Plainville’s hot air balloon festival is over for another year and by all accounts the weather, the fun, the folks who turned out to ooh and aah and the folks who flew above Norton Park were all top-notch.
It’s an event that is quite unique in our area and an important annual fundraiser for the fire department.
I happened to drive through town Friday night just after dark on the way from an errand in Bristol to an errand in Southington. Whenever possible, I take all the twisty-turn-y back ways, just out of habit as a reporter – we like to see if there’s something we’re missing off the beaten path.
On those side roads, there were crowds of people as well as several kids on bikes in unexpected places, moving alongside of roads that are typically quiet that time of night.
Somehow I’d forgotten the festival had opened – I know, how is that possible! Otherwise, I might have postponed my venture. There were a lot of people and a lot of vehicles.
The police were out in force and really had a handle on crowd and traffic management. The pedestrian ways were all marked and people efficiently moved across busy streets under the guidance of Plainville’s finest.
But as I circumvented the event area and the well-lit and policed intersections, driving became quite hair-raising as people – including a ton of kids – made their way back to cars or homes. It was dark, some roads didn’t have sidewalks or much in the way of streetlights and in all the miles I drove, there was nary a flashlight in sight as people walked to the left and the right of traffic.
Now I sure don’t want to rain on anyone’s balloon festival! I’m guessing that maybe most people who came out did not expect it to get quite so dark, quite so early. Why just a few weeks ago it stayed light until 9 p.m. But no more, the sun went down at 7:37 p.m. the first night of the festival while the event closed at 10 p.m. and at 9 p.m. the next night.
Here’s a “bright” and “illuminating” idea for 2019 – it’s also a great opportunity for a local business to sponsor –how about handing out free neon glow sticks? The kind that can be twisted into necklaces and bracelets, headbands or just waved around. A hundred of these cost about $10 on Amazon and glow sticks always add to the fun. Find a way to attach “Your Business Name Here” labels and away we go.
Or maybe a local group, scouts or a church, would like to sell these – or even cheap flashlights – for a fundraiser and use a “get home safely” slogan as a pitch.
The balloon festival brings the community together to share a memorable experience. But next time around, as friends and neighbors part ways at the end of the night, let’s find a way to make sure they stay as safe as possible so we can do it all again.
Olivia L. Lawrence is assistant editor for The Citizen weeklies.