The Albuquerque Balloon Fiesta has been on my bucketlist for a while now. As I made my vision board this year, a photo of a hot air balloon made it on there, and it spurred my desire to come, so I decided to make it happen. Originally it was me and 2 other friends but one backed out due to money, and the other because she forgot she had a date with her boyfriend. Neat. Determined not to let my dreams die because of others, I decided to make the trip solo. Now I’m not so sure that was a good idea.
A couple years ago Yago and his friend Abel came to the United States for the first time. We stopped in L.A. and after visiting all the sights, we headed for Riverside, California – a short 58 miles away – where my aunt and uncle lived. FOUR HOURS LATER we finally made it. That drive was hell. Being from Kansas, I am NOT used to traffic like that, and Yago kept yelling at me to change lanes to go faster, but I kept ending up in the carpool lane and couldn’t change, and then we were about to run out of gas – it was basically completely awful and I had never been so extremely road rage-y and frustrated in my life… until today.
Before coming I read that there was definitely traffic to deal with, but the mass ascension wasn’t until 7am, and the gates opened at 4:30am, and I was literally 11 miles direct down I-25, so I figured leaving at 4:15 would give me plenty of time. Oh how wrong I was.
I get from my airbnb to about 50 yards from my exit in about 12 minutes. Perfect, I can see the entrance, about 3/4 of a mile away, and though I’m at a standstill, it is about 4:35, and I don’t have to be there until 7. AT 5:30am I FINALLY MAKE IT TO THE EXIT SIGN – not even the exit yet, just the sign. Guys, this was a true test of my patience. I don’t know how I did it. At this point I see I still have another 1/2 mile to go and I’m starting to worry I won’t make it by 7am. The only positives at this point are that I’m going to finish my 8 disc book-on-tape while sitting there, and I start to feel solidarity with the other drivers, as I watch them get out to stretch, find a semi-hidden place to pee, and smoke.
And then it happens. What I had been so careful to NOT let happen. One of my biggest pet peeves in life, which I have had to deal with a lot lately due to all the construction going on in Wichita, is when everyone has to merge into 1 or 2 lanes, and there’s those handful of jackasses that think they’re so much more important than you that they race ahead only to put their blinkers on and cut everyone off. I can’t even explain how irrationally angry it makes me. If you are one of those people, just stop. So at this point I’ve been in my car for an hour and 15 minutes, have moved about 1/4 of a mile, and all of a sudden a Corolla comes careening down the lane next to me and swerves in RIGHT IN FRONT OF ME. I slammed on my brakes and tried to slam on my horn, but apparently it doesn’t work, which just makes me angrier, so I’m just beating my steering wheel and screaming, though it’s pitch black out and I’m by myself and no one can see or hear me, especially not the driver in front of me who has his whole back window iced over. I seethed for another hour, and started all over again when he saw an opening in the lane next to us, went for it, realized that lane was moving slower than he thought and then tried to come back over by cutting me off again!! This time I was NOT letting that happen though, so he ended up having to slam on his brakes and had the nerve to start yelling and gesturing wildly AT ME.
And this is how Balloon Fiesta started for me.
I FINALLY pulled into the lot around 6:30 (if you’re counting, it took me approximately 2 hours to go 3/4 of a mile), and got directed to a spot at 6:47. I ran to the gates to see the mass ascension, only to realize that it is not anything like I thought. It’s not really “mass” at all, more like taking off one at a time, or maybe 2 or 3 over a 2.5 hour period. I was pretty disappointed. I hadn’t had my coffee yet (thank GOD, or else I would have had to piss in a bottle in my car), so I went to one of the hundreds of food and beverage stands and ordered a large because 1) I really wanted coffee and 2) I was freaking freezing and hadn’t worn enough clothing. Guys, that coffee cost me $7. At that point I just wanted the warmth though, so I didn’t care – until they handed it to me and I didn’t even have to put a cup sleeve on it because it was lukewarm! I honestly started tearing up at that point because nothing was going as planned, and I was just over this whole thing.
I walked around taking photos with my Canon, and video with my iPhone, until my phone decided to randomly shut off in the middle of a video. This ended up happening multiple times, which has never happened to me before, just adding to the day’s frustration. On top of that, anytime I had a photo perfectly lined up, someone would walk in front of me, or pop his head up, or let their screaming kid bump into me. There were just SO MANY PEOPLE. I heard the emcee say that the very first year of the event there were only 13 balloons, but still 20,000 people showed up. I can’t even imagine how many there were today with over 700 balloons.
As I tried to make my way back through the billions of people to my car, I stopped at the event info center to ask them about parking for this evening’s event and to see what time I should come so I could plan a little better. “I honestly don’t know what to tell ya. I’ll have a better idea in a couple days.” Super helpful.
I finally made my way back to my car at 9:20, got in the huge line of cars now leaving, and made it to my airbnb by 9:54.
My plan was to immediately take a nap, but there are no curtains on the windows in this apartment and it’s super bright, so looks like there will be no rest for the wicked.
Hopefully tonight goes better…stay tuned…