Sometimes I fly a balloon.
One day someone is going to get upset and tell me to go fly a kite, and I will calmly proclaim that I often fly a balloon.
The purpose of these four-foot round helium vessels is to mark the spot for a proposed cell tower, located with a surveyor’s map and GPS unit. The balloon is tied to a nylon string and lofted anywhere from eighty to almost two-hundred feet, in compliance with the cell tower’s projected height, and it looks quite festive.
The balloons are usually red, but if nothing but bright blue sky is in the background, black shows better. It all has to do with visibility, so people can see the balloon clearly, and imagine how the proposed cell tower will look. It also shows better in the photos I have to take from as far away as two miles.
When I’ve taken photos from every possible vantage point, a graphics wizard in the office will replace the balloon with an actual tower in the pictures, and people can see what it will truly look like from their backyard barbecue, living room window, or favorite fishing hole. It all makes for very colorful town meetings, and the occasional lynch mob. Unless the cell tower is going on your property for a monthly compensation (often $2,000 dollars a month), it is considered very obtrusive.
In short, those big festive balloons will get me killed.
“We learned to use the four-footers,” an experienced balloon handler named Mike told me one day, explaining balloon size. “We used a much bigger balloon once, and the wind took her down fast, right into a traffic situation.”
“Traffic situation?” I asked.
He shrugged, explaining the only time a balloon has actually attacked the public. “No serious injuries . . . a cop was nearby when the balloon bounced off a car, and sent people skidding.”
“Oooooooooh . . .”
“Not good,” he said. “The early days involved some trial and error.”
It was very impressive, since these balloons have often been the helpless victims of irate neighbors with scoped rifles. I once lost a balloon to an aggressive bird at a large farm, dive-bombing the bright red intruder until it exploded loudly, sending the bird off to regroup while I sent up another potential victim. Luckily, the rattled bird didn’t return.
I remember one guy who was outraged that a cell tower was proposed behind his lovely McMansion, demanding that we “hold on a moment,” while he made “a quick call to get to the bottom of this invasion upon the rural character of my neighborhood.”
He produced a cell phone but was unable to make the all-important call, due to – and I quote — “lousy cell coverage in my area.”
And let’s be honest, you’re thinking: “Yeah, I want cell coverage, but do I really want to see that THING ruining my view of:
a) The lake
b) The woods
c) The endless telephone poles and sagging lines that connect our house phones.
“You wait,” Mike said. “One day towns will rally to protect and preserve their precious cell towers. A part of our town’s history! An important nesting site for the purple pleated plovers!”
Such is the human condition. Do you sense the cause of my heavy drinking?
Once I told an irate woman that the tower would resemble “a towering ship mast in the distance, approaching shore as eager families awaited the return of their voyaging loved ones.”
“You’re on crack,” she said, deadpan.
Ah yes, I have seen the ugly town meetings with impassioned mothers reading bogus and unchallenged research, proclaiming violent death rays like something Mars would use against us. I have seen frightened children cowering at their feet, staring at the town fathers who have sold them all out for decent cell coverage and better communication to fire and police.
Speaking of police, I’ll never forget the state trooper who braked on a steep mountain road after spotting me in the early morning hour, about to enter deep woods with a bright red balloon.
When I turned at the sound of his car halting, he simply asked, “Do I even want to know?”
“No,” I answered. “You don’t.”
And unlike everyone else, he nodded and drove away.
After all, what possible harm could a red balloon do?
Well, I remember some spirited horses in a big corral once . . .