10-escapeThis past weekend I got to experience the thrill of the Long Island Balloon and Music Festival. The local papers pointed out the fact that this was the first time Long Island had the pleasure of hosting a balloon festival in five years. Reading that, us Long Islanders translated that as “You better go to the festival, because they’re rare.” But perhaps we should instead of taken the fact as maybe their had not been a balloon show in 5 years was for a reason.

After the hour long drive in ever increasing traffic we were ushered into a dead end street that had been poorly converted into an entrance to an airport runway turned parking lot. After reading signs leading up the end of the road that still read “Dead End,” I wondered if the street was still really a dead end, and every car in car in front of me was just driving off a cliff and we were just following like lemmings (or at least like lemmings being pushed off a cliff by a Disney Film crew). But instead at the end of the road we found a rolled back chain fence and a pile of sand that was suppose to be a road circling oddly around trees. But no one minded, now their was finally a point to owning that big ass SUV on Long Island!

After the sand road we came to a gravel made substance that could pass for an actual road. Here we were led by lethargic volunteers in reflective vests to a grass field that was apparently now a parking lot. Again everyone happily drove around on the grass with their Hummers grinning stupidly no doubt thinking, “This must be what it’s like to be in Iraq!”

But the fun of the parking lot didn’t end there, because the grass field, er… parking lot, was conveniently located a good mile from the actual festival. But no need to worry about having to actually participate in the barbaric act of walking, because school buses were available to shuttle us back and forth. Along the ride on the shuttle I couldn’t help but think about my Disney World last year and the monorail and ferries that would take you back and forth from the parking lot to the Magic Kingdom. Somehow it seemed fitting to me that the Magic Kingdom would have the monorail and Long Island would have an old broken down school bus.

Now one could surmise that after such an experience of just getting to the festival, only one of two things could be expected. Either it’d be great, and worth every ounce of trouble it took to get there, or, and of course what actually happened, the festival would suck equally.

You know those fairs they use to hold in the old Caldor’s parking lot for one weekend a year? The ones with the rides that would squeak as you rode them and the carnival games that were so crooked you thought it must be part of the NBA referee’s union. Well, this came pretty close to that glory. Of course those local fairs didn’t charge you $25 to enter, nor did they charge you $4 for a 20oz bottle of cola.

Oh yes, the soda was quite expensive, as was every other type of food or beverage for sale on the grounds. I suppose they knew exactly what they were doing. Once we went through all that driving through traffic, sludging through sand, parking on grass, riding on cramped school buses, their was really nowhere to escape to if you wanted food, not easily anyway. They lure us in with the promise of perty balloons, and they rob us of all our cash.

Speaking of balloons, notice I have not mentioned any of those beautiful masses of colourful floating amazement? Good reason for that. See, there were none. Not a one, well their was one on it’s side that, for $2, you climb around inside. Every so often we’d see a helium balloon floating away that escaped from some little kid and someone jokingly would point to and say, “Look, there’s a balloon.” The repeating of this joke throughout the day turned from mildly funny, to a sad reminder of the fact that it really might be the only balloon we’d see that day.

Then there was the music part of the “Balloon & Music Festival.” And what was this music you might ask? Well, there was some radio stations on the scene playing their current on air music loudly. Something I never experience at home, of course the reason being is that listening to radio stations is more outdated than the stand-up comedy on the show Bananas.

After sludging around in the unbearable heat for what seemed like 4 hours, but may have very well have been much shorter, like 3 hours 52 minutes, we found relief at an abandoned booth for mystic candles. Here we found chairs to sit and shade to sit under, that, along with anything of interest or amusement, was all that was missing.

After hanging out hanging out in this psychic tent for a while, hoping someone would ask for a psychic reading so we’d have something to do, a miracle occurred. Off in the distance an AT&T logo appeared! No it wasn’t the iPhone fairy, but an actual hot air balloon! We ran over to the balloon, as it filled up with air suddenly more balloons appeared nearby. Soon the logos for Mayflower, Curves, Target, Cablevision, and of course Remax appeared on balloons all around us. It happened 4 hours after we arrived, but it happened. One half of the Balloon and Music promise had been fulfilled.

Then from the speakers and jumbotron located at a nearby stage, the music of Pat Benatar filled the air. Granted, it was pretty lousy music from an artist who hasn’t had a hit since Cop Rock was on the air, but it was still music, real music!

We watched as each balloon filled with air and then floated away… never coming back. Seriously, once a balloon was ready to go it either stood there for a while and then either deflated and was put away, or it’d float away and never come back. Where did they go? Nobody knows. There were theories. Some thought that they floated up to the sun to burn away, while other surmised that they were probably going to a better balloon festival.

Once Benetar launched into “Love is a Battlefield” as part of her first encore we knew it was time to go. We headed towards the shuttle buses, waved goodbye to the Energizer bunny balloon, patted ourselves on the back for a day well spent, and then vowed to never come back again.

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