Balloon Fest 2001

When the Founding Fathers slapped together this great nation of ours, I’m sure they envisioned a lot of parades and fireworks being part of our celebrations.

“But parades and fireworks are boring!” protested Benjamin Franklin. “If you’ve seen one, you’ve seen them all!”

He was quickly shushed by James Madison, who pushed him down the stairs, thus establishing the first modern city council meeting.

But there’s one thing the Founding Fathers probably didn’t foresee: Andrew Jackson. Was that guy a nut, or what? A drunken inauguration party full of debauchery, and he still makes it onto the $20 bill. Next thing you know, Bill Clinton’s face will be on currency, or at least a Happy Meal box.

But more to the point, one thing they couldn’t have imagined was the addition of hot-air balloons as a means of celebrating freedom. Here in Provo, where currently we are not even free to dance in public, we use a lot of hot-air balloons to send our message to the world. That message: “We have hot-air balloons! No dancing, please.”

On Tuesday, I arose at the miserable hour of 5 a.m. in order to participate in the Balloon Fest, which is part of the monthlong America’s Freedom Festival at Provo, which is part of Provo’s yearlong Festival Festival: A Celebration of Celebrations.

Now, you should know that it is not uncommon that I find myself awake at 5 a.m. However, this is usually because I have not yet gone to bed, having found a particularly hilarious Web site or a movie on TV that I would never watch under normal circumstances but which seems fine in the middle of the night. (I can’t imagine watching a John Candy film at any other time of day. As far as I know, John Candy films don’t even EXIST during the day. They are nocturnal films.)

But to WAKE UP at 5 a.m.! This was preposterous. Apparently, though, hot-air balloons don’t work in the afternoon. I’m not clear on the physics involved, but from what I can gather, it has to do with someone wanting to irritate me.

Anyway, there were quite a few balloons going up, with many townspeople present to witness this marvel in hot-air technology. (Note: Obligatory politician/hot air joke coming.) Sen. Orrin Hatch was also present, to provide the hot air. (We now return you to your regularly scheduled all-original humor column.)

I was introduced to Dave, a professional balloon pilot from Colorado. He’s a rugged, Crocodile Hunter-type of guy who I happen to know doesn’t care if you spit over the side of the basket when you’re up in the air. We were joined by a fellow named Ed (I have nothing to say about Ed), and the three of us were on our way.

Riding a hot-air balloon is one of those things that seems really fun until you actually do it, at which point you realize it’s more trouble than it’s worth. It’s sort of like buying a puppy, or getting married. For the first 10 minutes or so (I’m talking about the balloon ride now), it’s very exciting, as you see familiar sights from a new perspective and imagine yourself plummeting to your death and wondering where you would land and if it would disrupt traffic. Then, the new perspective is no longer new, and the death fantasies have become more morbid than interesting, and yet here you are, still hanging up in the sky, running out of spit.

But I’m glad I did it. Provo is a beautiful little college town, especially when you’re 2,000 feet above it, where you can’t see all the Hogi Yogis and Chinese buffets. And while city councilpersons Stan Lockhart and Cindy Richards might complain about the various modes of transportation they’re forced to use in the parade — might I suggest walking? And in another city? — I bet they wouldn’t complain if we put them up in a balloon. And even if they did, who would hear them? In space, no one can hear you whine.

More column writing by demand. Our regular Provo reporter, Amy K. Stewart, had gone up in the balloon in a previous year and decided to pass the privilege off to someone else this time. The higher-ups thought it would make for a funny column, despite my protestations to the contrary. I predicted the balloon trip would be very boring, and it turned out to be even more boring than I'd thought.

Some of my friends will find the reference to the Festival Festival very amusing. This is because we've created an imaginary place called Towntown, where you'll find Street St., Avenue Ave., and a leader named Mayor Mayor. Naturally, Towntown would be home to Festival Festival, too.

Ed turned out to be a former acquaintance of mine, we both having worked at the BYU student paper at the same time, at the very beginning of my tenure there. I hadn't seen him in a few years, and talking over old times helped the boring time in the balloon go faster.

The "no dancing" thing has to do with then-current Provo city ordinances that basically made large, outdoor dances illegal without a permit.

The day before this was published, we ran a story in which Stan Lockhart and Cindy Richards complained about their mode of travel in the annual Fourth of July Parade. Two years before, they were on horses that got spooked. Last year, somebody fell out of a car. This year, antique cars had been lent by a private donor, but only on the condition the councilmembers' children not ride with them. This upset Lockhart and Richards, who wanted their kids to be able to accompany them in the parade. (By the way, if you're the child of a local politician, and you ride in a parade with them, you are the biggest nerd in the world.)

I am aware that "not existing during the day" is not synonymous with "nocturnal," despite some statements in this column that might make it sound like I labor under that misapprehension.

I would also like to point out that Benjamin Franklin and I have the same opinion of parades and fireworks.

The very day this appeared, I received this e-mail from one Sue Maxwell of Provo. Note that it contains the word "appalled."

Dear Eric,

Your remarks in todays paper are disgraceful, distasteful, and immature. How dare you say that the "Founding Fathers slapped together this great nation of ours". [Which word did she object to, "slapped" or "great"?] Who do you think you are? The remarks made about Andrew Jackson are atrocious. [And true.] I am appalled to think that you would say what you did, and that it would even be printed, no less on the front of the paper. You would do well to consider what it cost the men who founded this country, and consider doing something similar. [I should start my own country?] You will be held accountable for what you say and the influence it has on those who are too easily influenced by such irresponsible remarks. I hope that you will do something of more value with your life than make your continual snide remarks. You will end of regretting it if you don't.

Sue Maxwell

Typical, as angry letters go: sanctimonious, full of unwarranted judgments on my character, and devoid of any good points. She also sent a version to our Opinions Page editor, which was eventually printed as a Letter to the Editor. Note that it contains both "shocked" AND "appalling," which are our two favorite Angry Letter words.
I was astonished to see the column "Snide Remarks" on the front page of your 4th of July edition of the Daily Herald. His irresponsible, immature remarks are a disgrace and certainly not representative of the mission of the Freedom Festival in Provo. After participating with so many others in the events of this countries largest celebration of our Independence, and enjoying the patriotic spirit that exists in this town, and the reverence and respect for those who founded this nation, I was shocked to read his disgraceful column and horrified to see it on the front page, no less. How could your paper do such a thing? It is appalling. Why didn't you put the article by Amy Stewart, about the winner of the speech contest on the front page? That would have been more appropriate.

To think she was actually "horrified" at seeing it on the front page -- that the column's placement within the paper actually caused her to feel dread or terror. She must be a blast around Halloween.

Anyway, she wasn't going to stop there. You should know that Sue Maxwell is a member of the Eagle Forum, that crazy, ultra-right-wing parents' group run by Gayle Ruzicka and her Ruzickatistas. They have no actual political authority, but they are well-known for strong-arming politicians into doing what they say. They are also apt to go around to their neighbors and have petitions signed for whatever their own personal vendettas are (because surely all "good Mormons" will agree with them!). This is exactly what Sue Maxwell did:
(cover letter)
Dear Editor,

I spent a few days walking around my neighborhood, off and on, asking people what they thought of this article, and there was 100% agreement with my feelings. [Guess what: If I had gone around asking people what they thought, I'd have gotten 100 percent of them agreeing with me. It's all in how you ask the question.] Everyone with whom I spoke was offended by the nature of the article as well as it's placement on the front page. [But how many of them even gave it a second thought BEFORE you came along telling them how YOU felt?] I don't have time to talk with anyone else [I doubt that], but this list will perhaps make our feelings known. Some of these people have stopped subscribing because of articles such as this. [And a lot of good it does to stop subscribing because of articles like this without TELLING the paper that's why you're stopping. As far as we've been told by the circulation department, no one has ever canceled a subscription because of me.]


Dear Editor,

We the undersigned neighbors wish to express our objections to the offensive remarks printed on the front page of the July 4th edition of The Daily Herald. The column entitled "Snide Remarks" by Eric D. Snider which makes light of the founding of this nation ("When the Founding Fathers slapped together this great nation of ours") and derogatory and slanderous [and true, except where they are obvious exaggerations for the sake of humor] remarks about the Founding Fathers was not only disgraceful and irresponsible journalism, but was offensive to the spirit of America's Freedom Festival [which the column really had nothing to do with]. The many people who work hard all year to develop a remarkable program, considered to be the largest and best in the nation, designed to inspire our youth and citizens to remember the sacrifices made in behalf of the liberties we all are privileged to enjoy, are owed an apology [despite those people having nothing to do with the column]. Also owed an apology are the thousands of people who participate in all of the events with such a great spirit of patriotism [see last remark].

Perhaps it might be appropriate for all of us to heed the following warning of [former LDS Church] President Ezra Taft Benson: "When will we awaken to the fact that the defamation of our dead heroes only serves to undermine faith in the principles for which they stood and the institutions that they established? Some have termed this practice as 'historical realism' or moderately called it 'debunking.' I call it slander and defamation. And I repeat, those who are guilty of it in their writing or teaching will answer to a higher tribunal." ("This Nation Shall Endure")

Signed by 17 individuals

The more I reflect on this, the more I'm alarmed that Sue Maxwell thinks the Fourth of July is the LEAST appropriate day to talk about true events in America's history, no matter how unsavory they may be. (Again, I say: The Andrew Jackson stuff is true. I can't do anything about that. The stuff about James Madison pushing Benjamin Franklin down the stairs is harmless, silly joking, and surely not the "defamation" Ezra Taft Benson was talking about.) She seems to be confusing "patriotism" with "ignoring all negative things and only talking about positive things."

The Herald also received this Letter to the Editor, sent by the good ol' U.S. Postal Service (which automatically means it's from an old person):
This appeared on the front page on the Fourth -- "When the Founding Fathers slapped together this great nation of ours, ..." I was sad and sickened [read: shocked and appalled] that such a verb would be used, in fun or otherwise. What disrespectful and infantile thinking the author and the one who put this article on the front page have.

I love this country so much.

Helen Broadbent

Her closing sentence/paragraph is a kicker, isn't it?

Notice she doesn't say what a disrespectful attitude the author MUST have. She says what a disrespectful attitude he HAS. She makes no assumptions; she knows this of a certainty.

On July 25, we received this letter from someone who had read Sue Maxwell's complaints. The letter was handwritten by someone very old, and I have italicized a sentence that is utterly incomprehensible.
I would hope by the time you get this a written apology by, Eric Snider, has been made. I to was concerned as was the neighbors who wrote on July of their objection of the July 4 remarks by him. In talking to others slap in done in objection to. For Eric to say our forefathers slapped together this great nation. The other slander in the article was rediculous. His employers are enjoying the freedom of the press, forefathers worked very diligently to obtain. Perhaps Eric should go back to former employers who enjoyed him so much. I for one express my thanks each day for our forefathers diligence of this great nation and freedoms we enjoy.

LaJean Larsen


If you ever work at a paper, get to be friends with the Opinions Page Editor, so he'll always be sure to show you letters like this as soon as he receives them.