On the ground and loving it

Kevin Cowherd

May 31, 1991|By Kevin Cowherd

RECENTLY I was invited to fly in a hot air balloon as part of a promotional campaign for a public relations firm.

Love to, I said. But as soon as that baby gets more than, oh, three feet off the ground, I'm jumping off to avoid the terrifying mid-air disaster certain to follow. I'm sure you understand.

"Oh, the balloon is very safe," said one of the earnest young PR people. "And the view from up there is breathtaking."

I'm sure it is, I said. I'll bet you can see everything: tall buildings and suburban sprawl and farms and cows and horseys, too.

And I'm sure it's very peaceful up there -- at least until a Boeing 747 comes along and slams into the balloon and we go hurtling earthward at 800 miles per hour.

Or until some deranged eagle makes a strafing run through the balloon's tissue paper-thin fabric and we go hurtling earthward at 800 miles per hour.

Or until a mysterious change in the atmospheric pressure suddenly causes gas to rush from the balloon and we go hurtling earthward at 800 miles per hour.

Whatever the case, I said, it's that part about slamming into the ground at 800 miles per hour that has me concerned.

The PR person furrowed her brow, as PR people are prone to do, and thought for a moment. Suddenly she brightened.

"Did I mention we have lots of celebrities going up?" she chirped.

Celebrities? Well, I said, that clinches it. Celebrities and hot air balloons, that's a tragedy waiting to happen. We're talking Voyage of the Damned here, miss. You people don't have a prayer.

Didn't Buddy Holly check out in a hot air balloon? Or am I thinking of Amelia Earhart?

Hell, I could write the next day's headline right now: "ROCK STAR, LOCAL NEWS ANCHOR, FORMER NFL QUARTERBACK PERISH IN BALLOON MISHAP; THOUSANDS GAPE IN HORROR AS CRAFT HURTLES EARTHWARD AT 800 MPH.

Me, I'll be mentioned in the next to last paragraph that begins: "Also killed in the fiery wreck were . . ."

The PR person tried a couple of other tactics to get me up in the balloon, including the offer of a T-shirt and tote bag. But my mind was made up.

Besides, I said, what good is a T-shirt and tote bag when they're vacuuming up your remains from an elementary school parking lot and a TV reporter is asking a sobbing eyewitness: "Exactly when did you see the balloon plummetting into that water tower?"

No thanks. The only balloons I want to see are the kind that say: "Happy 25th Anniversary Sid and Marie."

I feel the same way about flying in small private planes, those little twin-seat Cessnas and Piper DeathCrafts and what have you.

It seems like every other day one of them is going down, catching a wing on utility wires and spinning off the interstate before cartwheeling into the underbrush.

And that night on the 11 o'clock news, we see grainy footage of grim-faced rescue workers combing wreckage strewn at the base of some desolate mountain.

In the local newspaper the next day, we read interviews with family members and friends and they all say the same thing: The guy flying the plane was an excellent pilot. Conditions were perfect. He's flown this route many times. We can't understand what happened.

You can't understand what happened? YOU CAN'T UNDERSTAND WHAT HAPPENED?!

I'LL TELL YOU WHAT HAPPENED! THAT IDIOT (er, pardon me, the deceased) GOT IN A PLANE THAT MIGHT AS WELL SAY HASBRO OR MATTEL ON THE WING, INSTEAD OF A REAL PLANE! THAT'S WHAT HAPPENED!

We don't need an FAA investigative team to figure that one out. When you're flying something made out of balsa wood with an engine the size of a lawn mower, you have to expect these things.

That's why the only airplanes I climb into are huge lumbering beasts, 747s and L10-11s and so on, with sturdy fuselages and powerful jet engines that, if it's not too much to ask, will stay affixed to the wing instead of dropping into some corn field.

Of course, I'm not too crazy about these planes either. In fact, the first thing I do upon taking my seat is to commence making a furious windmill motion with my right arm.

This is a signal to the flight attendants which means: The man in seat 11A needs the beverage cart right away. He would like many strong cocktails.

They can bring the T-shirt and tote bag later.

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