Growing up we never bought actual tickets to the Balloon Fiesta. “Why the hell would I spend money on something I can see in the damn sky?” my dad would ask. And even as a 9-year-old girl, I kinda saw what he was saying. For New Mexicans, the Balloon Fiesta, or “Balloon Fiasco” as my father still affectionately calls it, is both a right of passage and a cluster fuck. Each year, the burritos get more expensive, the parking gets more absurd and if you work in service industry your life sucks for an entire week as you thanklessly peddle plate after plate of food to snotty Northeasterners who definitely do not live in the land of mañana and want their cappuccino now. The Fiesta itself is like a close family member; you love it and it is part of you, but it is really, really annoying and fucks with your life. Everyone in Albuquerque collectively takes a giant exhaling breath when it’s over, thankful it happened, but relieved it’s done.
I’ve always thought it was curious how an event that is so marvelously magical and beautiful can feel so daunting and predictable if experienced continuously over the span of decades. How much of an asshole am I to become bored with thousands of hot air balloons making their daily ascent into the creamy turquoise New Mexican sky for no other reason than to be in the air and enjoy life?
I remember the first time I realized how strangely beautiful the Balloon Fiesta was. I had just moved to Boston, Mass. and was talking to an old townie in a bar about New Mexico. Of course he asked if we spoke English and if we needed a passport to travel. I casually mentioned the Balloon Fiesta as we talked about how differently we must have been raised, him in the city of Boston, eating cream pies and watching the Red Sox, and me living off green chile and never knowing a national league of anything.
“ ‘Balloon Fiesta?’ that means like party right?” he asked. I explained to him what it was, how the whole city became involved, the balloon chasers, the mass ascension, all the special shapes and the balloon glow. He was in awe. He couldn’t believe such a thing existed. He promised to look it up at the library computer next time he was there and told me he had never heard of anything like it. It was funny and warm to realize something that had become so normal to me was so exotic and magnificent to a stranger.
The Fiesta itself is like a close family member; you love it and it is part of you, but it is really, really annoying and fucks with your life.
I thought of the morning I had glanced up at the sky and noticed a giant silk balloon, frighteningly close to the rooftops, its gushing, maternal roar of pressure and fire forcing its way into the envelope. How could I allow for something so magnificent to become so mundane?
The hot air balloons that polkadot our sky are the most promising and beautiful reminder of how sincere and nurturing our state is, with its open doors and kicked-back block parties. How no one acts stuck up, and if they do they get left out. How the rest of the world likes our cable-
New Mexico cannot seduce you by offering fine dining at every corner. We are slow. We are a little rowdy. We don’t worry all too much about being cool, or trending. We’re made of things that can’t be curated: tumbleweeds, yucca, Rio Grande water, chile, history, cultures, revolution and really, really good tortillas. We are perfectly imperfect, and the Balloon Fiesta is the orange glow of our whimsical and imaginative hearts that cease to become hardened, pretentious, cool.
We’ve been through so much as a community in the past several years. A lot of pain, mistrust and anger. We’ve watched our government and public school administrators betray us over and over again. We’ve lost a lot of lives and ignored many others. Maybe this year’s Balloon Fiesta can help remind us how goddamm beautiful this place is. How in spite of all the bullshit, brutality, news coverage, corruption and other atrocious shortcomings, we can, for a morning, stare up at the sky at our beautiful balloons and be thankful for the people who live in this city and the rare, unpretentious beauty our community possesses.