He not only survived, but in the process listened to every speech and
watched every film at both conventions from the best seat in the house:
the photographers' platform directly in front of the podium, from which
he directed a crew of 21 balloonists.
Most of us have lived for years with the illusion that the function of
a presidential convention is to send a winning candidate out to do battle
for his party. But ever since Treb's first convention in 1988, the real
contest has been over the number of balloons dropped on the
Before 1988, a drop of 50,000 balloons was considered spectacular.
When Treb took over the balloon performance at the Republican convention
in 1988, he introduced some revolutionary new techniques (Treb can
inflate and tie 22 balloons a minute) that produced 150,000 and
counting--and smashed the Democrats. So did George Bush. The other one.
The Democrats began to understand the importance of the balloon stakes
in 1992 and especially in 1996, when the 20-foot-high ceilings at the San
Diego Convention Center cramped Treb's style considerably. He told me
plaintively: "I said to the Republicans that year, 'Why don't you people
think about the balloon drop when you pick a convention site?' "
The Democrats, you may recall, won both the balloon and presidential
contests four years ago. You can make whatever connection you like.
So this year, to level the political playing field, Treb and his
partner and companion, Kelli Sipp, engineered a balloon standoff at the
two conventions. Treb was in charge of balloons and confetti in
Philadelphia, and Kelli -- with a distinguished record of design awards
-- won the Democratic job and enlisted Treb's help on the mechanics and
logistics of the balloons. The result: Somewhere between 150,000 and
200,000 balloons hit the floor at both conventions. Thus neither
candidate takes the balloon edge into the campaign getting underway.
Sitting in their kitchen the other day, I asked Treb and Kelli -- both
of whom consider themselves political independents -- to reflect on these