Balloon Racing
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Editor's Note: The SSQQ Balloon Race is a silly event we do every year at our Beach Ball Party.  Believe it or not, the SSQQ Balloon Race team has never lost despite doing this for about 10 years.  One lady in particular, Margaux Mann, for some odd reason took a shine to this event and actually for about 5 years running tried to find ways to beat the SSQQ team.  Margaux is actually a family friend, but she is a little nuts about the Balloon Race. Margaux gave up in 2001 and didn't even try, but don't be surprised to see her back in 2002.  The following is an account of one of the nuttiest races of all.  RA 01-20-02


Do you believe in curses? No, of course you don’t. Neither do I. But maybe there is something to curses. When I was growing up, in professional basketball back in the 60's the legendary Boston Celtics of Bill Russell and Red Auerbach were supposed to have a curse on the Los Angeles Lakers. Those Lakers, led by Hall-of-Famers Jerry West and Elgin Baylor, were a very good team. But year after year after year they always lost to the Celtics. Almost every series went seven games, but the Celtics won every one of these suspense-filled show downs. Eight times in a row the Celtics came out on top despite the fact that the teams were pretty evenly matched in talent. That is an amazing story. But the story of the SSQQ Curse is even stranger. Are you curious ?  Then read on !!

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SSQQ has a curse on Margaux Mann. I am now convinced of it. Every year for six years running the SSQQ Balloon Race team has beaten Margaux’s team. A balloon race is where someone kicks a balloon from one end of Room 1 to the mirror and back. Each length of the floor is considered a lap. The balloon kickers go two laps a piece (up and back) in a gigantic relay race. They can move the balloon any way they want, but they can’t use their hands. There is not a lot of skill involved in kicking a balloon. There is no particular reason why one team should beat another six times in a row unless you factor in the supernatural.

For two years SSQQ beat Team Margaux fair and square, no monkey business. Then Margaux, the archetypal Designing Woman, decided to use trickery. Her team beat us the third year… until a review of the videotape revealed her team had only used 9 racers to SSQQ’s 10. Hmmm. The next year her team put Velcro on their shirts. This trick actually worked once as a man named Cecil got the balloon stuck to his chest. Cecil raced across the floor with the balloon fixed in place like a giant breast. This was quite a sight in itself. If his team hadn’t been three laps behind from wasting time trying to get the balloon stuck in the first place, they might have won.

The next year, Margaux, the tenth racer, actually did cross the finish line before SSQQ. The problem was, she was supposed to kick the balloon to a teammate sitting in a chair to finish, not under a table 20 feet away. Oh, that tricky rulebook. SSQQ won again.

The following year, Margaux decided to forget the tricks and try training instead. Now that was an original idea. She and about 5 other people actually would come up to the studio during practice night a couple times a week to kick the balloon around. This started a month before the big race, but it was all for naught. SSQQ got an actual real-life astronaut named Janice Voss to play for the SSQQ team. Janice turned out to be the Balloon Race equivalent of Michael Jordan. She out-kicked her opponent by two laps to single-handedly win the race. (to read the story of Janice Voss, her story is further below on this page)

Six years is a long losing streak, folks. And you know what, this past August, 1999, I had some mixed feelings. I was tired of beating Margaux. I felt like she had tried as hard as any human can try and to lose six times in a row was ridiculous. I was going out there to participate, but the truth was my heart wasn’t in it. That burning competitive desire of mine was down to a dull simmer. SSQQ’s Balloon Race team was ripe to be beaten.

But I wasn’t going to just roll over. Margaux had to beat us. It is just that I didn’t have my entire staff training for a month ahead of time like I used to…or a week ahead of time…or even a day.

Nope, we practiced for about 20 minutes during the Beach Ball Dance Party, but that was about it.

Bring it on, Margaux !!  As the race started, I quickly realized it was not SSQQ’s year to win. My daughter Sam was in the race for the first time. She went up against Linda Cook’s daughter Sam who was racing for Team Margaux. My Sam was holding her own until she got to the mirror end of the floor. Suddenly her balloon disappeared behind the big fan down there. In her eagerness to get the balloon out without using her hands, she popped the balloon with her feet !!  Uh oh … Sam came running back to the starting line and had to start all over. By the time she finished, Linda Cook's Sam had put Team Margaux was 3 laps ahead (3 lengths of the floor). That was quite a lead considering the matches are usually decided by half a lap.

Then Judy Archer got the balloon from her daughter Sam. Judy is an excellent balloon racer, but mysteriously her balloon also bounced behind the fan. I raised an eyebrow; that was an odd mistake for Judy to make. We were way behind.

Then I got the balloon. Normally I could be counted on to make up a good amount of ground, but this year the balloon mysteriously bounced away from me too. The balloon literally changed directions for no obvious reason and I ran right past it. I managed to get the balloon to the fourth racer for SSQQ, Tresia Henderson, but I was convinced something sneaky was going on. So was Judy. We decided to turn off the brand-new air-conditioner in Room 1. What a difference that made !!  Immediately our team started doing better, but we were almost 5 laps behind.

Then a very, very strange thing happened. Paula Blaisdale teaches Swing for SSQQ, but on this night was asked to race for Team Margaux. As Paula expertly kicked her balloon down the floor, suddenly her balloon got stuck behind the fan in the other corner. Except no wind blew it there… Paula actually kicked it over there!!   Can you believe that ? 

It turns out that Paula had actually won a balloon race contest once back at the old Wild West on Gessner. Paula swore to me she was telling the truth despite my skepticism.  At the Wild West contest, Paula somehow managed to get a balloon stuck between her knees and won by just waddling across the floor. She actually won a trip to Hawaii !!  Goodness. It turns out Paula told this same story to Margaux. This excited the heck out of Margaux who visualized Paula as the secret weapon she had been searching for to beat SSQQ. Before the race began, Margaux strongly encouraged Paula to try the same thing to beat SSQQ. Except the strategy backfired.

Paula had kicked the balloon behind that fan deliberately out of modesty. This turned out to be a good idea because Paula proceeded to do some very strange things back there !!  For one thing Paula kept hiking her beach dress way up high trying to get her knees free to capture the balloon. I enjoyed watching that. Then, clearly frustrated, at another point Paula actually dropped to her knees and tried to sit on the balloon in an attempt to squeeze the balloon between her legs. It was hysterical to watch, but even funnier was the unbelievable look of consternation that came over Margaux’s face as she watched her team’s once-insurmountable lead begin to disappear.

All her team had to do after Sammie popped the balloon behind the fan was to play it straight. There was no way the SSQQ team could overcome that lead, especially since Judy and I had both lost ground as well. But no one had bothered to tell Paula to play it straight. She was following Coach’s orders and fiddled around forever behind that fan. Finally Margaux had had enough and screamed at Paula to forget about it, so Paula kicked the ball out of the corner and quickly finished. But now Team Margaux was only half a lap ahead. When it was Jill Banta’s turn to race for SSQQ, she overtook her opponent and won the race.

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Now Margaux was stunned. Talk about a reversal of fortune. She had the look of an alien visitation, sensing of course that something greater than mere mortals was at work here. I was just as amazed as she was. In fact, I was awe-struck at the power of these supernatural forces. The only way we could have won was for a miracle to occur...and it did…

The Curse of the Balloon Race
had struck again !!!

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In a stunning upset, the SSQQ Dream Team won an unprecedented 11th straight victory in the annual Beach Ball Balloon Relay Race !


In case you have never heard of the Balloon Race, this is an unpredictable event because grown human beings attempt to kick an inflated balloon from one end of the room to the other. When you kick a balloon, it operates in a fashion similar to the Scud Missile or a baseball knuckleball in that you can't always guess its eventual direction. This air of unpredictability makes it even more amazing that the SSQQ Dream Team continued its remarkable string of victories...

This was the year Margaux Mann and her husband Carl openly predicted an SSQQ defeat. For weeks Margaux and Carl and coconspirator Iqbal were seen sneaking into Room 4 at the studio to practice kicking the living daylights out of countless balloons.   One night they popped so many balloons they actually had the nerve to ask if SSQQ had some extra balloons they could "borrow" as if they really intended to return the poor things. Carl and Margaux had been on the losing team for the past three years and this year were determined to win !

Three teams entered the race. Carl and Margaux searched the world for the finest team and added two Russians, Yuri and Tanya, plus Iqbal from Pakistan. I believe Cathy, Bill, MaryAnn, Cecil, and Catherine may have been USA citizens, but I am not sure. I think one was an alien...

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Randy G put together a fine team of racers including Big Kevin, Doug K,   James,  John H,  Carol A,  Indy 500 (now this girl was fast, but she kept going in circles !), Lindy Hop,  Debbie, and Jenny.

On the SSQQ team we had myself Rick the Quick (on ESPN everyone who is anyone has nicknames),  Judy the Cutie,  Dan the Man ,  Jill the Thrill,  Dave the Rave,  Jennifer...never mind,  Bruce the Juice (okay, its weak, but what am I going to use? Goose ? Moose ?),  Kim the Slim,  Jeff bribed the Ref,  Lisa Monroe as an alternate,  and from outer space  Janice the Flash Voss who says balloon racing is a frequent training technique on Space Station Mir.

The Big Race was incredibly close. I got off to an early lead (Margaux claimed I jumped the gun, but what would you expect her to say).  Any  advantage I had was quickly wiped out when someone turned on the fan just as I was heading home. Instantly the balloon was blown 20 feet the other direction. Oddly I had turned that fan off myself before the race started. I can't imagine how that fan came on again! 

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The Turning Point was a foot to foot showdown between Judy Archer and Margaux from Key Largaux. Judy clearly had her Mojo working. ("MOJO" is a dance term for getting your behiney and your feet to work as a team)... all her Latin training paid off !  

By the time I  had recovered my Wind- Blown balloon, Margaux was already 30 feet ahead when Judy started.  Judy suddenly turned on her Mojo Power and finished 30 feet ahead of Margaux  to give SSQQ the lead. But there was still trouble ahead !

Jennifer bopped her balloon  into the crowd,  but an onlooker  was kind enough to put it back in play.  The Judge, Ms Sandy Vera, frowned, but decided the infraction wasn't  worth sacrificing the year of free dance lessons that Jeff had promised her. 

At that point SSQQ's secret weapon, Ms Janice Voss, took over. Janice is an honest-to-goodness NASA Astronaut who has been in space several times.  I figured anyone who is good enough to be an astronaut might have at least some athletic ability, but it was kind of fun to watch Margaux's jaw drop as Janice more or less lapped the entire field.

Janice clearly had the Right Stuff. Game, Set, Match.  Tough luck, Margaux. 

Better luck next year!   Maybe....


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