Journal 2
January 31 Day 9
Rest Day

4:00 in the morning. Larry works with hot air balloons. Driving to Indian Wells in the dark, Larry tells me about everything within a 30 mile radius of the car. Larry is the Oracle of North Shore. He knows the best dry swimming pool to skateboard in, and the guy that broke all his teeth out on its edge, where meteors have landed, where to buy the best marinated chicken on the Indian reservation, how to catch fish with a tumbleweed covered with lures, the make and model of every plane that bombs the Chocolate Mountains, and that General Patton build the bridge we just drove over.

At the balloon site the crew is one man short. I am not riding today, I am working. Crash course in balloon crewing. Roll out huge blue tarps, tip the basket, roll out the balloon, undo the straps, clip the carabiners, turn on the fans, fill the balloon, fire up the burners and wave to the happy executives as they fly away (and 50 other things in between). They give me my own empty passenger van. I am chasing a balloon across the desert with a flashing light on the roof of my van, eating complimentary croissants and pastries left by the executives in the balloon. I also have a CB at my disposal. Radio check, heading north north-west vector 359, what’s your clearance, Clarence? They land at the far end of an old airport, where we reverse the setup of the balloon. The work is tiring but I enjoy it. Corey, my boss, says I can come back and work in the afternoon.

Between flights we run errands and visit people Larry knows. Larry knows Tim from water polo, they are both coaches. Tim thinks I need a 177. For the coyotes. “They’ll go after anything they think they can eat. Better have some fireworks too, and keep a fire burning. They run in big packs. And they will get your dog.” A .177 is an air pellet gun. At the sporting goods store a tall teenager with braces steers me towards a gun that costs much more than I planned on spending.

Ten dollars more than I will make working two balloon shifts. He is excited for me, this is the gun he wants to buy someday. The Gamo PT-80.

The semi-automatic, .177 caliber, Gamo PT-80 precision air pistol has everything but a remote control. Equipped with 3 extra clips and a case of silver tipped pellets, the Gamo PT-80 can fire up to 24 rounds in 10 seconds at a velocity of 550 feet per second. The ultimate coyote fighting machine. A coyote attack would fulfill all of my childhood fantasies. Ten years late, but better late than never. I imagine myself in the desert, Cosmo hiding under my legs, 15 coyotes circling us, and me with canisters of tear gas across my chest, a roman candle in my left hand, a blinking red light strapped to my head, and the Gamo PT-80 on rock and roll in my right. Bring it on.

The second balloon flight goes smoothly. I know what I am doing now. Driving around in a car like this I forget that I am walking across America. I still have several thousand miles to go. It almost feels like it wasn’t real, like the last 8 days didn’t happen, like I will live here and work with hot air balloons forever. And someday I will set new world records sailing in the stratosphere in a big silver balloon with an aluminum pod like a space shuttle cockpit, with portals and hundreds of dials and switches. And I will flip them all and tap them and sail to the edge of space and land in Egypt where I will spray champagne in the air and pour it over the heads of my chase crew. Or I will drive back to North Shore through the Indian reservation, pick up some marinated chicken, eat it, and start walking again. But it’s nice to know that I could set world records in a silver hot air balloon if I wanted to. Human potential.

Alissa is singing at the Paramount in Santa Fe tonight. I will have to tie myself to some mast tonight or her song will carry me home. Sweet siren, everyday I build a shrine to you on the side of the road, a circle of stone, a drawing in the sand, a temple made of sticks. Not in mourning, but to celebrate the fact that we found each other. I won’t wish you luck, you don’t need it. Sing like I know you can. I miss you.