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The Bell Curve:

Local floats behind the RNC scenes

September 10, 2008|By Joseph N. Bell

There were 48 hours of uncertainty that the convention might have to be delayed because of the backwash of the violent storms striking the Gulf Coast. But Treb couldn’t wait for confirmation to instruct his inflation crew and put these newly minted experts to work on the complex compression lines Treb set up on the convention floor. There, several dozen students, working in groups of four, inflated and tied 100,000 balloons in about five hours, during which 19 rolls of tape were used on aching fingers.

Once the balloons were inflated and distributed among the rafters above the conventioneers in 18 carefully pre-arranged stations, it became a waiting game.

“I had a chance, then, to take a deep breath and think,” Treb said. “ I was seated near the top of the press rows, about 50 feet from the speakers. You get a different perspective there. You feel awed when you find yourself that close to history being made, when you realize what you are seeing a few feet away is being sent out to the far corners of your country and the world.”

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As the ending of McCain’s speech approached, Treb says he felt the only scratches of concern that passed immediately when the drops got under way.

Although it may have seemed chaotic to those of us watching on TV, every drop was planned. Treb was working from a chart of the 18 drop stations that included a listing of the nature and quantity of balloons at each. So as the field commander, Treb was shouting such orders into the production phone system as “No. 13 , drop blue” and the attendant at station 13 would pull a cord and a bevy of blue balloons were turned loose to enjoy their few moments of fame. In that manner, 100,000 balloons joined the party with precise timing and color.

“Before we get to that final speech,” says Treb, “balloons are seen as kind of a distraction, in the way of serious business. Then comes the drop, and for maybe a half-hour afterward, the balloons become the No. 1 focus. And that’s worth all the time and effort we put into them.”

We’ll probably never know precisely, but if there is a balloon vote out there somewhere, Treb may have done the Republicans a serious and unwitting service. And the Democrats have no one to blame but themselves.


JOSEPH N. BELL lives in Newport Beach. His column runs Thursdays.

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