Throngs gather each September in Forest Park to watch balloonists set off on a short endeavor, wherever the wind blows them. The crowd packs a lunch, fights for parking spots, gathers shoulder to shoulder for a glimpse of the preparations.
The race is set to start at 4 but some force, usually weather-related, delays the onset for at least an hour. Kids squirm. Adults realize they are sunburned. By the time the balloons take off, the crowd is cranky, tired and not in the mood for a walk back to the car and the jockeying for position to get out of the park, onto the interstate and back home.
Poor, misguided fools. That’s when our day begins. The thrill lies in the chase. Almost every year for the past two decades, while others bemoan the end of the race, ours is just beginning. As the first balloon takes off, we follow, winding through streets in south St. Louis, north city, West County. One year, we ended up on the Cahokia Mounds, helping the balloonists pull down the basket, untangle lines or fold up the nylon.
Each year, the thrill lies in seeing where the wind will take us and whom we will meet. Again this year, we weren’t disappointed.