"Let me tell
you what a flight is like—one of my first ones. I was taking off parallel to
some trees. As I came over the treetops, about a hundred feet high, it was a
very bright day—sunny, clear, blue. It was Indian summer, which in Colorado
turns the grass a wheat yellow. The shadow cast down below was photograph
clear. The ropes dangling from my gondola looked like the string on a child's
balloon. I was going over a field. On the left I could see a road; on the right
a fence, with a gully beyond it. I had eight or 10 miles in front of me before
the next valley. It took me 20 minutes to come over the rise. It was like
taking a walk, but with tremendously increased perspective.
"I could look
at every part of what I was going over. I could see every detail. On my right
was Pikes Peak. If I climbed higher I could see over the next hill; if I went
lower I could see little valleys and gulches, dried-up riverbeds, cattle and
horses. I could even pick out ground squirrels and field mice. The feeling was
one of being so enmeshed with it all that I wasn't alone in the gondola at all.
People ask me if I'm not afraid to be so alone. I'm so together with everything
around me that I feel I can see the relationship of the land to animals, to
man, to the sky and the sun. There is no loneliness or depression or fear.
That's what it's like."
turned Baum into a missionary for ballooning. He thinks everybody should have a
balloon. "It would clear up their minds," he says. "Everyone feels
so claustrophobic now. Kids buy cars so they can go around and around in
circles, faster and faster. But they can't really go anywhere, partly because
there are so many of them trying to go somewhere, anywhere.
exaggerated idea of revolution in young people's minds is caused by
claustrophobia. Everybody is afraid of immobilization. It's all these stop
signs. Stop this, stop that. Do this, do that. Don't go too fast. Don't go too
slow. It's hard for people to find their own pace. Kids talk about powerful
fascists out there somewhere. They can't see them, but they can imagine them.
The fascists are the imagined people who keep up the pressure, keep all those
people buying and competing. They're the men who drop your job application in
the same wastebasket with all the other job applications.
Steppenwolf: Get your motor running. Head out on the highway. Physical escape.
Or drugs. I've tried drugs, but balloons are better than any kind of drug.
Fantasy, dreams, hallucination can come with drugs, but people on dope don't
want to work on their dreams. Work is very undreamlike. You have to hassle and
get involved and aggravated. But you grow.
people's reaction of, 'C'mon, that's not reality, you're living in a fantasy.'
Well, everybody needs dreams. Old people get their dreams destroyed pretty
quickly. Kids have more chance. They can work on a dream and make it come
closer to reality. Dreams only mean something if they come true.
discothèque in Canada had a record that just went around and around and said,
'There's no way out. There's no way out. There's no way out....' Pretty soon
you couldn't stand it. You had to leave that room. I can't pretend to say I've
found a way out, but I've sure found a way up."
He pauses to pull
at a cigarette. " 'Let my people go.' That's my revolution," he says at
Baum insists that
ballooning is the most practical way for most people to get their highs.
"Where the motorized aviation trip is at is rules and regulations," he
says. "Ballooning goes right around most of the regulations. It's
completely uncomplicated. All you have to do is pull one little cord, the
burner throttle. It's safe. It's cheap. Completely cold, the maximum rate of
descent is 1,200 feet per minute, the same as a military parachute. And you
could shoot a missile through the bottom half and the balloon would still have
lift. The envelope, burners and gondola cost about $3,000, and anybody can do
almost all the maintenance himself. If you get a hole in the envelope, you just
patch it with a sewing machine."
trip has, within one year, gotten him high over half a hemisphere. He has had
people hallucinating strange things in the sky everywhere, starting with
Lookout Mountain outside Denver, on which he lived last year. The first time he
flew from Lookout he canvassed the neighborhood at 6 in the morning for
launching help. The inflating balloon, bobbing up and down, was seen for 20
miles. Some old codger called up the proprietor of the little grocery store
whose parking lot Baum was using and demanded, "Sam, what's that thing I
see up on the mountain? Looks like a big watermelon." When Baum used his
balloon to advertise a rock concert (to help pay back his friends), he stopped
traffic for miles on the Valley Highway, Denver's main freeway.