air balloons are so interesting because they appear to be so low tech. They are much the same as they’ve always been. They are filled with hot air supplied by a gas flame that the pilot occasionally unleashes in order to make the balloon rise. 

It was yellow with purple, red and orange geometric shapes on the side we could see. If I closed my eyes, I could hear the way it breathed.

Eventually it came down so that it was nearly hidden, just the top dome visible over the trees. We figured that it had landed. Then slowly, it melted away. 

I’ve seen a balloon dismantled a number of times. The air leaks out, the material collapses and then it is folded over itself a number of times as any additional air is pushed out. It’s rolled up so it can fit into a bag that seems too small but isn’t. 

As we watched the balloon disappear today, I remembered what it was like to roll a balloon. And then I smiled. Because it’s sort of like letting the air out of the aero bed. It seeps out and the bed melts to the floor like the Wicked Witch did in The Wizard of Oz. Once all the air is out, it is folded and rolled and put into a bag.  

So what’s the difference between a hot air balloon and an aero bed? They’re both filled with hot air, but one is functional and one is beautiful. And only one drifts above the earth in search of magic.


live out loud

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