Sunday, January 23, 2011

The Balloonaganza Report


Doesn't capitalizing each first letter just make a title look more official? Maybe that's why I hate that practice in day-to-day corporate work, though I took advantage of the effect above. Anyway, enough meta-rambling; on to the post proper.

As it turns out, giving away dozens of balloons is not simple.

I had originally planned to do it outside, in a parking lot, but it was cold, very cold, around 30 degrees, so that would not have worked; the balloons would have shrunk in no time. No problem. New location: a mall's food court would work perfectly.

Of course, then you need the mall's permission. I settled on Triangle Town Center, because it has a ground-level, large, open food court with several entrances and exits, which I wanted available should mall security not like us. I found the mall management number and called them. No luck: they don't work the weekend. I then called mall security. No luck: they didn't answer. Their voicemail menu gives you two choices: leave a message and they'll call you back in two to three days, or declare it an emergency. Neither would work for me.

I had to plan on being busted.

I had five helpers, so I did a little time-and-motion analysis. With that many balloons in your hands, you can't give them out in a second or two; just wrangling them takes time. Plus, you have to allow time to walk to another person and to ask them. You'll get some families, though, and they will take multiple balloons more quickly than individuals. Allowing 30 seconds a balloon seemed safe.

Mall security would spot us almost immediately, but by the time they verified they had no record of us, dispatched someone, and that person moseyed on over--the wouldn't hurry, because who really wants to brace a bunch of people giving away balloons--probably ten minutes would have passed. Then, the person to whom they were talking would have to refer them to me, and then I would stall them, and so on. That could take another few minutes.

Still, erring on the conservative side seemed right, so 10 to 12 minutes was what I had to plan on us having.

So, 2 balloons a minute, 12 minutes--some optimism is in order, given the goal of making people happy--yields 24 balloons per person. Six of us would be there, so call it 12 dozen balloons. Perfect.

Or not. The first Party City store I contacted refused to inflate that many balloons in one day. They would inflate only six dozen balloons. To persuade them to do any at all, I had to pay in advance, so I did. I then called a second Party City, repeated the conversation, and ordered and paid for the other six dozen.

I arranged with the two cars of friends where to meet, and we were in business.

At 3:00, Allyn and I met Jorge and Nora at the first Party City. My six dozen balloons were ready--as were four dozen more they had inflated just to be helpful. I didn't have to take them, but if I hadn't, I would have screwed the manager who'd made the call to prepare them, and causing her grief was not in the spirit of the event. So, I took them. We now had 16 dozen (192 for the math-impaired) balloons to distribute, which by my analysis was too many, but so it goes; we were rolling now.

We crammed our ten dozen balloons into a minivan and a SUV, and off we went to the second Party City store. I picked up the next six dozen balloons, and we crammed them into a smaller, SUV-like vehicle and the minivan.

At each of these Party City stores, we also gave away some balloons. Each person who took them was happy instantly, smiles and laughter playing across their faces. My favorite was a very large man at the first store who waved his hand and scowled, then came back a minute later and said, I could really have a balloon?

Me: Yes.

Him: What's the catch?

Me: None at all.

Him: Why are doing this?

Me: No good reason. Just doing it.

Him: Okay. I'd like a balloon.

He left smiling broadly and clutching his red balloon.

We caravaned to the mall, unloaded all the balloons, and distributed them. We learned then that dealing with all those balloons and taking pictures at the same time was going to be very tough indeed. Still, we tried to get a few happy snaps, such as this one of me holding a ton of them in the parking lot. (As always, click on an image to see a larger version.)


The light in my eyes caused me to scrunch up my face and look down, and the balloons I was holding wouldn't all fit in the frame, but you get the idea.

In front of me were Jorge, Allyn, and Nora, leading the way toward the mall.


Across the parking lot, Steve and Merrie were getting their balloons out of their car.


In we went, giving out balloons as we walked.

Balloons definitely made people happy.

Kids laughed and clapped. Cynical teens acted too cool for balloons, but then admitted they'd like one and smiled when they grabbed the ribbons and were holding their balloons. Grown-ups said they wanted them only for the kids but often took one for themselves anyway.

I had figured I'd enjoy giving out the balloons, but I hadn't anticipated just how much fun it is to make others happy. Here are Jorge and Nora, with Steve in the background between them and Merrie's hand on the left, in the early stages of the giveaway. We all found it great fun to give away balloons.


I kept to the inside of food court, so mall security, which did indeed swoop down on us, first had to talk to others, who referred them to me. The young guard, who clearly wanted a balloon (and admitted as much when I asked him but pointed out that taking one could cost him his job), said we had to get permission. I explained that we had tried and all that I had done.

Meanwhile, others kept giving away balloons, and I did, too, to kids who came over to me. The guard didn't like that, but he didn't want to be the bad guy in front of a bunch of children.

He said we had to stop soliciting. I pointed out we were not asking for anything or naming any cause. He asked why we were doing this, that surely we were soliciting something.

Nope, I said. We were doing it for no reason, no cause, just doing it.

He said we still had to stop.

I asked for five more minutes.

After shaking his head a bit, he said he'd try but doubted he could get us that much time.

We tried to pick up the pace of giving away the balloons. That's harder than it sounds, though, because with so many balloons the ribbons get tangled.

The guard returned. He said we couldn't solicit. We argued some more about what that word meant. He gave in but said we had to leave because it was private property.

They were right on that point, so I relented.

We moseyed toward the door, handing out a balloon here or there as we went.

As we neared the door, the manager of the Chick-fil-A, a nice fellow in his thirties, came over, shook my hand, and said, "It is a wonderful thing you are doing." He was smiling broadly.

We handed out a few more outside, but then a security vehicle approached, so we strolled to our cars.

A forty-something woman approached me in the parking lot and said, "Could a grown woman have a balloon?"

"Absolutely," I said as I pulled out one for her.

She walked off smiling.

We agreed to go back to the nearby Party City and try to give away some more.

As we drove out of the parking lot, we saw other cars leaving, red balloons in their windows.

We gave out a few more balloons in the parking lot at the Party City, but the cold was hurting them and us, so finally we stopped.

Purely by happenstance, it was Jorge's birthday, so I took him and the gang for ice cream.

We had about 18 balloons left, by the way, so we did better than my analysis suggested we would but could not move fast enough to distribute all four dozen of the unanticipated extras.

Not a problem. They're now in my conversation room, some hovering above the floor, some up in the highest part of the canted ceiling, lovely reminders of a short time of making a very large number of people very happy.

12 comments:

Michelle said...

How lovely. That was a really nice thing to do. Random acts of kindness are always the best kind. Good for you and all your friends that made a cold winter day in Raleigh a little more pleasant.

J. Griffin Barber said...

Cool. Very. And in keeping with the great human being you are.

Mark said...

Thanks for the kind words, Michelle and Griffin.

Anonymous said...

Nice. Btw, you kinda sounded like Jon Moore in your planning.

Anonymous said...

Nice. Btw, you kinda sounded like Jon Moore in your planning.

Mark said...

Funny, that.

steveburnett said...

Happy to help, we had fun.

Dan Campbell said...

Reading about people receiving balloons also makes people happy! I am!

That is now my favorite picture of you--though that's because I know the context. ;-) Lovely day! I wish I could have come help instead of being home packing to move.

I also noticed the similarity to Jon planning a job. It made me think that a balloon giveaway should be worked into a future novel... :-)

A Year In Prose said...

This makes me so, so happy to be your daughter. I love you.

Mark said...

Thanks for being a part of it, Steve.

Mark said...

Dan, thanks for the kind words, and I'm sorry you couldn't be there.

Mark said...

Thanks, Sarah. I love you!

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