SUNDAY WAS the final installment of a three-day, hot-air balloon festival in our mountaintop town.
I shot this brief video from our upstairs terraza.
The airport, and that’s using the term loosely, rests on the edge of my neighborhood on the outskirts of town. It’s a dirt strip that goes virtually unused all year.
There is a hangar there, and a DC-9 without wings on display. A funny story that. The DC-9 was brought here on a massive flatbed tractor-trailer some years back.
It had almost completed the trip when it had to make a right turn from one highway to a lesser road just three blocks from the Hacienda. There is an incline to the roadbed and, halfway around the curve, the jet fell off the trailer.
It rolled briefly toward a carnitas stand about 20 feet away. I imagine those seconds were endless to the crew cutting carnitas. It’s not often you see a DC-9 rolling your way.
The jet was hoisted back upon the trailer and continued the short distance to our airport where it now lives.
The hangar there, the DC-9 and, previously, an ultralight service is owned by some well-off individual. The ultralight service has gone out of business due to lack of, well, business.
Once I drove over there to inquire about learning to fly ultralights, something I never got around to, and the fellow let me go inside the DC-9, which was lots of fun.
I have a private-pilot’s license though I haven’t used it since the 1970s. It never expires. I also took a number of sailplane lessons in Central Texas, but I never got that license either.
There’s something a bit unnerving about being up in a plane with no means of propulsion whatsoever.
I skydived once in Louisiana, and I went up in a hot-air balloon once in Texas. Giving my mother near heart attacks apparently was an unconscious, lifetime goal.
And then there were the motorcycles.
She’s dead now, so I’ve quit doing all that stuff.
My father could not have cared less.
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(Promo! For those of you who have not recently visited — or never have — my SlickPic photos, there is a new look and new photos. The SlickPic Gallery is where you’ll find gobs of photos of the Hacienda through the years, our Cuba visit in 2012, photos of the Downtown Casita (available on AirBnB), my art furniture, Mexico in general and, last but not least, a blow by blow — photo-wise — of the construction of our free-standing pastry kitchen.)
WHEN THE rains come, the crickets decide to move into the Hacienda uninvited. It’s an annual event.
They have a cat attitude toward water.
Their being inside wouldn’t be so bad if they didn’t also love to croon, and they croon quite loudly.
The good thing is that the kitchen is their preferred location, and it’s a good distance from the bedroom. And they sing only when the lights are out at night.
But sometimes an adventurer will go exploring. He will hop into the living room, much closer to the bedroom. The adventurers are also singers, so something must be done.
When one heads out from the many hidey-holes available in the kitchen to the wide open spaces of the living room, he’s easier to spot and catch. I toss them back outdoors.
How do they get inside in the first place? you might wonder. Easy because Mexican home construction offers a plethora of pathways. One wonders why even more wildlife doesn’t live with us inside. So far, not one mouse.
That would send my wife over the brink.
Another phenomenon of the rainy season is teeny-tiny bugs the size of pinheads that appear on the ceiling of the downstairs bathroom. They fall to the counter where we pick them up and toss them down the sink drain. That’s it.
Those guys haven’t appeared this year, and some years they do not appear at all. It’s a mystery.
Never a dull moment.
A hot-air balloon festival arrives this weekend, and since our local airport — a grassy strip — is quite near the Hacienda, they’ll be floating over us, which is lovely.
I took a hot-air balloon ride early one morning in Houston years ago, and I did it with a beautiful woman, which is the best way to be in a big straw basket, floating, as the sun rises.
ONE SWELL THING about multiple marriages is that you get a recess between wives.
My recess between Wife #1 and Wife #2 was five years, and it was a great recess out there on the playground of naked women.
On the other hand, the recess between Wife #2 and Wife #3 was a spell of much misery and lasted seven years. Recesses can vary in tone.
One of the many happy things I did in the first recess was learn how to fly small planes.
A favorite activity during that time was landing a Cessna 172 at the New Orleans Municipal Airport right next to Lake Pontchartrain after an hour or so of fun flying over the swamps of south Louisiana or maybe a jaunt over to cornpone Mississippi.
During steaming summers, I would park the plane, hop aboard my 1977, black, Harley-Davidson Sportster, and haul butt about a mile south on Downman Road to a sprawling clapboard tavern that kept the air-conditioning in the neighborhood of 35 degrees year-round, or so it seemed, and it was sweet.
I was often alone and wearing cutoff jeans and a T-shirt that said San Juan. The best things about that bar, the name of which escapes me, aside from the air-conditioning, were boiled crawdads and chill Dixie Beer.
Not being rich enough to have my own plane, I joined a flying club, which basically was a bunch of folks who banded together to maintain a few small planes, and each of us paid a fee per hour to take one up. It’s how poor people fly, but in time even that system got too rich for me. By the late ’70s, I was a retired flyboy.
Much of my life back then was haphazard. My first flying lesson took place on July 23, 1974, with a lanky, hillbilly instructor named George Gunn. He was an inch taller than I am, and I’m 6’3″, so it was quite a squeeze in the cockpit of the tiny Cessna 150 training plane.
I first soloed on June 28, 1976, which was quite a spell later. I must have been paying more attention to Dixie beer and crawdads than I was to flying lessons with Gunn.
The last time I took a plane up was November 9, 1978. I still have my logbook. Later, I went up in a hot-air balloon, parachuted once and put in some training hours in gliders.
There were only two times I ventured far from the skies over South Louisiana and Mississippi. Once was a Christmas when Wife #2 and I flew to Southwest Georgia to visit my parents and sister out in the boonies.
Due to a menacing weather forecast, we left early to return to New Orleans on Christmas Eve morning.
We were forced down, hair-raisingly, in rain and buffeting winds at the airport at Dothan, Alabama, where we spent the night in a motel, not much of a Christmas, trust me.
The second venture was down to the border where I flew with two friends to visit the sins in Nuevo Laredo, Mexico. This flight too presented problems. First, I neglected to adjust the altimeter to the higher altitude of the airport in Laredo, Texas. As I entered the pattern to land, a birdie whispered that I was quite low. I didn’t understand why until after I landed and a light bulb ignited over my head. Whoops!
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Radio out, overshooting runway
Flying back to New Orleans from Laredo the next day, the plane’s radio went out. I could hear transmissions directed at me, but nobody could hear my response. But before that happened, we were forced to land at Galveston, Texas, due to bad weather, again. I did not have the proper license to fly in bad weather.
I was a fair-weather pilot.
Two of us spent the night in a motel, but the other companion decided to return to New Orleans in a bus. He said he was in a hurry, but I believe he’d just lost his nerve, the panty-waist.
Early the next morning, we took off again, one man lighter, and it was over Southwest Louisiana that the radio went out. Some airports allow landings without a radio. Some do not. New Orleans is one where you cannot.
Just north of Lake Pontchartrain is a small airport in the piney woods. I needed to land there to phone the New Orleans control tower to let them know to expect me. That’s one solution to not having a radio.
Here’s how I landed at that airport in the tall piney woods: badly. Due to those tall trees, you must come in rather steeply and level out at the last moment. Alas, it was a very windy day. To offset that added peril, I came in faster than usual and landed farther down the runway than I would have done in a perfect world.
When the tires finally screeched down, halfway down the short runway, my passenger and I watched as the trees at the other end got nearer and nearer with alarming rapidity. I braked like nobody’s business.
The concrete runway ran out.
And we were still barreling along — through high weeds. But we stopped short of the trees.
We taxied to a hangar where I phoned the other airport. An hour later we landed in New Orleans uneventfully. I believe that flight was my last. I decided to stick to motorcycles, crawdads and Dixie Beer.