My 77/100 strangers is a fellow named Bill who described himself as intelligent, joyful and accommodating. Bill is a Zebra, and Chief Launch Director for the Albuquerque International Balloon Fiesta (AIBF).
Bill has been involved with Fiesta for 21 years. He used to live in Albuquerque, but his wife’s job moved them to Tennessee, where during the year he is a business to business consultant. Bill returns dutifully to Albuquerque every October to perform his mission critical AIBF event job, which shows his passion and commitment for the event.
We met during Mass Ascension in an area on the grassy field that was being cordoned off for a hot air balloon competition. Bill handed me a card while we were becoming acquainted. On one side is a large group portrait of Zebras wearing their black and white dazzle uniforms. On the reverse it says the following:
“The Launch Directors, affectionately known as the ‘Zebras’ are volunteers whose job is to safely launch all 600+ balloons at the Albuquerque International Balloon Fiesta. The Zebras are all volunteers who work very hard for the nine days of Fiesta. Without their assistance, it would be close to impossible to get 600+ balloons in the air at the same time. They work hard, are dedicated and enjoy The Zebra life.”
Like Bill, all Zebras dress in black and white striped referee uniform tops and predominantly white pants. Each Zebra takes pride in adding saucy custom details to his or her outfit. For example, we see Bill wearing a zebra patterned cowboy hat. These launch directors wear anything with zebra skin patterns, such as mini stuffed animal zebras clipped to their waists, or irreverent black and white pins with sayings like, “NO WHINING!” Other than their microphone/earpieces for two way radio communications, Zebras all wear referee whistles. They blow them to alert spectators and direct foot traffic away from balloon crews setting up or taking down hot air balloon equipment. You usually hear the whistles before seeing the Zebras, which is hard to imagine considering the dazzle in which they are dressed.