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"Would you like to ride in my beautiful balloon?"

Jim Hill

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"Would you like to ride in my beautiful balloon?"

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It wasn’t exactly what Boston’s early risers expected to see, as they took their dogs for walks along the Esplanade or sculled down the Charles.

But even so, there it was. An armchair floating high above the Hatch Shell, held aloft by 68 helium balloons.

Up Cluster Balloon media event
Photo by Nancy Stadler

“So what’s going here?,” they asked MDC workers at the scene. “Are the guys from MIT pulling yet another stunt?”

Well, what was going on last Thursday morning on the Esplanade WAS a stunt. A publicity stunt, to be exact. One that Walt Disney Pictures’ marketing department hoped would help get the word out about Pixar’s next release, “Up.”

UP Cluster Balloon media event
Photo by Nancy Stadler 

So for the past three weeks now, two separate cluster balloon crews (one for the East Coast & one for the West Coast) have been driving around the country. Allowing a handful of lucky reporters to channel their inner Carl Frederickson and then experience what’s really like to go “Up.” To be lifted high in the air by just a few dozen balloons.

Nancy and I actually drove down to Boston early, early Thursday morning with the hope of getting some shots of these 5 ½, 7 & 8 ½ foot-tall balloons as they were being inflated. But by the time we arrived on site at 5 a.m., the armchair was already in the air. With the volunteers who had actually come out to the Hatch Shell at 1 a.m. in order to help get all 68 balloons inflated & tied off (Which – given that some of these balloon enthusiasts had driven in from as far away as Albany in order to help out – showed some real dedication) getting the very first rides in this craft.

UP Cluster Balloon Media event
Photo by Nancy Stadler 

But as Nancy took pictures and I quizzed the ground crew, these folks were full of stories about all the exciting adventures that they’d had over the course of this “Up” publicity tour. Like how the balloons had actually gotten loose last Tuesday during a stop in Cincinatti. Which is why it was lucky that the guy who was seated in the armchair at that time – Troy Bradley – was a world class balloonist. So that – after the balloons had rapidly risen up to 5000 feet -- Troy was able to safely land the “Up” armchair some 12 miles away from where the balloons had initially started out. Which was U.S. Bank Arena.

Ground view from UP Cluster Balloon
Here's hoping that they don't let go of that rope
Photo by Jim Hill

Now where this gets interesting is – right after Jonathan Trappe (i.e. the cluster balloon pilot who had teamed with Pixar & Disney to stage these “Up” press events) told me about the incident in Cincinnatti – he then asked me “Would you guys like to go up?”

Now let me be blunt here: Nancy and I had driven into Boston last Thursday morning just because we planned on getting some shots at this press event before we then headed out to another press event. We honestly hadn’t planned on flying. So to suddenly get an invitation like that really took me by surprise.

Jim Getting ready to go Up , Up and away
Photo by Nancy Stadler

The next thing I know,  I’m being strapped into an armchair while John quickly runs me through the safety procedures (“You see these scissors? If the balloon breaks free, use them to cut the purple ropes. Not the white ropes, mind you. Those are the ones that actually tie the balloons to the chair. Just cut the purple one”).

And then -- after Trappe pulled some lead weights out of the arms of the chair  to get the balance just so (not to mention adding two extra balloons in order to get my oversized ass aloft) – I’m suddenly 35 feet in the air, looking down on the traffic as it zooms along Storrow Drive. The sun is just coming up over the city. It’s a beautiful spring morning in Beantown …

Boston skyline from Up Cluster balloon
Photo by Nancy Stadler

… And then – all too soon – I was back down on the ground, telling Nancy that “You really have to try this. It’s so peaceful up there. And you won’t believe the view.”

Which is why – 5 minutes later – it’s Nancy who’s now floating up above the trees on the Esplanade, snapping pictures of all the boats out on the Charles.

Charles River from UP Cluster balloon
Photo by Nancy Stadler

By 6:30 a.m., we were back on the ground and back in the car. Headed out to the western part of Massachusetts to cover the press opening of Six Flags New England’s newest coaster, “Bizarro.” But all Nancy and I could talk about – as we drove down the Mass Pike – was how cool it was to go up in that “Up” cluster balloon.

So thanks to all the guys & gals on the ground crew (as well as the folks at Walt Disney Pictures’ marketing and Allied Advertising) for allowing me to do my Winnie the Pooh impression: (singing) “I’m just a little black rain cloud hovering under the honey tree …”

Jim in UP Cluster balloon chair
Photo by Nancy Stadler

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  • Your story was featured in DisMarks! Here is the link to vote it up and promote it: http://dismarks.com/Media/Photos_of_UP_Publicity_Event

  • Something tells me this is what Diz should have built at DownTown Disney in Florida, many smaller balloons lifting up one (or two) people at a time instead of one big balloon lifting many people.  The synergy with "Up" would be great.

    I remember hoisting a video camera aloft on two tethered weather balloons, they bounced against each other and the vid mostly induced motion sickness to watch.

  • Actually, Jim, it's: "I'm just a little black *rain*cloud...

    Egad...a vision just popped into my head of the pranking possibilities one has when one is floating above a busy people-laden street. Of actually trying to *imitate* a rain cloud. And the rest involves a full bladder and a loose zipper and...oh never mind.

    Your trip into the ether must have been grand, Jim. Great stunt idea from the Disney/Pixar folks. I can't wait to see the movie this weekend. Thanks for the article.

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