EDS Plano Balloon Festival, Part I

Last weekend, I caught the tail-end of the EDS Plano Balloon Festival. This is one of cool events that keeps the city of Plano on the map, and it’s one of the highlights of the local social year. I’ve only gone once before — it was back in the 1990s, and though I was alone, I had a pretty good time. See, this isn’t just a balloon exhibition; as with most festivals, there are vendors galore, selling everything from Pampered Chef products to vacations in the Cayman Islands. Last time I went, I bought a couple of nice hand-crafted deck chairs for the patio that lasted for about ten years. Wish I could remember the vendor I bought them from — they were a good deal, and I could use some more!

You may be wondering why I didn’t write about the Balloon Festival last year, because I had, after all, already started my blog back then. Well, I have a confession to make: I did try to go, but it just didn’t work out. When I went it was severely crowded, and I just couldn’t find a place to park. I know that sounds stupid, but it’s true! I didn’t know that DART had a special deal set up to get you there and back. And yet I made it this year, so no harm, no foul. I was smart this time, and took both rail and bus to the event. It was actually quite comfortable, except for the bit when we were going home and the doors on the train just wouldn’t open at our stop. Apparently, there was a malfunction, for which the conductor was heartily sorry but couldn’t do anything about. As a result, and much to our annoyance, we had to wait for 30 minutes at the next stop (several miles away) until a train came going the other way before we were able to get back to our station (it was Sunday night, so trains were few and far between). First glitch I’ve ever encountered on a DART train.

But anyhow, back to the actual Festival. I have to say, this was one event where we got a heckuva lot of swag, mostly free pens and pencils, which I’m already making full use of. There were a few booths located just outside the official festival itself, including the Plano police booth.  In addition to their free stuff, they had this charming drug recognition exhibit for all and sundry to view.

Drugs, yo!

The performance stage, which was sponsored by KLUV, our local soft rock station, was also located outside the official periphery of the main Festival. When we went by, an orchestra was just getting ready to play. They were very good, if classical-type music is your thing.

KLUV stage

Once we’d made the rounds of the outer booths, we set our sights on the festival proper. The entrance made us feel quite welcome for some reason.

Welcome!

During the three days of the Festival (September 19-21), the balloon flights were scheduled at 7 AM and 6 PM each day. We arrived at about 3 PM on Sunday the 21st, so that we could take in all the sights before the balloons did their thing. There was quite a lot to see. It wasn’t the biggest festival ever — it was probably comparable in size to the Addison Oktoberfest, if quite different — but it was big enough, and busy, too.  

The Obligatory Crowd Shot

It got busier as the day went on. Here’s the balloon viewing area, where a lot of the crowd congregated during the balloon prep and lift-off, at about 4 PM. Boooring. But by 5:30, it was basically SRO.

Viewing Area

I saw something interesting here that I’d seen before at Grapefest, but wasn’t able to get a picture of: a cop on a Segway. I guess it makes sense, as you can get around a good bit quicker than walking. He seemed pretty comfortable with it. I suppose that’s understandable, since you can’t really fall off one without trying real hard. Unless you’re President Bush.

Segway Cop

Later, I learned a lesson about boredom. It wasn’t that I was bored, per se; but one of the ladies manning (personing?) a hardware booth was, it seemed. The booth had been handing out these free red wooden rulers (I got one), and she started building a tower with them. She was doing pretty good when I caught her at it.

Pure Boredom

About 5 PM it started raining people (as a little girl who ran past me excitedly put it), but I was able to get only one good shot because, alas, I was hiding in the shade when it started raining, along with a lot of other people and their dogs.

It’s Raining People!

This was just about the last of the paragliders to come down. I really respect such people, as I wouldn’t jump out of a perfectly good airplane unless I absolutely had to.

After wrangling with the slick salesman from the Dallas Morning News for a while (yes, I subscribed), and sipping some fine iced tea, the balloon launch time finally came around. Luckily, we managed to get some good seats, and were able to watch with interest as they inflated the big-ass things. Now, I don’t know if you’ve ever seen a hot air balloon set up, but it starts with them laying out about an acre of silk on the grass, and then hooking up the basket, which has a gigantamous burner in it, to the open end. People hold the silk open, and light off the burner, and lo and behold, it starts to inflate. Here’s how it looks during the process (assuming the silk doesn’t catch on fire, which it sometimes does).

Balloons Galore

One balloon finished inflating a lot earlier than the others,  and away it went!

And They’re Off!

Okay…I’m gonna be a big tease here and tell you I’m going to finish next time. Join me here soon for Part II of the entry, which has more balloons that you can shake a stick at.