After Mexico 11, 13th October 2004

After the flight with Jeff I forget what we did in the afternoon. I guess it was the usual thing, hanging around with a bunch of gentle balloonists, cold drink in hand slowly getting plastered even though I tried to keep every other drink non alcoholic. No. I remember. George Stokes arrived. George stayed at my house for about a week way back, around 1974, gaining himself free drinks at the local club through his skill with card tricks. I haven't seen him since. George is one of hot air ballooning's originals. He has designed and made all sorts of balloons, pressure balloons that can be tethered in winds so high regular balloons cannot even be inflated, he has made amazing special shapes, balloons big enough to drop 18 hang gliders simultaneously, way before others were doing this. It was great to see him again. He brought some weird portable cold air inflatables with him, the inflation fan being battery powered. This one's a shamrock.

Please note. That's not a tummy bulge around my middle. It's the waist support, with battery pack, for the shamrock!

I later called in to see Whit. He was asleep when I called, and while I waited for him to wake up I fell asleep myself. These wake ups you need at 5.30 am to reach the field by 6 am to be ready for launch at 7 am gradually get to you, it is easy to get sleepy in the afternoons! I do remember I went out to dinner with Kathy, Jeff, and a few friends in the evening. Very pleasant.

By now it was Sunday, the last day. Jeff flew with Cliff, his regular crew in Albuquerque for the last 20 years. Landing was in a neat little field. One incident today, a balloon managed to spear itself on the top of a 650 ft tall radio mast. No-one was hurt, they climbed down the steps inside the mast, after the pilot had secured the basket to the mast, but it must have been very unnerving for the pilot and passengers. Last I saw 3 fireman had climbed up and were working to free the balloon from the mast. The balloon is almost certainly a write off but it can't be left up there especially with tanks full of propane.

The last afternoon was spent wandering round the field. During the week I have managed to meet just about everyone I had on my list, barring only David Tanzer. David, you should have looked for me, you know what my van looks like! Oh well David, next time.

I had a great time, crewing with Jeff Johnson and Kathy, meeting many friends old and new. Little cat was a hit all round. If you want to make lots of new friends at a balloon meet, take a cat. I attach a leash, so that I can find him if he climbs up under a vehicle, then let him loose. He knows where he lives, so does not stray too far. But his combination of exploring everywhere plus being the main source of attention of all children and most adults in the vicinity caused him to crash out as soon as we left the field.

Today someone in the DiLibero crew had left an upturned plastic crate on the field. Little cat walked round it then spotted the end of his leash just out of reach. He pounced and of course it followed him. It must have been 15 minutes he hurtled round and round this crate, trying to catch the end of his leash, just pausing a few moments from time to time to catch his breath. Teri DiLibero filmed it all. It's good enough for one of these TV programs about animals. I hope she makes $100's! Maybe $1000's!

Eventually I said goodbye to those who were left on the field, and headed south towards El Paso. I enjoyed my trip around Big Bend last year so I will drive the same roads there again. But leaving Albuquerque I set the CD player on close to full volume to play "Goin' Home" It's the tune I like to play when I'm leaving somewhere when I don't really want to go. And I very much enjoyed my week in Albuquerque and I didn't want to go. But it's ended. It's finished. I have to go.

Goin' Home is still available for download on my website, by the way, on the first Mexico page, but you have to scroll down to find it. Maybe you'll feel like I do about the tune.

I drove down to Socorro and noticed quite a number of windscreens and other vehicle windows being replaced on parking lots by repairers with vans stacked high with windscreens. This itinerant repair method baffled me for a short while until I saw a large sign, on a parking lot again, hail damage repairs. Wow! They must have had somewhat lager hailstones than I had seen in Albuquerque. I noticed now a few cars being driven around with heavily cracked windscreens, missing rear windows etc. Someone later talked about hailstones the size of tennis balls.

I found a (free!) campsite in a canyon and Little Cat had a great run around. In the morning it rained so I hung around, no point in touring in the mountains when you can't see the mountains. When it stopped I dropped back to Socorro, wandered around the older buildings, noted it had a plaza, Mexican style,

then moved on to take a drive around the Bosque del Apache, a wildlife refuge. I saw lots of birds (including over 20 sandhill cranes) then pulled in for the night at a rest stop on the I-25. It was some distance from the highway so there was little traffic noise. Except for the parked truck drivers who leave their engines running noisily. That's OK if they need to power a cooled trailer but one guy stopped for 6 hours, engine running, lights on, with an empty flat bed trailer. It wasn't even cold, he didn't need his heater. I owned some big trucks one time, I found out then that truck drivers make their own rules.

The next morning was taken up with a look around Elephant Butte lake, originally the 2nd largest enclosed lake in the US, very much shrunken now, much less water in it and there won't be any lake there at all. Just a big dam. Plus no doubt some even bigger damns from the many locals who rely on the tourists for their livelihood. I looked at the museum in nearby Truth or Consequences, a town that changed it's name 50 years ago to honour a radio and TV program. What a fascinating museum! I love these small town American museums. Full of all sorts of things. A few fossils, Indian artifacts, geological charts, birds nests, old domestic knick knacks, washing machines, mincers, plates, photos of high school graduates from 1930 to the present day, displays of cowboy hats, 100 different types of barbed wire, a history of a local fierce Indian leader, (here it is Geronimo, probably the fiercest of them all), a log cabin, mining equipment, all sorts of things. Of course there was a section devoted to the program Truth and Consequences and it's creator with details of the annual town fiesta and photos of the fiesta queens and all the celebrities who visited. Great!

I headed up to the mountains again, stopped to read a historical marker in Hillsboro, and noted a sign advertising a private museum opposite that said overnight parking permitted. So here we are.

I took a walk up the main street, saw a notice board headed humor, and read the items pinned. I liked the one that said there were 5 passengers but only 4 parachutes in a plane that was crashing. The first passenger said, I'm a famous baseball player, (I forget his name), but he said, my team needs me, he took the first pack and jumped. The second passenger said, I'm Hilary Clinton, America's smartest lady, husband of the ex president, potential future president, America needs me, so she took the second pack, and jumped. Third passenger said, I'm the Senator John Kerry, Democrat candidate for president, my party needs me, so he took the third pack, and jumped. The fourth passenger was President George Bush, he said to the fifth passenger, a 10 year old girl, I've had a good life, I've done pretty well, you take the last parachute. That's OK Sir said the 10 year old, there's one for you. America's smartest lady took my school bag.

That kept me laughing all the way back down the main street............

Best regards

David Barker

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