Liftoff, at last: Town of Washington celebrates seventh annual launch | TheUnion.com

Liftoff, at last: Town of Washington celebrates seventh annual launch

Todd Davidovich
Submitted to The Union

Washington, we have a problem.

All visions of another successful space bound balloon launch were suddenly grounded when the town's version of "Dr. Bunsen Honeydew," the 8-inch tall elected pilot of the converted animal cracker capsule, abandoned his own 007 mission minutes before countdown.

The annual launch, the day after Thanksgiving in the town of Washington, was conceived by the late, beloved local legend, Poison Bob, who created the gathering for the town. The event provides a moment where all can find time to give thanks for one another, welcome new friends, say goodbye to old friends and bond in a shared smile. Proceeds from this year's event will be directed to Hospice of the Foothills.

Since 2011, six other pilots of similar heights have commanded the capsule beneath the weather balloon before disappearing into an intergalactic unknown. No capsules have been found to date. At least by a human.

Ground control team lead, Merv, confirmed everything was space worthy in the 007 module, just as everyone had planned. At no time did the astronaut show any distress, evidence of panic or spectre of command ship malfunction. Then trouble hit.

"Honeydew" was last seen turning his golden eye back to the awaiting crowd, pausing and then disappeared into the mountaintop wilderness quantum of solace.

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The music stopped. The crowd slumped. Titan, the local barking dog, whimpered. Even the wind seemed to sigh with an ever so slight exhale of disappointment across the dusty chalk launch pad drawing of their hero.

"I think it just scared the living daylights out of him," expressed one concerned local.

Observers saw little chance for anything but the rapid breakdown of the event, including the free hotdog stand. However, the decision to cancel Washington's seventh annual launch was not an option.

"The world is not enough for this skyfall crisis to stop us," yelled out a distant voice from the dismayed, still crowd, "just like tomorrow never dies, this launch will go on."

"Who will go?" asked 6-year-old Gertie, dressed in her orange spectator spacesuit.

The sun hid behind a cloud. The day was cooling. The countdown had stopped. The lonely oblong copper colored balloon quietly hovered above an empty capsule. All were leaning on crutches of tattered hopes.

Saving the day

But then, it happened. The winds picked up. The evergreen branches swayed. The row of flags tacked to fallen logs billowed in two directions, parting the locals to a wondrous realization of some unknown, yet special moment. They drifted back to create a walled-in path across the asphalt launch pad. A man leaned forward, with his long Dumbledore-like white mythical beard glowing in the sunlight. One hand stretched out over the sea of spectators.

It was DeCorte, Henry DeCorte.

In 1994 Henry DeCorte rescued the majestic gold rush era Washington Hotel by purchasing the decaying structure and reviving it to become the town center, town living room and Mission Control Headquarters for the past six launches. DeCorte sold the hotel in April 2017 after 23 years at the helm.

"This little town wouldn't exist without the hotel, and the hotel wouldn't exist without Henry," said the "Honorable Mayor of Washington" Kevin F. Potter, with his Lincoln-style top hat and chin whiskers.

Now at age 76, DeCorte was stepping out from retirement one more time to save history.

Henry unearthed from his dusty charcoal gray plaid jacket a small black bag with a tightened draw string on a long black steel mast. The weathered hands of the former Nevada City furniture maker slowly slid from the bag an unknown object, delicately wrapped in pure white linen cloth. The crowd gathered around the campfire of mystery and intrigue.

"What is it?" one whispered.

DeCorte unraveled the thin rope twine and peeled away the layers of cloth.

A shout yelled out, "It's Dr. Bunsen HENRYdew!"

A near perfect iteration of Henry himself, from his beard and rolled wooly winter hat, was shrunken into a smaller scale suitable to command the ship.

"Henry!" they chanted. "Henry!" "Henry!" "Henry!"

Into the matte black space capsule 'HENRYdew' went, squeezing in all 8 inches of height and 4 inches of a frosted beard. His miniature goldfinger rested ready on the ignition switch.

Mission accomplished

The townsfolk cheered. Music roared. Cameras flashed. Titan the local town dog barked again and again as children quickly rallied around the chalk drawing launch pad to get a closer last look.

There in front of the forest curtain for his encore call, Henry DeCorte stood high on the ridge of an amplified mountain stage of life. Surrounded by a standing ovation from an entire town wearing T-shirts and pins with images of their new hero, he smiled.

Go for ignition. Go for throttle up. Go for deploy.

Five, Four, Three, Two, One.

Henry cut the anchor cord.

Liftoff, Liftoff of Mission 007!

The molecules of helium collided upwards against the gravitational pull of the earth, forcing the balloon vertically in a thunderball of pure silence. Everyone paused. A long yellow ribbon trailed behind and wisped playfully back and forth in the wind as if waving goodbye to the townsfolk below.

DeCorte buttoned his dusty jacket, quietly climbed back into his burgundy pickup truck, started the engine, adjusted the rear-view mirror and headed back down the canyon road of retirement.

Mission accomplished.

Thank you Henry for all that you've done.

You are one small step for man, one giant leap for mankind.

If the town's version of Kermit, Piggy, Animal, Fozzie, Gonzo, Beaker or HENRYdew from these launches are found, please contact the Washington Hotel at washingtonhotelca@gmail.com. All donations collected from the launch are gifted in Poison Bob's name to Hospice of the Foothills in Grass Valley to provide compassionate and supportive care to those in need.