Balloonless Festival

Bill and I decided to treat ourselves and spend a cool, sunny morning at the Arizona Balloon Classic. He managed to snag a Groupon so we got a two-for-one admission. The schedule called for a sunrise launch so Bill charged up his camera in anticipation of some amazing photos of dozens of balloons rising majestically with the sun, all against a backdrop of the Estrella mountain range.

We got up extra early, showered, dressed, and then grabbed our coffee go-cups, along with Bill’s camera case, and headed 10 miles south on the 101 to the transformed soccer fields that were sandwiched between the interstate and 99th Avenue. As we got closer, I kept an eye out for any sign of mammoth balloons ascending into the morning sky, hoping we’d be on time to snap off some frame-worthy pictures.

“There’s one,” I cried out as we got off the Thomas Road exit. “It’s almost fully inflated.”

Bill turned right and drove toward the light at 99th, less than a quarter of a mile away, while I stared left at the northern border of the fields.

“Wait a minute,” I called out in alarm. “Bill, there’s only one balloon.”

“What do you mean, only one?” he asked as he stopped at the light and put on the left turn blinker.

“One freaking balloon,” I said. “There aren’t any other baskets or splayed out balloon corpses or anything. Just one lonely balloon.”

We turned onto 99th Avenue and drove south, slowing slightly as we approached the parking sign that proclaimed a $5 fee and a hand-painted arrow pointing up the muddy dirt drive onto the fields.

“What a rip-off,” Bill mumbled, continuing south. “I’m really sorry, honey, that I made you get up early for this.”

“That’s okay,” I said, patting his leg affectionately. “You didn’t plan the festival, you just bought a ticket. Maybe we can come back tomorrow and they’ll have a few more balloons.”

“Maybe,” he muttered. “How about I buy you breakfast instead?”

“Sold,” I exclaimed, pulling out our Garmin to find a nearby restaurant. Five minutes later we pulled in and parked in front of Denny’s.

We were seated quickly and, after getting coffee and placing our orders, we settled in for a rare and welcomed breakfast out.

“At least it’s quieter here than at home,” I sighed.

“I know,” he agreed with a nod. “No blaring TV. This is really great. It kind of makes up for the No Balloons Festival let down.”

Our waiter appeared and placed our food in front of us with a polite, “Please let me know if you need anything else,” then disappeared across the aisle through the archway leading into the kitchen.

“Heaven,” I sighed. “Perfect, fluffy pancakes, buttery scrambled eggs and hot, delicious coffee. It doesn’t get much better than…”

A sudden uproar from the kitchen stopped me in mid-sentence as our waiter’s voice called out, “Julio Rodriquez, come on down. This next skillet meal order can be yours if… THE PRICE IS RIGHT!”

Bill stared across the table at me, a chunk of sausage skewered on the end of his fork, which was dangling half way to his mouth. I stared back, stopping in mid-pour while maple syrup dribbled from the little glass carafe onto my two pancakes.

“I guess you can run, but you can’t hide,” he said, shaking his head before popping the sausage into his mouth.

“Not even in a hot air balloon,” I grumbled, slashing at the hotcake stack with a ferocity that a casual observer might find mildly alarming.

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