Tuesday, January 15, 2019

Murder, Science, and President Roosevelt: A Review of The Alienist by Caleb Carr

I decided to read The Alienist by author Caleb Carr, after a recommendation from a friend, Annaleis. She had not only mentioned the book, one of her favorite murder mystery books, on her podcast Dark Angels and Pretty Freaks but she had also sent a personal message urging me to check out the book. Since we have a similar taste in murder/mystery books, I bought the book and found time to read it.

The book was originally published in 1994, republished with a new Afterward in 2006, and then taken to the screen as a TV Series in 2018. I purchased it before the series was due to premier, with the intention of reading the book well beforehand. I make an effort to try to read the books that a series or movie is based off of, sometimes before watching the visual adaptation and often afterwards. Novels afford an author the ability to be very detailed in their works, so you tend to receive a lot more information about settings and characters, which may be left out of movie or TV adaptations because there just isn’t enough time or an easy way to represent those details in a visual medium. So I like to get that extra detail from a novel whenever I can. Now, let’s get into some of those details...

Before the story even starts, there's a note: Prior to the twentieth century, persons suffering from mental illness were thought to be "alienated," not only from the rest of society but from their own true natures. Those experts who studied mental pathologies were therefore known as alienists.

This note provides you a little background on the profession of alienist, prior to modern medicine and science when this profession transformed into what we now know as a psychologist.

The story is set in New York City in 1896, a time where the study of psychology used as a way to
determine the sanity of criminals as a science was not yet a thing. Also, criminal profiling and the use of fingerprinting were also not considered scientifically proven processes that would hold up in the courts of the time. Our characters, Dr. Laszlo Kreizler (the Alienist) and John Schuyler Moore (a university friend of Kreizler’s), are brought together when a boy prostitute dressed in women's clothing is found brutally murdered atop a bridge. They are assigned to the case by Theodore Roosevelt, yes the 26th President of the United States. When more boys are found it becomes a race to catch a killer they know nothing about. Along with the help of Detectives Lucius & Marcus Isaccson and Sara Howard, they use what they do know and attempt to put together a profile of their Killer, hopefully, solving their mystery by digging into the killer's past.

I don’t want to give away more than that, I’d rather you discover the suspense and thrill of the
chase and experience this story first hand. The Alienist is a fantastic psychological
thriller and fascinating work of historical fiction that you will not want to put down.

Now, since I can’t give away any more about the plot, I thought I would point out some interesting things about the novel and the author, that do not spoil any plot points of the story. The novel is split into three parts. Each part has two quotes starting it; quotes from an actual work of science and/or the arts.

Part One:
            Whilst part of what we perceive comes through our 
senses from the object before us, another part (and it may be
the larger part) always comes out of our own mind. 

                                      William James, 
                         The Principles of Psychology 

These bloody thoughts 
from what are they born? 

                                      from Verdi's Macbeth. 

Part Two:
            The same outer object may suggest either of many realities 
formerly associated with it - for in the vicissitudes of our outer experience 
we are constantly liable to meet the same thing in the midst of
            differing companions. 
                                  William James, 
                      The Principles of Psychology 

       Whatever I thought right seemed bad to others,
       whatever seemed wrong to me,
       others approved of.
       I ran into feuds wherever I found myself,
       I met disfavor wherever I went;
       if I longed for happiness, I only stirred up misery;
       so I had to be called "woeful":
       Woe is all I possess.

                          Die Walküre

Part Three:
           The fons et origo of all reality, whether from the absolute or the practical 
point of view, is thus subjective, is ourselves. As bare logical thinkers, 
without emotional reaction, we give reality to whatever
 objects we think of, for they are really Phenomena, or objects of our 
passing thought, if nothing more. But, as thinkers with emotional reaction, 
we give what seems to us a still higher degree of reality to whatever things 
we select and emphasize and turn to with a will.
                                   William James,
                           The Principles of Psychology

               Don Giovanni, you invited me to sup with you:
           I have come.
    Da Ponte
                                             from Mozart's Don Giovanni

All three scientific quotes have a direct link to the subject matter represented in the book. While it may be a work of fiction, the science of Psychology (or it’s early predecessor of the time) is well researched and direct inspiration drawn from the real William James. These quotes were specifically chosen by the author to partner well with his story, one which revolves around mental health and the birth of Psychological Profiling. The arts are added in due to the fact that our main characters Kreizler and Moore enjoy a night out at the opera, as written by the author in this book.

Author Caleb Carr was originally a military and diplomatic historian who wrote historical nonfiction. After not achieving continued success with that genre, he decided to switch to writing fiction. But not just any fiction, a genre similar to his previous works, one he knew best, historical fiction. “From the first, I was, like most authors, interested in creating something different;  in my case, a "whydunit", a story that could raise hackles even and especially if you know who the killer was from early on."

When it came to The Alienist, Carr started with selecting a time in history where he could accurately represent the use of early forensic psychology and pinpointed the time when the first psychological laboratory was established by William James. This was at Harvard in the 1870s.

Next, Carr chose the 1890s, to allow for the story to be set in New York City (where he was born and raised) during the time Theodore Roosevelt was president of the city's board of police commissioners. There actually was a legitimate historical connection between William James and Roosevelt, who attended a class taught by James at Harvard: comparative anatomy. Carr was excited and felt lucky for the coincidence, as he had always found Roosevelt to be “the American leader who had always fascinated me most.” It was then just the point of coming up with the fictional connection to alienist Dr. Kreizler, and the rest is... history.

Fun fact, Carr managed to get this work published by tricking his manager and editor into thinking the work was nonfiction by pasting together photos of a fake Dr. Kreizler together with an actual photo of Roosevelt at his desk in the White House. He fooled them so well that they helped him bring his first foray into Fiction into reality, after they were told truth of course.

The Alienist has a sequel, The Angel of Darkness. I can't wait to get my hands on this next piece of historical mystery work from Caleb Carr. But first, I urge you to pick up from the beginning, as I did, with The Alienist. If you also find murder mysteries interesting, especially ones with suspense and historical real life settings, then this is the book for you.

Monday, December 31, 2018

Year in Review: Highs, Lows, and Change

I had aimed to write something for the holiday season, but with travel and celebrating the holiday, time got away from me. So I decided to end the year with one more post, a year in review.

As years go, this one certainly has its ups and downs, and I’ll cover those in time. But let’s start at the beginning, with January...

This year started like every year, with another birthday. Having a January birthday means I get to celebrate something right out of the gate, and this year was the 31st such occasion.

February started out great with the Arizona Balloon Classic and getting to see the Angelica Tour of Hamilton live at ASU Gammage. But sadly, February ended with the passing of my Oma, just barely a week before we were set to fly to Germany for a visit at the beginning of March. The low point of March was a funeral, but the highlight was getting to spend as much time as possible with my Opa.

And it was good we did so, as late May saw the passing of my Opa. That same weekend I was working at Phoenix ComicFest. In hindsight, I am glad it happened that weekend, it gave me the opportunity to focus on something else. June saw Mom returning to Germany for the funeral. But we also got the opportunity to visit the Pompeii Exhibit at the Arizona Science Center, which was a very interesting experience.

Our first highlight after a rough few months, was seeing my adorable niece again in July. We took Lilyan to Legoland and the Sealife Aquarium at the Arizona Mills Mall. She had a lot of fun and we greatly enjoyed spending time with her. But we also traveled to Vegas to see Steve Martin and Martin Short for their comedy tour, staying at Cesar’s Palace for the first time. Having been a fan of both gentleman for a long time, The Three Amigos being one of my favorite films. So getting to see two icons of my childhood live was a dream come true.

August came along with a concert that Mom was nice enough to indulge me on, by accompanying me while I finally got to see Weezer along with the Pixies, for an amazing concert. But then, we had the experience of a lifetime, and what I would considered the greatest vacation of my life thus far; our trip to Hawaii at the end of the month.

September was just another month, but October saw a huge life event. I had all my belongings packed into large crates, loaded up my car with everything else, and drove across the country to move in with boyfriend in Pennsylvania. It was a big step, but one I happily made, in order to see our relationship continue to grow.

After my arrival, I was able to attend a movie premier, for a movie based on a real event that took place in the Lehigh Valley area, Billboard. This was in early November. Later in the month, my mom came to visit us for Thanksgiving.

In December, I got to see Penn & Teller for the first time, for what was a really fun magic show. And before I flew home to spend Christmas with my mom and sister, I got to experience Hanukah with Jason and his parents. I flew back to Phoenix and got to work in the office with my team for a day and half, plus spend Christmas Eve with family at my grandparents’ house and Christmas Day with Mom and my sister.

Overall, the positives of this year outweigh the negatives, though the negatives were pretty heavy. With that in mind, I’m looking forward to what the New Year will bring and putting the old one behind me.

Happy New Year Everyone!

Monday, December 10, 2018

Engage Yourself in Ernest Cline's Trope Rulebreaker: A Spoiler Free Review of Armada

I recently finished reading Armada by Ernest Cline, author of the novel turned motion picture, Ready Player One. I really liked Ready Player One, but I absolutely loved Armada. It’s moved into the top spot on my list of favorite Ernest Cline novels, but to be fair, I’ve only read two. He is working on a Ready Player One sequel though, and he also wrote the screenplay for the movie Fanboys which I enjoyed.

Where Ready Player One had heavy influences from 80s culture and movies, while also being set almost entirely in a virtual world, this is not the case for Armada. Armada is set in the real world, following real people instead of virtual avatars. It is also set in a modern setting close to current day, instead of a futuristic Earth. You still get some 80s references mostly music, but there is much more 90s influence, given this is when our main character grew up. I felt myself relating more because I also grew up in the 90s, but I also remember enough of the music and pop culture of the 80s so I could relate to enough of Ready Player One as well.

What I mean by being able to relate more to Armada, aside from the pop culture, are the technology and machinery references of today. The computers, phones, cars, were all fairly similar to what we would see today, or within the last two and a half decades. But the biggest relate-able factor was that the society of Earth, the United States and beyond, could easily have been the US and Earth of today. The way the government and military worked, and the average person working at their job and living their lives.

All that sounds like it could be the life of any one of us, and then you throw in aliens, and invasion, and a secret government agency committed to saving the world. Yes, the Armada this book is named after is not an earthly one, but that of an unknown alien race set on attacking and destroying Earth. Now if you think this sounds very familiar and has easily been the plot for several Hollywood blockbusters, you wouldn’t be wrong. But Armada is so much more than that and has its own unique and clever way of going about the alien invasion trope. Don’t worry though, the book does not fail to mention those very same Hollywood blockbusters and does so in a way that is advantageous to both the plot and the reader.

From the very beginning of the book, we are introduced to our main character, Zack. From there, we spiderweb out to the rest of the characters as they relate to Zack. His mother, friends, employer, and many more people are introduced in the course of the novel as the story progresses. An important thing to mention about the plot of the book, is that there is a video game component similar to Ready Player One. So if that was something that hooked you from the other novel, you are sure to be pleased with the gaming aspect of this novel. And not just that, there is a virtual reality aspect as well. Instead of spending a lot of time in the virtual world though, you spend more time focused on the lives of the characters outside of their gameplay while also getting to see how the gameplay has affected their lives.

Without giving too much away, because I would rather you experience this book for yourself, I will say that this book does a great job of keeping the reader guessing. The story has a habit of leading you along, letting you think you have a complete grasp of what’s going on, and then throwing you a curveball. I appreciate a book that can play with common tropes but still surprise its readers.

So if you enjoy science fiction with a taste of alien threat, a side of 90s pop culture, a dash of the 80s, and a healthy serving of exciting twists and turns, then this book is for you.

Thursday, November 22, 2018

Nine States, Three Days, Two Nights, One Destination

 At the beginning of October, the 6th to be exact, I started out on a cross country road trip from Phoenix, Arizona to Fountain Hill, Pennsylvania. I drove my car three days, through nine states, stopping to rest twice. For some background, I decided to embark on this trip as a means to get my car from point A to point B, as a part of my permanent move to Pennsylvania.

Around June, I had begun setting into motion my plans to move in with my boyfriend of two years, Jason, and finally put an end to the long distance part of our relationship. It was a big step, and one that was made a lot easier by the fact that my amazing boss was able to get me the approval to work remotely from my new home, allowing me to keep a job that I enjoy. Once all that had been sorted, I began telling friends and family about the move and I set a date. Using one of our household goods providers from work, I scheduled my move date for October 5, and a crew came out to pack up all my belongings and ship them to Pennsylvania for me. All that was left was for me to get my car and myself to my new home.

I set out early on Saturday morning, around 7:00 am, with my car packed full off everything I didn’t want shipped in the containers and a giant box full of road trip snacks from my team. As a going away present, they had put together a box full of chips, energy drinks, Starbucks cards, other snacks, a first aid kit, and pepper spray. It was the sweetest gesture and I got a bit choked up by my amazing team who I knew I would miss quite a lot. On top of that, I had to say goodbye to Mom and our cat, Max. That was hard to do, and I knew they would both miss me a great deal, but at least Mom would have Max to keep her company.

It did not take me too long to drive out of Arizona and into New Mexico, where I made my first stop for gas. There would be many more stops for gas along the way, in many different states. Most of the gas prices were fairly similar, around the $2.89 per gallon mark, until I hit Missouri where I got $2.59 per gallon. The most expensive gas was not until I hit Pennsylvania and that was over $3 a gallon.

I did have a nice surprise (which was only slightly spoiled beforehand) to start out my trip in the form of a special episode of the Our Liner Notes podcast, where good friend (and host) Chris Maier and my boyfriend Jason, dedicated the episode to me and filled it with great road trip songs. The only bad part, was that it didn’t last the entire day because they really did a great job and I loved it.

I made it a goal to drive all the way to Oklahoma City, Oklahoma in the first day, a total of 14 hours, and I succeeded. That meant driving through part of Arizona, across New Mexico, the top portion of Texas and halfway through Oklahoma. I arrived at the Holiday Inn around 10:00 pm, where I got a room for the night and then headed out again early the next morning. While still in Oklahoma, I had my first experience with toll roads, having to pay for turnpike access in amounts varying from $1.75 up to $5 per toll booth. But this was nothing compared to the final turnpike toll road I used to cross nearly the entire state of Pennsylvania, which cost me nearly $22.

The second day of travel saw me through Oklahoma, Missouri and into Illinois. I had two stops planned for Illinois. The first of which was to meet up with friend and fellow podcaster, Dr. Sara Netzley, a University professor by day and a recap writer for EW.com by night. I also know Sara from the DC TV Report podcast, that she co-hosts with our friend Ed O’Hare. Both of them have been guests on my podcast numerous times. I had been chatting with Sara prior to my trip and we had discovered that I would be driving right past her on my way to my best friend Khanh’s house. And seeing as it would not be too much out of my way, we arranged to meet up along my route, in her hometown, which was only a short distance from her current location. We decided on meeting at a Steak n’ Shake, since I had not been to one in decades. It was fortunate that we had made those plans too.

While stuck at a construction zone (which I hit a lot of and was the only “bad” traffic I had to deal with) about an hour away from our meeting place, a large storm front rolled in. Literally, I watched the dark clouds roll across the sky towards the road. Shortly after the traffic began to flow again, it began to pour and it only kept getting worse, to the point that visibility was low and some people were forced to pull off to the side of the road and wait. I did not wait, I was so close to Sara, I drove slowly with the rest of the traffic and finally made it to the Steak n’ Shake parking lot where I could wait out the storm with a meal and pleasant company. And so it was, Sara got there first and I soon after. We had a lovely time chatting and enjoying out first meeting over milkshakes. Once I was finished with my food, we got ready to leave and as predicted, the storm had passed and I could get back on the road. Luckily, my next stop was only another hour away from the Steak n’ Shake, my best friend Khanh’s house.

Now, Khanh wasn’t actually at the house, due to a trip she already had booked to go to California with her husband. But our mutual friend Van and Khanh’s two dogs (Summer and Moka) were at the house when I arrived at nearly 11:00 pm. I chatted with Van for a bit after she had calmed down the dogs and they finally remembered me, then it was time for bed. The next morning saw a slightly later wake up, and a cup of tea with Van, before heading out. I filled up the car with gas and made my way out of Illinois, through Ohio, a small portion of West Virginia, and finally into Pennsylvania.

An interesting thing to point out about this trip, given the fact that I traversed so many different states, is the varied amount of road kill that I saw along the sides of the roadways. At the start of the trip in the deserts of Arizona and New Mexico, coyotes and small rodents were what you would see. Through Texas and Oklahoma, this was switched up with the occasional armadillo(which was really sad because they are so cute). Somewhere closer to Missouri, and throughout the rest of the trip, there was a shift to raccoons and possums. I have never seen more roadkill in my entire life than I did in those three days.

This brings me to the final day of my trip, and yet another construction zone although the last one luckily. After making my last stop for gas, halfway through the state, I made my final check in calls to Mom and Jason. I had been calling both throughout the trip to give periodic updates on my progress. I drove and listened to podcasts, which had been my go to for the majority of the trip, until it got dark. I switched over to louder rock music during my drives at night, to keep me alert, which the coffee and energy drinks had a hand in as well. I remember getting off the most expensive turnpike ever, which I was happy to be able to pay with a card, and transitioning onto the last highway I would need to drive on before finally getting to my destination. I should also point out, I coincidentally had a can of change with me, because the movers wouldn’t pack change, and that came in very handy with the numerous tolls. Except for the last one. The lady in the toll booth must have seen the look on my face when she told me the $22 total. The wheels had been turning to figure out if I had enough change to pay it, until she said those magic words, “We take cards.” Instant relief.

It had started to rain slightly upon my approach to Fountain Hill and Jason’s house, but just a light sprinkle. Still, I only got out my suitcase and left everything else in the car to take out in the morning, after some much needed sleep. And boy, was it a good sleep. Not having to wake up early to hit the road, sleeping in and having a decent breakfast, and of course finally being together with my wonderfully patient boyfriend.

It’s been over a month now, of us living together, and I could not be happier. I love him, the weather, being on the East Coast in this small town outside of Bethlehem. I have begun to explore my surroundings, through small trips to the grocery store and into Allentown to meet Jason and his coworkers for lunch. I look forward to exploring even more and meeting more of his friends and family. Mom will be coming to visit us for Thanksgiving, which will be great, and his Mom is looking forward to having her here just as much as I am. It’s going to be fun. Then, I return home for Christmas to spend time with Mom, family, and my coworkers, before being back in plenty of time for the New Year.

Here’s looking forward to a new and exciting future!

Thursday, November 8, 2018

A Billboard in Allentown: A Spoiler Free Review of Billboard

On November 1, I was able to attend the local premier of Billboard, “a Zeke Zelker cine experience.” Being new to the area, I was informed by the people I went to the premier with that Zeke Zelker is a local independent filmmaker known for Fading and In Search Of.

His latest film, Billboard, is inspired by a true event that took place in Lehigh Valley in the early 1980s. A man tries to save his deceased father’s failing radio station by holding a billboard sitting contest. A contest where the contestant that lives on the billboard the longest wins an RV and $96,000. I won’t spoil the outcome of the movie, but in real life, a man did win an RV. Unlike the real event, the movie is not set in the ‘80s, but retold as current day. That is not a spoiler, but an important thing to note, as it was a choice made by the director. He was asked during a Q&A about the time period of the movie and it came down to the difficulty of finding enough period specific vehicles to fill the streets. But I am getting ahead of myself.

This is not the first independent film premier that I have attended. I attended the Vancouver premier of The Weirdo Hero by director Ryan Curtis, who had previously worked on the TV show Supernatural as a visual effects coordinator. I happened to be in Vancouver for a Supernatural convention in 2015 and the movie premier was that same weekend, therefore it was attended by a lot of fans of the show and actors (previously in Supernatural) who wanted to show their support for Ryan’s directorial debut. It was a fun event to attend, and the Billboard event was the same. Premiers big or small, but especially small, are experiences beyond the film itself and everyone should attend if the opportunity arises.

There was a small crowd gathered around the entrance to the Civic Theatre of Allentown (or Nineteenth Street Theatre depending on who you ask) waiting for the doors to open. I was one amongst them, people watching and listening to the radio DJ stationed in front of the crowd. He quizzed the crowd on Zeke Zelker trivia and gave away prizes until the man himself appeared. The director posed for photos with people and was interviewed by a camera crew, until the doors opened. Once we were let in, we had to go collect our tickets at will call. Instead of an actual ticket we were given a button with a different team name, representing each of the contestants in the movie.

Before heading into the theater, I hung back as Michael and Sybil (my boyfriend’s parents, who I attended the premier with) stopped to say hello to Daniel Roebuck. Many people might know Daniel Roebuck from the movie The Fugitive and the TV show Lost, and many other things. I now know him to be a Bethlehem native, in town because of his own movie, and the guy that owes my boyfriend’s mother an email response. He is a very nice man, who I had the unexpected pleasure to be introduced to and shake hands with.

This brings us back to the movie premier. After taking our seats, the director came out to address the audience, inside the gorgeously remodeled theatre, to give his speech thanking everyone who helped him make this film. It truly was a local affair. After the movie, Zelker held a short Q&A session, answering various questions from the audience. Things like: why he decided to set the film in modern times, the symbolism of the American flag in the film, how long it took to film the movie, where certain scenes were filmed and why.

Now for the moment you’ve been waiting for, lights...camera...action; Billboard. The film is heavy, but good, very good. You feel for Casey, the main character, and his plight to save the radio station. From the very beginning of the film, you understand the loss that Casey has experienced, through the death of his father. This loss sees him return to his hometown, to take over the family business, after having been away on the opposite end of the country pursuing his career. A career which isn’t even remotely related to business or running an independent radio station. You see this affect not only Casey’s life, but the lives of others who depend on the radio station for their livelihoods, as well as the citizens of the community both in the competition and aware of it. In an attempt to do something good for the community, Casey has to come to terms with other people interpreting his actions differently and questioning his every move and motive. Is this all for financial gain, or something good for the community?

This movie is not what you think it will be and nothing like what I expected it to be. But I was reminded by my boyfriend (who has seen Zelker’s other films), after I returned home, that this wasn’t like most films I was used to seeing. This is an independent film, meant not to conform to the norms of film making and convention, like getting what you expect from most Hollywood movies. For me, the plot and talents of those involved aside, it was interesting to see places that I have only recently begun to explore in this new area, while also learning a bit of history involving this community; Lehigh Valley.

Fun fact, Eric Roberts is in this movie, as the high level radio executive of a rival radio network. A related fun fact, he had been in a total of 516 movies throughout his acting career. This was one of the trivia questions the crowd was asked for the chance to win a prize related to Billboard. Even if you aren’t sure who Eric Roberts is, with 516 acting credits to his name, you are bound to know him from something.

The last thing that I want to cover for this movie premier, is the cleverness of it’s multimedia platform promotional campaign. In addition to the feature film, and the buttons we received as tickets, we also received an issue of a special made newspaper catered to the movie and its filmmaker Zeke Zelker. One must also not forget the radio station that was present, which was actually not a real station, but one named after the one in the film, WTYT 960. However, that doesn’t mean you can’t visit an actual WTYT 960, since Zelker has create an online version of the indy radio station at wtyt960.com. If that wasn’t enough, there will also be a 25 episode web series to accompany the film, which will focus on Casey and primarily the billboard sitters. The web series is set to be available on February 1.

The film is currently running at the Civic Theatre in Allentown, from November 1-10, for anyone locally to go see it, before it heads off on the rest of it’s PA Proud Tour with dates in Lewisburg, Harrisburg, West Chester, Lancaster, and Philadelphia. So if you live in these places, check out the website to find out when this movie will be near you and go check it out! And if you don’t live in one of these places, don’t worry, Zelker is hoping to release the movie nationally in April.

Sunday, November 4, 2018

That’s Why They Called Him Mr. Fahrenheit: A Bohemian Rhapsody Review

Any way the wind blows...allow it to direct you into the nearest movie theater for the closest experience to a Queen concert today with Freddie Mercury, that our generation, or any generation will get to experience.

To say Rami Malek personified Freddie Mercury, is putting it simply. He gave a fantastic and an authentic (as authentic as you can get, including the teeth) portrayal of the larger than life lead singer of the British rock and roll band Queen. The man was so much more than his sexuality, his disease, his music...he did what he was “born to do, be a performer.”

While this movie has been criticized for the choices to “focus on the band” rather than Freddie’s homosexuality and struggle with aids, the themes are there. From what I had read and heard, I honestly was expecting much less than what I did wind up seeing in the theater. Could there have been more focus put on things that were such a large part of the man’s life? Yes. Was it given justice? That’s not for me to say, but I can say this, it wasn’t “left out” entirely.

I have been a lifelong Queen fan, since I first discovered the powerful voice of Freddie Mercury and the often experimental and out there lyrics and musical choices of the band. I was a guest on the music podcast of good friend Chris Maier, Our Liner Notes, where I took part in the mixed tape series. One of the first few questions was, “What song did you plant your musical flag in?” My choice was Queen, Radio Gaga to be exact, a song I had been able to relate to at a young age. Queen started me off on my path of rock and roll discovery, which led to my affinity for classic rock, and Brit Rock. If it had not been for Queen, I might not have discovered David Bowie, The Who, Led Zeppelin, Cream, etc.

I would like to say I would have still discovered David Bowie, because of my love of the movie Labyrinth, but I’m honestly not sure if I would have made the connection as a child, without having come across Under Pressure. I fell in love with that song and many many more, during my pursuit of everything Queen. For one of my birthdays, I specifically requested Queen’s gold-colored Greatest Hits I and II album, which included 34 of their hits. I could not have been happier when my mom handed me the square-shaped package to unwrap that cold January morning.

I played those CDs nonstop on every CD player at my disposal, in the house, in my discman, and eventually in my car. It hurt me down to my music-loving soul the moment I scratched one of the discs, adding a skip in the middle of Don’t Stop Me Now. Luckily, it was minimal and wouldn’t have kept me from playing the CD even if it hadn’t been. I still have both discs in my car visor CD case and they have moved with me, in the utmost care, in that case every since.

Now, I don’t want to bore you with my love of Queen, I think I made my point well enough. The point being, how much Queen has meant to me and my love of music, and why I was more excited to see this movie than any other band “biopic” before it. So back to the movie…

I am not going to spoil anything from the movie, I want to urge everyone to go see it and form their own opinions. Even with as much as I know about Freddie Mercury, Brian May, Roger Taylor, and John Deacon, I still learned so much more from this movie. I was taken in by the story, by the family that was comprised of these four men, which grew, changed, fell apart, and found its way back together again. Just like any family, experiencing the ups and downs of life.

I went to see this movie with my boyfriend, and as we sat in the car discussing it afterward, I said, “this movie, made me feel things.” It did. I have never considered myself a very emotional person, so when I say that this movie made me emotional, I mean it in every sense of the word. I was enthralled, upset, angry, relieved and overjoyed. It’s a kind of magic… this movie, a magic worth experiencing for any Queen fan, any music fan.

And, I could not help quietly singing along. I dare anyone to sit through this movie and resist the urge to stomp your foot and clap your hands along with the iconic beat of We Will Rock You. Song after song, performance after performance, all culminating into one of the most famous concert events of all time, Live Aid.

I actually have a connection to the Live Aid scene in this movie. Early in the promotional period of the film, when post production was still going on, the movie website put out a call to fans the world over. Send us your voices, they said, and so I did. Using the website, I submitted an audio clip of myself singing Bohemian Rhapsody and I sent it in. The website thanked me for my submission, for the chance to have my voice included in the film, and told me to await further information on whether I was included. To be honest, I didn’t really think too much about it after that. Until two weeks ago, when I received an email congratulating me on being included in the film. The email included a youtube link to a video, which explained just how they used the voice submissions they received in the film. Me, and what I can only think was thousands of other fan submissions make up the voices of the crowd at the Live Aid concert, singing along to Bohemian Rhapsody while the band performs the song, as the first in their set. It’s not a huge deal, but it was a neat experience to be a part of this movie, even in that small way.

So please do me a favor, do yourself a favor, go see this movie. This movie, which made this Queen fan feel like “a shooting star leaping through the sky.”

Thursday, September 20, 2018

Aloha Vacation

We recently returned from a trip to Hawai`i. A wonderful vacation that my mom won through the local Health and Wealth Raffle, held by St Joseph’s Hospital and the Barrow Neurological Center. Otherwise, we could not have afforded an (nearly) all expenses paid trip with first class airfare, a three night stay at The Royal Hawaiian on Waikiki Beach on Oahu, car service to and from the airport in Honolulu, a seven night stay at the Fairmont Kea Lani in Wailea on Maui, a rental car on Maui (which we upgraded to an SUV for a super deal) and snorkel tour of the Molokini Crater and Turtle Town.

To say that it was an amazing trip, hardly does it justice. It was truly a tropical paradise, green and warm, with the bluest skies and water I have ever seen, when there wasn’t a cloudy sky from a pending storm. We flew in ahead of Hurricane Lane. We luckily experienced no negative effects from the hurricane, which remained about 200 miles out and moved so slowly that it eventually downgraded to a tropical storm. Of course, it was still necessary to take certain precautions, which was understandable. Beach and pool furniture was packed away, balcony furniture was moved into rooms and hallways.

Most of the staff and other guests that we talked to were not concerned by the storm and by the time it was closer to Oahu, it was set to only hit them with heavier rain. However, the main island received a lot of rain and they had to deal with flooding, while Maui dealt with wind damage, rain, and a fire. By the time we arrived in Maui everything was much better and the location of our resort had been shielded from the most of it by a mountain.

So while we had cloudy days on Oahu and missed our Pearl Harbor tour due to the harbor being closed as a precaution, we were able to enjoy sunny days and great weather on Maui. That is not to say that we did not enjoy our time on Oahu. We spent every day walking up and down Waikiki Beach, enjoyed Mai Tais, and ate tasty seafood.

Once we arrived in Maui, we picked up our rental car and stopped at the Costco near the airport, to grab some items, based on a great tip from my friend Annaleis, who I visited in Napa a couple years ago. We explored the surrounding area, did some shopping and ended the trip with an amazing luau. But prior to that, I went on a zipline tour which was a lot of fun and the day after mom and I both enjoyed our snorkel adventure. I also rented a GoPro for the zipline tour and an underwater camera for the snorkel tour. I was able to get excellent video and photos which made me really happy.

During the snorkel tour, we were able to see and swim amongst a large variety of fish and I got to be up close with a couple sea turtles. A great thing was also being close to sea turtles in the shallow water of the beach near our hotel. Turtle Town was just around the corner from our hotel beach, we could have swam to the same location we went to by boat. So it was amazing to see several turtles slowly make their way along the beach from one end to the other, and a couple quite large. It was a goal of mine to see a sea turtle on the trip, but I would never have thought I’d be so lucky to see so many and so easily.

I was also able to get some reading done while seated beneath an umbrella on a lounge chair at the beach. I also took a ton of photos with my phone and was able to capture some picturesque sunset views on both Oahu and Maui. I could not recommend Hawai`i more to anyone, it’s a spot that everyone should visit at least once. We also have fallen in love with Maui and desperately wish to return again soon. Hopefully next time with better weather. But despite the hurricane and storm, we made so many lasting memories.

All the locals we interacted with, from the hotel staff to our drivers and tour guides, were some of the nicest and welcoming people I have ever met. We made an effort to learn as much as we could about the islands while we were there as well. We took part in a Hawaiian Language class, learned about the local plants, and the local history and culture. It was all so fascinating, and yet we still have so much more of the island to explore.

I don’t know when I’ll next make it back to Hawai`i, but it’s definitely making it on the repeated visits list. Mahalo Hawai`i, until we meet again.

Thursday, February 22, 2018

Hamilton Blew Us All Away

On Valentine’s Day, Feb 14th, 2018, I was amongst a few thousand people to see the much acclaimed Hamilton: An American Musical. The hit Broadway musical created by Lin-Manuel Miranda has been on tour recently and is currently here in Arizona, dubbed as the Angelica Tour, as each tour location is dubbed with a different character name. The tour official opened in Tempe at Arizona State University’s Gammage Theater on January 30th and will run through February 25.

All days are close to being sold out and any remaining seats will cost you a pretty penny, anywhere from $200-$500 per ticket. This is not surprising when you consider how difficult it is to see this show on Broadway in New York City, how much of a phenomenon the show has become since debuting in 2015, and how much the rest of the country has been waiting for a chance to have the show come anywhere near them.

Now, as with any story, it is best to start at the beginning. So before I get into the incredible show I experienced, let’s dive into my history with Hamilton.

I didn’t become acquainted with the show until late in 2016, when I was introduced to the cast recording by a friend over a year after it’s release. I have always been a fan of musicals(well, most musicals), of hip hop music, and history. So when this album, that combined all three, was recommended I searched for it on Amazon Prime Music and began to listen to it. And that was it...I was immediately hooked. It was unlike any other musical I had ever heard and it was the coolest way possible to learn about one of America’s founding fathers; Alexander Hamilton.

From that point on, I dove into songs about Hamilton, George Washington, Aaron Burr, the American Revolution, and so much more. I found myself affected and moved by these songs in a way I hadn’t been since I first heard Phantom of the Opera, which had been my favorite musical up until this point. I can’t recall any other piece of art that I have fallen in love with as quickly, as I did with Hamilton. To quote Angelica Schuyler from Act One’s “The Schuyler Sisters” (which I have quoted on more than one occasion) “...so men say that I’m intense or I’m insane…,” because I am unabashedly obsessed with this show. And I am not the only one, I know many who feel the exact same.

For me, my love of Hamilton did not just stop at the cast recording. I began following news about the show and it’s creator Lin-Manuel Miranda, and even started listening to a podcast. Shout out to Gillian Pensavalle from The Hamilcast! Gillian started out as a fan who created the podcast in 2016, about this thing she loved and hadn’t even seen. Since then, she has had members of the cast on including Miranda and, of course, seen the show in her native New York City. So, please do go and check out Gillian’s awesome podcast!

I can completely relate to Gillian, in the earlier days of her podcast, since I was in a similar position. I loved Hamilton and yet had not seen it yet. I was limited by my location to photos and related videos online. The closest exposure to actual parts of the stage show was through the PBS special. Until now that is, now I can be counted amongst the members of the “I Saw Hamilton” club.

So how did it come to this for me? I have my friend Jaimee to thank. She was one of the lucky folks to get a season ticket to ASU Gammage, which guaranteed her two tickets to Hamilton but also the opportunity at first dibs to buy four additional tickets. The season tickets sold out in record time, within minutes of going on sale, months away from general admission going on sale. It was then a waiting game for season ticket holders, to find out when they would get the chance to purchase the additional tickets.

I remember the excitement when I received a notification for a group message through Facebook sent by Jaimee in October of last year. She wanted to know who of our little group was interested in her four additional tickets. I immediately jumped at the opportunity, as did three others, and Jaimee worked magic to get two pairs of tickets for two different dates but with seats together each night.

We were paired off and told how much we owed Jaimee, who was awesome enough to upfront the cost for the tickets until we sent her the money. That was it. The only thing left was to wait yet again for our tickets and for the show to arrive in three months. And arrive it did, with some added flourish from our Arizona Department of Transportation (ADOT) who marked the opening night of Hamilton: An American Musical with references to the show on our freeway signs. This isn’t a new thing with our freeway signs either. ADOT will link messages of safe driving to superhero movies, sporting events, and holidays. Now, when it came to the tickets, my friend Jaimee went to the show the week before and picked up our tickets (my friend Laurel and I), and dropped them off with a mutual friend where I picked them up.

This brings us of course to the 14th, the big day, and what a day it was. I took a half day from work to allow myself plenty of time to make my way home to prepare for attending the show that evening, and had time to add in a quick appointment. The appointment took only an hour, after grabbing some lunch beforehand, and at three in the afternoon it was time to head home. The plan was to be at Gammage at around six o’clock by way of a Lyft from my friend Laurel’s house. All I had to do was get home, get ready, and go to Laurel’s. I had plenty of time, or so I thought.

You would think that three hours was enough time to get home and then back across town. And it would have been, had it not been for the weather. Yes, the weather. It was raining that day and when it rains in Phoenix, all hell breaks loose. There were accidents and road blocks, horrible traffic, on all the freeways and roads. It took two hours, TWO HOURS, for me to get home. In a panic, I threw together my things and rushed back out into the chaos. An hour and forty-five minutes later I arrived at Laurel’s house. She had already ordered the Lyft that would take us to the theater as I ran into her house and proceeded to put on my costume.

There wasn’t much to the costume, not to mine at least. I ordered it off Amazon, and Laurel helped tailor it to fit me, as it was a Men’s medium. She shortened the sleeves and sewed the coat to the vest so that it fit tighter overall. I was thankful to have her help, as sewing is not a skill I possess, at least not very well. Now, Laurel’s costume on the other hand, required a lot more work. She made the entire costume by hand, from the long satin coat and white frilly-sleeved blouse, to the velvet vest and pants. She did an amazing job.

As for how we came up with the idea for our costumes, it was quite easy really. In our group chat, I jokingly suggested that we all go in costume. After most of the group politely declined, Laurel chimed in and said she would definitely be up for going in costume. She went on to say her favorite character was Thomas Jefferson and she would be going for one of his costumes. So that made it an easy decision for me, as I was already thinking about trying to dress as Hamilton and it would be a fun idea for the two of us to go as Jefferson and Hamilton. The two characters and real life historical figures are well known for being at odds with each other. But enough about that, let’s get back to the main event.

At a quarter after seven, we arrived at Gammage. We hopped out of the Lyft on the main street, there was no getting in through the backup, and rushed through the parking lot towards the building. We went through security, and then had our tickets scanned at the inner entrance, all the while receiving compliments for our costumes as we hurried to our seats.

We were in the balcony, so it wasn’t a short trek. We went around to the other side of the building, up a ramp, up a set of stairs, around a corner and up another set of stairs. Then, we shuffled our way along the second row, to the middle, past everyone already in their seats. Again, we heard comments about our costumes as we went by and the couple beside us offered to take our picture once we had gotten to our seats.

It wasn’t until we were finally settled into our seats, that I could finally relax completely and let go of any remaining stress. From there on out, everything was amazing and not only what I had expected but better than expected. The cast was fantastic and so talented. It was really something else to sit there and watch these actors perform all of these songs that I had become so familiar with. But despite knowing the cast recording so well, it was a whole new experience to hear these same lyrics and music but with different takes. I was experiencing the musical I had come to love, in a whole new way, and loving it even more.

At intermission, we ventured out into the crowds, receiving more compliments as we moved about. I ventured downstairs and stood in line for one of the Hamilton-themed drinks, settling on the Martini De Lafayette, and Laurel ordered a glass of the Federalist wine served at the bar upstairs. We came back to our seats with our drinks in hand to enjoy the second half of the show. The show continued and we had finished our drinks by the time we got to the most emotional part of the musical.

I had been warned by friends who had already seen the show, that I should be prepared to cry. I’m not one to cry easily, so I wondered if I would, or if I would just get close to the verge of tears. But happen it did. Two times, actually, once out of reaction to the sadness displayed on stage and again at the very end as I was overwhelmed by the brilliance of everything that I had just seen.

Now, I am not going to go into detail about any of the songs or the performances(as those are unique to each show), as I do not want to influence anyone’s experience with my own opinions. I would rather let those that are still going to go see it, experience everything fresh and for themselves. But I will say this, there was more humor in it than I expected and I loved it. And as I mentioned before, watching and listening to different actors than on the cast recording did nothing to diminish my enjoyment of the show. In fact, I now have an even greater appreciation for the songs that I know so well. I also have a visual representation to go along with those songs, a better understanding of what is going on in every scene. It was a great experience to listen to the entire cast recording again the next day and let my mind drift back to the performances.

So let me finish things off then, with some information about the particular show that I saw. In our playbill, when we received a copy entering the theater, there was a white piece of paper detailing the changes of actors for that night’s performance. Most of the roles were the same, the official cast for this tour, but a few characters had been switched out with other actors, swings or members of the ensemble. The cast for the 14th was as follows:

  • Alexander Hamilton played by Austin Scott
  • Eliza Hamilton played by Julia K. Harriman
  • Aaron Burr played by Nicholas Christopher
  • Angelica Schuyler played by Sabrina Sloan
  • George Washington played by Isaiah Johnson
  • Marquis de Lafayette/Thomas Jefferson played by Chris Lee
  • Hercules Mulligan/James Madison played by Desmond Newson*
  • John Laurens/Philip Hamilton played by Rubén J. Carbajal
  • Peggy Schuyler/Maria Reynolds played by Amber Iman
  • King George played by Peter Matthew Smith
  • Philip Schuyler/James Reynolds/Doctor played by Keenan D. Washington*
  • Samuel Seabury played by Desmond Nunn*
  • Charles Lee played by Daniel Ching
  • George Eacker played by Alex Larson*
*denotes a change from the original playbill

The only thing left for me to discuss now is what happened after the show ended. We were all crying, at least I was, as the cast took their bows on the stage. The entire audience rose to their feet to give a standing ovation, until the actors left the stage. Everyone then filed out of the room. My friend and I stopped at the merchandise booth and bought some things to remember the night, she a mug and I a mug and a shot glass. Then, we took our photo in front of the big sign for the musical hanging on the outer wall by the main entrance. The rain had started up again, but it was only a drizzle, as we waited our turn and then a nice young lady took our photo for us.

We called for our Lyft home (pun intended), and stood waiting around the corner where the line of cars was slowly filing through. As we stood waiting, we noticed a line of people standing along a railing and a security guard. I guessed it was the stage door and the actors would be coming out to make their way home. Sure enough, no sooner had we turned around to see where the Lyft was on the map, Laurel tapped my shoulder and gestured back towards the line of people where Nicholas Christopher(who played Aaron Burr) was standing and signing autographs. We walked back over and as soon as we did he noticed our costumes. He was impressed and said something along the lines of, “Man! You both went all out, you look great. Did you make those?” We proceeded to explain that Laurel had made hers and she helped to fit mine. We asked for a photo with him and he asked the same, taking a selfie with us.

We headed back over to the line of cars and, once again, checked on the status of our Lyft driver. When we had confirmed that she was still enroute, we turned back around and noticed that yet another actor had appeared outside. None other than Austin Scott, Alexander Hamilton himself. He too was complimentary of our costumes and was nice enough to take a photo with us. Then, it was back to the line of cars, while we fangirled a bit over meeting not one but two actors and having our pictures with them.

Our Lyft driver showed up as the rain began to pick up, just in time considering the silk and velvet that Laurel’s costume was made of. And that was the night. We were deposited back at Laurel’s house and I changed out of my costume, hopped back into my car for the drive home and arrived just after midnight. I’m not going to lie, I was tired the next morning, but it was definitely worth it. Hamilton had been worth it all, even the stress leading up to it.

There are still tickets left for the remaining shows, but I doubt I will be able to see it again while it’s still here. However, I am entering the lotteries as often as I can anyway, just for the chance of again being a lucky chosen one. I know, I’m already a lucky one and I definitely appreciate that fact. A lot of people will not get the chance to even see it once and here I am attempting to see it a second time. But the show is really that good. I hope that many more people still get the opportunity to see it for the first time and appreciate this great work of art, history and music.

Sunday, February 4, 2018

How I Helped A Hot Air Balloon Pilot at the Arizona Balloon Classic

Start and end locations (zoomed in and out).
Last weekend, I had the opportunity to volunteer at the 7th Annual Arizona Balloon Classic as part of a balloon crew. I woke up early on Saturday morning, January 27th, drove 15 minutes from my home in southwest Phoenix to Goodyear, Arizona, where this year’s balloon classic was being held at Goodyear Ballpark.

I arrived at just before 6:30am and checked in at the volunteer tent, where I received a volunteer t-shirt and was pointed in the direction of the tent where all the balloon pilots were gathered. The sun wasn’t up yet and it was a cool 43 degrees, as people ate donuts and drank their hot coffee. I arrived with several other volunteers who had signed up to be part of the balloon crew, which basically meant you would be assisting out-of-state balloon pilots who didn’t have crews with them to set up their balloons for flight.

Peggy's Balloon.
Now, I have never been in a hot air balloon, I’ve also never been near so many and been so hands on with the flight and landing of one. We have a lot of hot air balloons that take flight on Arizona mornings often throughout the year, you can spot them in the distance while driving along the freeway. The local environment is very conducive to hot air balloons, lots of wide open desert and fields where you can take off and land, without needing to worry about tall objects getting in the way.

I’ve always thought it would be fun to ride in a hot air balloon, but have never had the opportunity. It’s not actually cheap to ride in one and can cost you a couple hundred dollars, depending on whether the balloon pilot charges per ride or an hourly rate. Although, now that I’ve had the experience of working with a hot air balloon, I think riding in one is definitely something I want to check off the list. Especially since I found out that most balloon pilots will offer free rides in their balloons if you crew for them enough times. For some it’s ten times and others five (like Peggy, the pilot that I crewed for), that’s a pretty good deal.

So back to the actual task of being part of a balloon crew. I’ve never attended the Arizona Balloon Classic and this was the first time I have volunteered for an event like this as well, so I really didn’t know what to expect. The website had given a generic description of what the balloon crew volunteer could expect, but I wasn’t sure how hands on it would actually be. The decision to volunteer was also a last minute one. I had seen a post on Facebook, shared by a friend, about the balloon festival and the need for volunteers, this was probably sometime around the middle of week and I signed up on Friday. I received a confirmation email and that was it, I was signed up.

The StarLite Balloon Flights trailer.
So there we were, a small group of a volunteers, with the instruction to wander over to the pilots and see if anyone needed help. While part of the group helped themselves to coffee and donuts, myself and four others were approached by a woman who told us she needed four volunteers and asked if anyone had claimed us for their crew yet. We shook our heads and offered to be her four volunteers and that was it, we had found a balloon pilot to work for. Introductions were made and we were guided to the trailer belonging to Peggy of StarLite Balloon Flights.

There was a pilot briefing just before sunrise, where they were given the weather conditions and their task, a Hare and Hound competition where the lead Hare balloon would fly off first and set down a target during the flight and the rest of the balloons would then have to chase after and hit the target with bean bags. The winner, the pilot that hits the target, would receive a cash prize of $1,000. A local radio station had also given away free rides on the balloons, for passengers to ride along during the event. Our pilot Peggy had two passengers from Mesa, Arizona that would be joining her on the flight.

The briefing ended and as the first rays of sun began to peak above the horizon, we set about emptying the contents of the trailer. The basket was pulled out, along with the balloon in it’s cloth bag, and the burners. We were first instructed on how to attach the burners to their stand and place the stand on top of the basket, then wrap the legs with leather sleeves that zipped up and protected them and also held the fuel lines in place leading from tanks up to the burners.

Next, we pulled the balloon out of its bag, by slowly pulling the bag along and emptying the balloon as we went. Once the straps holding the balloon together were removed, the balloon was spread out a bit. Myself and another volunteer were then asked to hold the opening of the balloon, up and apart, so that regular air could be blown into it by a large fan. I never realized that this was the way the balloons were inflated, not by hot air to begin with at all. We watched the balloon fill with air and had to adjust our grip to allow the balloon to receive a continuous flow of air and grow ever larger. Finally, the basket was tipped on its side and the balloon was hooked up to the basket. We let go of the opening and were asked to step to the side of the burners and grip the strings to the balloon to keep them out of the way as the flame was turned on, while the fan continue to blow into the balloon.

Two crew members hold a balloon open.
You could feel the heat of the burners as they heated the air inside the balloon, which then slowly began to rise up. The basket was lifted back up and a friend of Peggy’s named Terry, who had actually been her instructor many years ago, held onto an anchor line to steady the balloon as it straightened out. The fan was turned off and a couple of us gathered everything up. We were then tasked to hold onto the basket to weigh it down until it was time to take flight. The passengers climbed in, the hare balloon took off, and then it was time to let go and watch Peggy’s balloon float up into the open sky and drift across the streets towards the open desert and farmland.

After we had taken pictures of the balloon we had helped launch, and of many other balloons while watching them inflate and take off, we set about packing up everything that remained back into the trailer. It was then time to chase after the balloon ourselves. Yes, you read that correctly, we had to follow the balloon. Hot air balloons cannot navigate, they can’t choose which way they go and they can’t go back to where they took off from. They are at the mercy of the wind. So it was now our task to follow the roads out to where the balloons were headed, where they would fly long enough to find and try to hit the target before finding an open field or patch of desert near a road to land on.

Myself and two other volunteers climbed into the truck with Peggy’s husband, Gary, and headed off. I sat up front and assisted with navigating, using the maps app on my phone to find the best roads to use while we kept sight of the balloons in the distance. Gary kept in contact with Peggy over the phone and after pulling off Country Road 85 and onto a small yet busy road called S. Jackrabbit Trail, we pulled off onto a side road, and parked off to the side between two fields and waited. We had pulled ahead of the balloon and sat watching it come our way, as two other balloons landed in the field to our left. They quickly realized the field was too thick with some type of weed-like vegetation, so they “walked” the balloon out of the field (the pilot lifted off just enough to hover a few inches off the ground so the crew could push it along) and across the side road where we and a few other crews were parked with their trailers. On our right was a grassy flat field that was far better to set down and deflate the balloons.

At first, we thought that Peggy would be able to navigate the balloon to the same field, but just as she neared the road, wind kicked up close to the ground and caused her to have to land on the opposite side of the main road from us, in the desert. We drove across, walked down a sandy dirt road (which was riddled with coyote tracks), and then proceeded to “walk” the balloon up the dirt road. A couple people kindly assisted to stop traffic for us on S. Jackrabbit Trail, so we could push the balloon across both lanes into the side road and down onto the field. It was actually surprisingly easy to relocate the balloon.

We then set about pulling everything out of the trailer again, tipping over the basket, detaching the balloon, removing the burners and stand, wrapping up the balloon as it deflated, and packing everything up. The hardest part was trying to pull the balloon together and walking backwards, while someone else put the straps back on, there was a lot of resistance from the air still in the balloon that made it heavy. Peggy’s friend took over the hard part, having a lot more experience with this part of the process (and a bit more muscle) while myself and the other volunteers held up the already wrapped balloon, to make it easier to strap and move along to the very end. Finally, the balloon was stuffed back into its bag which we all sat on to let more air out of it. It was then wrapped up and loaded into the trailer. Next, the trailer was backed up to the basket which we had tilted up on one end, and once it was just right the basket was lowered and pushed into the trailer as well.

Everyone climbed into two vehicles, Terry and the passengers in his car, and us volunteers in the back of the truck with Gary and Peggy. We all drove back to the Goodyear Ballpark, where Peggy set up a small feast of meats, cheeses and fruit to eat while we all shared a champagne toast for those old enough to drink and orange juice for the highschool aged volunteers. Peggy explained that it was a ballooning tradition to always share a glass of champagne to toast after a successful flight.

She then proceeded to tell us the story of man’s first flight, which was not the Kittyhawk flown by Wilbur and Orville Wright, but a hot air balloon created by the Montgolfier brothers in Paris, France in 1783(piloted by Jean-Francois Pilatre de Rozier and Francois Laurent d’Arlandes). This was the first documented untethered flight by man. At this time, the balloons were fueled by bonfires, which would often catch fire to the fields upon which they landed, angering the local farmers. To appease the farmers and keep them from trying to kill the pilots and destroy their balloons, pilots would carry bottles of the King’s champagne which they would then give to the farmers. A bottle of the king’s champagne was worth a lot, often more than the land the farmer’s owned, and so it became a tradition to share a bottle of champagne with land owner’s whenever a balloon was forced to land on private property. This also eventually included the toast and the ballooner’s prayer, which is a poem that is recited as part of the after flight ceremony:

May the winds welcome you with softness.
May the sun bless you with its warm hands.
May you fly so high and so well that God
joins you in laughter and sets you gently
back into the loving arms of Mother Earth.

And that brings us to the end of the adventure. The passengers left, on their way to a birthday party, the two high schoolers went to meet up with their mother, and I was left to chat with Peggy, Gary, and Terry until I too left at about 10:30am. Everything had been accomplished in just about four hours, from set up and lift off to landing and packing up, plus the after flight ceremony.

In chatting with Peggy and Terry, I found out that they had both met in Germany, where Terry had been in the US Air Force stationed in Bitburg, near the German border to Luxembourg. Peggy had been living in Germany at the time, and saw an ad in the paper from Terry about teaching Hot Air Balloon pilots. The rest, as they say, is history. I mentioned that I had been born in Germany and Terry correctly guessed I was an Army brat based off the location. He then asked me if I could speak German, in German, and I responded that I could, also in German.

It was then time for Terry to leave and I headed off shortly after. But not before Peggy thanked me for all my help, shared the information that I was now very valuable as a volunteer as I was trained balloon crew, and mentioned that she gave crew members a free ride after the fifth time that they crewed for her while some other pilots did ten. She gave me a hug and I thanked her for the great experience and wished her and Gary a good day.

I’m not going to lie, I woke up quite sore on Sunday morning, especially the muscles in my arms. But I don’t regret any of the heavy lifting, it just means that I need to start working out again, and with weights. Despite the hard work, it was a lot of fun and a fascinating behind-the-scenes look at the operation of a hot air balloon. I would definitely be game to volunteer for a balloon crew again in the future. I am also even more interested to eventually ride in one as well. But, only time will tell. I’ll have to keep a look out for future balloon festivals.