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Thread: A Matter of Perspective

  1. #1
    Registered User Steven Hunley's Avatar
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    A Matter of Perspective

    A Matter of Perspective

    I feel awkward even talking about this. If you suggest to someone you’ve been on the Goodyear blimp, they narrow their eyes. Their skepticism slaps you in the face, and you haven’t even started the story yet.

    Not one person I’ve ever told this story has said, “Hey, I did that too!” Whether or not you even believe it may depend upon where you live. People that live in San Diego are more likely to believe the story than say, people in Montana, because they don’t fly blimps in Montana.

    Some people think you’re talking about a hot air balloon that someone painted like the Goodyear Blimp. Believe me, they are two different shapes, and people have flown in hot air balloons that fly away any direction the wind blows for years. The French were up to these tricks before
    anyone else. Remember the Montgolfier brothers? Even today people Montgolfier around in beer commercials.

    Sometimes these hot-air balloon fliers get caught in storms and end up on mysterious islands. Sometimes giant animals that should be smaller, like crabs, are WAY larger there. Whatever else they have on these remote mysterious islands is giant too. Everybody's heard of this. This is
    common knowledge. And this is what can happen when you go in a balloon that the air pushes you any way it wants to go.

    Not so with a Dirigible-Zeppelin-Blimp flying machine.

    This monster is a genuine airship with a ridged frame and goes wherever it wants. It’s an endangered species, almost a dying breed. It’s Dinosaurian! I’m glad I got to touch one while it was still alive.

    I was in sixth grade and lived in North Park, a neighborhood in San Diego near Balboa Park. When the wind was right, you could hear the Spanish belltower in the park marking the hours and peacocks calling plaintively from the zoo. But there was one thing on the edge of the park I didn’t like. I was about to go to Roosevelt, a middle school, and was apprehensive of the move to a new school. In Jefferson we were the oldest class, the sixth graders, the cream of the crop, top of the heap.

    But now we were forced to abdicate our exalted position and become the lowest rung on an unfamiliar ladder, the lowliest of low. The older students had a name for us, and we dreaded it,“pee-greens”. I’m not sure if it was “pea-greens” or “pee-greens” but either way I didn’t like the way it smelled.

    And besides, I’d seen Roosevelt from a distance and already sized it up. As a child my mother would take me downtown on the number seven bus when she’d go shopping, and it went down Park Boulevard through Balboa Park. You could see Roosevelt Jr. High out the window as we rode past. It was enormous, imposing, much larger than Jefferson Elementary, towering over you like a temple, sitting placid and uncaring on a manicured lawn, looking down upon you, you the outsider, the insignificant, the stranger to its ways. First impressions of the unknown can be disturbing and frightening. Edgar Allan Poe had nothing on the twelve-year-old me.

    You can imagine what went through my head when my dad came home from work at his Shell station one evening and said,

    “Steven, would you like to ride on the Goodyear Blimp? It’s going to be in town.”

    “The Goodyear Blimp? We can ride on the blimp? When?”

    “Tomorrow after school.”


    I didn’t even question the unusual situation. To me, it seemed logical at the time. Dad owned a Shell Station, sold Goodyear tires, Firestone tires too. Firestone didn’t have a blimp, so here we were. That’s how the world turned for me.

    My world was steady, my world was solid, and was bound to have a predictable geometry because of my dad. He’d awake every morning at five to open the station at six. He’d be there until five that night. His solid unflagging effort enabled my education and imagination to soar. So what if he didn’t talk much? He modeled good behavior instead. That’s how I learned my lessons. I used to think John Wayne was the strong silent type, but he was just acting. Dad was
    the real deal.

    In addition, there was a certain unknown synchronicity going on. As sixth graders, we had a special project that no other grade could participate in. In cooperative groups, we constructed large tissue-paper hot air balloons. They were about 36 inches high, about 24 inches wide, open at the bottom. It took almost a week to make them, as we were doing the original “cut and paste” We’d cut out large lozenge-shaped sections of colored tissue paper, overlap them, and paste them

    Mister Brown, our school janitor, constructed a portable stove and set it in the middle of the dirt playing field which was as wide as the entire block. Out we trooped with our paper balloons. He fired up the stove and put on a pair of thick leather gloves. Pretty soon the air above the stove
    rippled with heat waves like the highway in Borrego.

    “Let’s have that one first,” he said, pointing at the red-headed girl with freckles. She looked a bit sheepish but handed it over.

    Brown held the bottom over the chimney and turned on the flu. Hot air rushed in, swelling the balloon, and as soon as it was lighter than air, he closed off the flu, a few sparks flew up, and it clapped shut. The balloon rose slowly at first, until it was caught by the wind, turned over, and landed in a heap on the field.
    Cheers went up.

    “Did you see that?”

    “It must have gone up two stories!”

    “Let’s have yours next,” said Brown, pointing to table three’s black and white model. Dutch Myers, the class bully, handed over the goods. He liked watching black and white movies at home, gangster movies from the 1930s, with his mother, and swore his father was an Italian Mafioso even though his last name was Myers.

    “It was me that suggested the stripes,” he boasted. I expected we'd see him in a lineup one day.

    Table Three’s balloon he rose higher, then so high it drifted over the ten-foot chain link fence surrounding the field! Myers and table three ran out the gate in pursuit, chased it across the street, retrieving it from the Monkey-tail tree on the corner of Wightman and Landis.

    Our table was next and by now the portable furnace was fired up like Vesuvius. Mr. Brown opened the flu. Scorching hot air raced up into our fragile tissue paper creation. As it swelled, it lifted upward, like the pale hand of a ballerina, so graceful, so full of charm, it was bound to fly higher than the rest, when the first sparks appeared, landed on the tissue paper, starting the fire.

    The whooping went silent, and eyes opened wide.

    Red and yellow flames raced hungerly up its sides, eating our balloon alive, transforming our colorful creation to black ash. Folding into a shadow with a fatal case of Origami, it collapsed on the playground and gave up its spirit.

    That was my history with balloons. The Hindenburg, in a film we saw in class, and the one I worked on, both went down in flames. Now I get my turn to ride the dangerous dinosaur. Oh boy!

    So, we hop in my dad’s Ford station wagon and drive to Brown Field where the blimp is parked.I can tell my dad’s up for an adventure because Mom’s not coming along. This may be a manthing or an almost-grown-up-man-thing, or it may turn out to be a coming-of-age thing. I’ll never know until it’s over.

    Perspective is perspective; sometimes you’re forced to step back to see the picture because you never see the whole picture at first. Maybe this was a twelve-year-old’s chance to gain perspective. I’d probably need it someday, which sounded like something they told you in school.

    This balloon project is unthinkable nowadays. Even then, the project was ripe with liabilities, and The San Diego Unified School District would have none of that, not in this modern age, even in the educational pursuits of aerodynamics and science. Dick will never be allowed to set fire to the Monkey Tail tree, Jane will never get her crazy-colored Unicorn tutu dress singed, and Spot will never get turned to Doggie Toast, not on their watch. And the neighbors will have no
    reasons to litigate.

    We head down the Texas Street hill, motor across Mission Valley, and up the other side to Brown Field. We park, go in through a door and out through another door and onto the field. There are a few guys in overalls standing around with nothing to do and a man with his two daughters waiting. One of the overalls men was getting a Coke out of a machine.

    “Where’s the Blimp?” says my dad.

    The guy had a blue greasy rag hanging from his back pocket. “It’s on its way now.”

    He turned and gestured towards the far side of Mission Valley with the bottle of Coke. “See it?”

    And there it was. In a minute you could hear its engines. It was one thing to see it from a distance. We’d seen it that way for years, San Diego was one of its stops. But now it was getting too close for comfort. Now it was coming for us.

    Larger and larger it grew, from a football, to a whale, to a behemoth. You could see the gondola where the people sat, attached to the bottom. When it got closer the nose tipped and it headed down. I could see two ropes hanging from the nose. The ground crew ran out on the field. Now
    it was so low you could hear the engines drone and spy a single wheel under the gondola.

    “Dad, look, there’s only one wheel! How can it land on one wheel?”

    “Those guys are grabbing the ropes. They’ll hold it down and steady it until we get aboard.”

    The single wheel touched down, and it bounced. Men on both sides pulled on the ropes while man flipped open a built-in stairway with three steps. Five people stepped down, fivepeople stepped up. Click goes the stairs and while the guy outside waves to the pilot, I hear the engines rev up. The men let go of the ropes.

    The man and his daughters sat in the back. Dad and I sat directly behind the pilot. We barely talked; we were too busy looking. Everything below us was starting to resemble a Lionel Electric Train set, one of those sets with all the paraphernalia. There was a water tower, a few buildings, some trees, some roads, some traffic, all in miniature, and it was getting more miniature all the time. Within five minutes, we were so high the standard train set had turned in a HO trainset, and everything below us was still shrinking. Sky Pilot had pushed on the huge petals on the floor and turned us over Mission Valley. All the tiny cars on highway 8 were heading west, driving to the beach. The east-bound cars were going to El Cajon and the mountains.

    “Look,” said my dad. “Balboa Park.”

    “It isn’t the Navy Hospital, it has a red-tile roof, but I can see it from here too. It must be Roosevelt Junior High. That’s your next stop, isn’t it?”

    “I guess so.”

    A red Spanish tile roof? My best friend, Jim, has a red tile roof. His sister is dating the 7UP delivery guy and this smitten swain leaves her stacks of 7UP in the basement. Jim is a latchkey kid and when I stop by on my way home from school, we go down there and squirt bottles of
    7UP at each other. Therefore, I have a happy and meaningful relationship with red Spanish tile.

    You can really see a lot from here. Maybe this is the wide-angle picture.

    As the crow flies, Roosevelt isn’t so far away either. I could walk home and cut through Morley Field if I didn’t take the bus, save the bus money, and spend it on candy!

    Then the pilot pushed on the floor pedals, we made a U-turn and proceeded back over Mission Valley. There’s more altitude there so there’s less opportunities to crash this mechanical balloon monster. More room for playtime with Bonzo.

    “Hey,” Sky Pilot says to my dad. “You want him to take us for a spin?”

    My dad smiles ear to ear, “Why not?”

    The pilot didn’t mean I’d drive the blimp around the sky. The left and right turns were his, and he wasn’t about to give me his seat and a chance at the pedals. But the nose up and nose down was controlled by a large wheel by the side of his seat. He’d reach over and spin it forward or backward and it tilted the craft. This became my wheel for at least thirty seconds, and for those precious thirty seconds I was the one at the wheel, I was the one in charge, and we were safe.

    Then he turned the blimp around and we floated back to Brown Field. On the way home, I remember the air rushing through the open station wagon window hitting my face while we were crossing Mission Valley. Dad had his eyes on the road, but mine were turned skyward, because I could see the next blimp ride of people hovering overhead.

    Now I was their ant.

    That was their perspective.

    I’d become their ant, but an ant with his own perspective, and one who was ready to go to Roosevelt Junior High School.

    ©Steven Hunley2021

  2. #2
    Registered User Steven Hunley's Avatar
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    OK I just read this and remembered I had difficulty with the format. A key sentence was left out.

    When we first saw Balboa Park, one of the distinctive features were the red Spanish tile roofs standing out from the green trees. These buildings were part of a Panama-Californian Exposition. The text should read like this:

    “Look,” said my dad. “Balboa Park.

    "What's that red patch between the trees?"

    “It isn’t the Navy Hospital, it has a red-tile roof, but I can see it from here too. It must be Roosevelt Junior High. That’s your next stop, isn’t it?”

    One of these days I'll figure out how to revise my mistakes. ( I hope)

  3. #3
    On the road, but not! Danik 2016's Avatar
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    Jan 2016
    Beyond nowhere
    Good to read you again, Steve(and a recent story at that). Enjoyed the story. Ones perspective changes, depending where one stands, he, he!

    Sadly these days those beautiful hot air balloons have become the cause of fires.
    #Stay home as much as you can and stay well

  4. #4
    Join Date
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    Vietnam, Singapore, Japan, The Middle East, UK, The Philippines & Papua New Guinea.
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    Charming nostalgia, with touches of wry humour.

    I'm reading Madame Bovary at the moment, and your tale reminded me of a sentence I came across this morning. i.e "his recent sensations blending with memories, he became conscious of a double self."

    Well done buddy. Usual high crafted standard.

    Best wishes

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