More evidence that a.) I’m mentally ill, and b.) I really do need a vacation

Remember that whole Balloon Boy thing? I discovered today that it apparently scarred me.

As I watched what we were all led to believe was a homemade weather balloon with a 5-year-old boy trapped inside of it — or, worse, a homemade weather balloon that may already have ejected and sent plunging to his death a 5-year-old boy — I couldn’t help but imagine how I’d feel if it was one of my own children, and the anxiety that I experienced as a result of that pleasant little daydream was intense.

(And, yes, I wanted to beat the balls off Balloon Boy’s dad when it turned out the whole thing was a scam … but I was relieved that (Not Actually) Balloon Boy was alright.)

“But, Jon, why the hell are we talking about Balloon Boy now?” you ask. “That’s some stale-ass news right there, my brotha.”

Fair enough. Here’s why:

Philadelphia Zoo, 04.22.10

Today, we took the kiddos to the Philadelphia Zoo, and, upon arrival, we climbed aboard the Channel 6 Zoo Balloon, a big-ass balloon tethered by a 400 foot, winch-operated cable. (The basket is actually a fenced-in, octagonal walkway that you can walk around during the ride.)

And as we ascended to 400 feet, I took in the beautiful view on this gorgeous day while listening to the recorded female voice explaining that 55,000 people ride the balloon every year … which would lead any sane person to believe that the odds of something going wrong were infinitesimal to the point of not even entertaining the thought.

But me? I entertain the thought. I always entertain the thought.

My tendency to always envision the worst-case scenario is something I attribute partly to the fact that I’m an ex-soldier/ex-cop; it’s a hardwired instinct. But most of it? Most of it is indicative of an anxiety disorder.

Whatever the case, there I am today, hundreds of feet in the air, trapped inside a cage hanging beneath a big-ass balloon, strategizing a way to save my family and everyone else aboard in the unlikely event that the cable snapped and we started rising to the heavens.

And the Channel 6 Zoo Balloon isn’t one of those regular hot-air jobbers where the bottom of the balloon is open and practically in the basket with you; it is a completely enclosed sphere some 30-or-so feet above the basket.

“What the fuck would I do?” I wondered as I looked up to see if perhaps I could climb the rigging and puncture the balloon (using, of course, the hot-air-balloon puncturer I keep with me at all times) so that it slowly deflated and sent us drifting ever-so-gently back to earth. No dice; the basket is completely enclosed. No way to get up there.

“I guess we’d just rise and rise and rise until we got so high that the thinning air would knock us unconscious shortly before the balloon burst, at which point we’d plummet to our death … perhaps landing in a wild-cat habitat at the zoo, where some carnivorous predator would feast on our gelatinous remains … so, you know, at least somebody would benefit.”

That seemed fucked, though, so I looked around to see if perhaps there was some kind of back-up plan already in place.

That’s when I realized that on board with us was the Balloon Dude who granted us entry to the basket. Obviously, he must have been carrying a concealed gun with which to shoot holes in the balloon, thus saving me the trouble of gnawing my way through the cage in what almost surely would have been a misguided and fatal attempt to scale the rigging to puncture the balloon with I don’t know what; these fucked-up, pointy snaggleteeth of mine might work…

Philadelphia Zoo, 04.22.10

…but I’m pretty sure that gnawing through the cage would have destroyed my choppers, thus leaving me with no choice but to attempt to gum my way through the balloon’s tough exterior, and that would have been a pretty pathetic way to go out.

As I was mulling all of this over, the unbelievably strong and reliable cable that at no time was in danger of breaking began pulling us back down to the landing pad, and I noticed our descent was accompanied by the hissing sound of air being released from the balloon. I looked up and discovered that a small, round, presumably remote-controlled vent on the balloon’s underside had been flipped open. So it turns out Balloon Dude had us covered.

I think you’ll agree that they should definitely inform you of that when you board the balloon, am I right? I mean, seriously: if one of the passengers is as fucked in the head as I am, a pre-flight briefing about Balloon Dude’s remote-controlled vent would spare that person the burden of spending the entire ride consumed with the task of concocting “MacGyver”-like ways of rescuing everyone on board.

Also, we saw some animals.

Philadelphia Zoo, 04.22.10

T-minus 18 hours till we arrive at Secrets Maroma Beach Resort. Can’t wait to get there and suck down a margarita; clearly, I’m going to need a drink after spending four in-flight hours strategizing how to save the plane.

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