Balloon Fiesta’s volunteer board of directors work year-round to prepare for the event. Rodney May serves on the board of directors, read more about his story and the tips he offers first time attendees in this month’s Inside the Basket!
How many years have you been involved with the Balloon Fiesta and how did you get started?
My wife Terri and I started crewing for out of town pilots in 1979. We then began crewing each year for Denis and Cindy Fox from Tucson in 1981 until we purchased our first hot air balloon in 1985. That very next year we flew in our first Balloon Fiesta. I also started volunteering at the Balloon Fiesta in 1982 by helping move registration materials from the old AIBF office on Hawkins to the Holiday Inn Midtown, which was the Balloon Fiesta headquarters in those years. My serious involvement as a volunteer started in 1989 when Dick Butterfield and John Davis asked me to serve as a Safety Officer, which lead to Chief Launch Officer, Assistant Balloonmeister, and then Balloonmeister.
What is your favorite part about being involved with the organization/event?
There are two things. First is being involved in an event that means so much to Albuquerque and New Mexico and that has such a positive impact for the community. No matter where I travel, when I tell people that I am from Albuquerque almost everyone says something like, "Isn't that where that big balloon event is held? That's on my bucket list to do sometime. " The second part is seeing Balloon Fiesta come to life each year, growing from a relatively empty park to something that is almost like its own city. It's hard to believe that everything is put together in a few months, then the event takes place and soon after everything is put away until the next year rolls around.
What is your favorite memory from a past Balloon Fiesta?
There are so many things that come to mind, but I guess the one that stands out was the opening mass ascension in 2001. The tragic events of 9/11 happened less than one month before Balloon Fiesta and there were still many flight restrictions in place. We did not know if we were going to be able to have our event because of these restrictions. After a lot of conversations, correspondence, and support from numerous government representatives, we finally received permission to conduct that year's Balloon Fiesta. I remember as I watched the Balloon of the Day take off with the American flag, how emotional I felt and how I hoped that perhaps by being able to have the event, that perhaps even for a few minutes the joy and beauty of the ascending balloons would help people put behind them what had taken place.
Do you have a favorite hot air balloon?
It's hard to pick out one, but I would have to say a red and white balloon named Peppermint Dream Too that I am rather fond of (and happens to be the balloon my wife and I own).
What advice do you have for first time Balloon Fiesta guests?
I have a number of tips.
Be prepared for your senses to be overwhelmed. Even if you have seen pictures or video, it’s hard to imagine the sights and sounds on the field.
Don't stand on the sidelines, wander out to the field where the balloons are inflating and taking off so to see everything that is going on.
Feel free to talk to the pilots and the crews and ask questions about what they are doing and what is going on. We love to introduce people to our sport.
Plan on attending more than one event, in case one of them gets weathered out.
Finally, if you are attending one of the evening glows, walk out to where you are surrounded by balloons and wait for the noise of a few hundred propane burners firing at once during an "all burn". I still get the same excited feeling today as when I was a pilot participating in the first glow held in 1987.