This morning, I had the pleasure of riding 4,000 feet (that’s a total guess) above Ann Arbor in the Hendrick’s Air Flying Cucumber blimp—the 130-foot long floating ambassador for Hendrick’s Gin. The Hendrick’s folks are in Ann Arbor promoting their fine spirits (small-batch gin made from the finest juniper, elderflower, whatever yarrow is, and chamomile, then infused with rose and cucumber) and giving people like me and select members of the Illuminati rides above our fair city.
These junkets can be a little complicated because: a) I’m getting a rare opportunity to ride in a frickin’ blimp for free, but b) I guess I have to write some good things about Hendrick’s, or at least the awesome crew that pilots the airship from city to city, giving rubes like me and fat cats with connections sweaty-palmed rides into the ether.
Let’s talk about Hendrick’s first—the cool, crisp flavor of Scotland created by Mr. William Grant, his seven sons and two daughters. He was, according to the website, a sporadically working stonemason—part-time Illuminati, y’all. Ms. Lesley Gracie (my middle name and my mom’s first name—ILLUMINATI!) was concurrently exploring the curious world of botanicals and somewhere down the road those two airships collided and Hendrick’s Gin was born. I think.
I’ve never knowingly ingested Hendrick’s Gin. Ever. Sorry Mr. Grant. I did experience a gin-soaked 20th birthday in Montreal (legal drinking age 18), fueled by the blue bottle of Bombay Sapphire, some crappy Provigo tonic water and squirts of fake lime juice. With an ice storm howling outside and a citywide power outage, I wandered the halls of our three-unit apartment house, eventually knocking on the door of two cute coeds who I’d waved to once or twice on my way to probably class. They foolishly invited me in. They supplied the conversation and candlelight and I supplied the Canadian charm and the poorly made gin and tonics.
Bombay Sapphire: Mostly forget your 20th birthday.
Now, whenever I see Hendrick’s on the shelf, I’ll think of Caesar. He was my pilot over Ann Arbor, working the throttle and the pedals of our airship with a giant eye on the side (ILLUMINATI!). The Flying Cucumber reaches speeds up to 40mph, powered by twin Volkswagen engines and a shit-ton of helium. Caesar is one of about 30 licensed blimp pilots in the world, flying (according to his compatriot, Charlie) one of nine blimps in operation around the globe. I watched him work the throttle and pedals for our entire journey and it looks like serious stuff.
I was buckled into the cramped cabin next to Caesar, putting on a headset so I could hear ground control guide helicopters and Cessnas around our floating cucumber in the sky. The ride was smooth and surreal. It’s tough to orient at first, but once I picked out landmarks (Michigan Stadium, Mr. Spots, the former Brady Hoke mansion) it was easy to navigate.
The biggest challenge was not dropping my phone out the open window. It was quite a ride with quite a view and Caesar was more than accommodating, asking a number of times if I wanted to double back, hover, or check out anything in particular. I demured. Smirking at my enemies from 4,000 feet (see above) was quite enough, as was knowing that for one brief moment in my life, I was cooler than Chris Bathgate.
Thanks to the fine people at Hendrick’s Gin, Hendrick’s Air, the crew of EIGHT who help launch and land the blimp, and to the nice lady in air traffic control who kept barnstormers from smashing into my giant floating balloon.