Published: February 2011
Ballooning Over Plano Texas  

by Sharon Spence Lieb

I love Texas for her quirky extremes. One minute you’re at a funky cowboy restaurant in Plano called “Texas Love & War,” feasting on wild boar, fried pickles, and peach cobbler. The next minute you’re standing in a field under a dawn moon, hoping to fly in a hot air balloon.

By 5am, a gang of burly pilots are slurping coffee and sending up helium balloons to check the wind. “Are we going to fly this morning?” I ask Michael Marx, our pilot from Prosper Texas. He’s been flying for eleven years and he takes his hobby seriously. “Maybe,” he murmurs.

“When do you decide whether we’ll fly or not?” I persist. “Get in the car Sharon,” he says, in that special tone reserved for three year olds.

We hop into Michael’s chase car, driven by his perky wife Becky, and head for a grassy field near Plano. Turns out Plano are the “Hot Air Balloon Capital of Texas. Every September, over 95,000 folks meet here for a weekend of concerts, fireworks and 100 hot air balloons.

Three volunteers in the back seat wax poetic about the joys of ballooning. “A real thrill,” says one. “I’m addicted,” says another. A third guy drinking coffee is trying to wake up. Becky parks the van and balloon trailer. The volunteers haul a wicker basket out of the van onto damp grass. By now, the sky is a pink ribbon of sunlight and clouds, while birds glide under the pale ivory moon.

Mike and Becky’s balloon is named “Fired Up Too.” Strewn along the ground, the balloon waits patiently to receive her air from a noisy fan. In minutes she’s a puffy rainbow hued marvel. Mike fires up the propane burner, flames shoot into the balloon like the Wizard of Oz.

“Hop in,” he invites.

We scramble into the basket like excited kids. Our lovely balloon gently lifts up. In minutes, Texas civilization becomes a Monopoly board: neat rows of tiny condos, houses, shopping malls, schools, and undulating highways.

“Sure is developed down there,” I comment.

Mike sighs happily. “Not up here,” he gestures. We float through a robin’s egg blue sky, over serene emerald forest preserves. Birds sing, the propane flames snarl. I wish I’d worn a hat against the heat. Mike drops our balloon near a field of sunflowers, lifting their perfect golden faces sunward. Grasshoppers flit from leaf to leaf.

I think about what I’ll do the rest of the day in Plano. I’d heard there was more retail space in Plano than New York City, which means severe damage will be inflicted on my credit cards. I’d heard there were spas where you would get so relaxed from heavenly massages, you would barely be able to stagger out. I just want to walk back into “Texas Love & War” for more decadent peach cobbler.

Then Mike floated our balloon over a still pond. Looking down, I saw the world’s most perfect balloon reflected in the water. Clouds nuzzled our balloon. It was a scene Monet or O’Keeffe would like to have painted.

I almost fell out of the basket, trying to take our self-portrait. Mike smiled like the Mona Lisa. Then I got it: whatever I did the rest of the day was icing on the cake.

What could possibly top ballooning on a peaceful Texas morning, waving goodbye to an ivory moon, and hello to golden sunflowers?

INFO

Plano Texas offers a variety of festivals, restaurants, shopping,

Attractions, museums and luxury hotels. Plan your visit at

www.planocvb.com.

©2010 Sharon Spence Lieb

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