Chapter 17 Summary

Not All Fairy Tales End Smoothly

Mr. and Mrs. Pausch get married in a quiet wedding followed by a spectacular send-off in a gigantic, multicolored, hot-air balloon. As she steps into the balloon, Jai says it feels like a fairy tale ending to a Disney movie. The flight over Pittsburgh is beautiful, but they left later than they planned and soon the ballooner (captain of the ship) is worried because he cannot find a place for them to land.

The newlyweds are no longer looking at the view; now they are desperately looking for a large open space hidden somewhere in the urban setting below them. They are at the mercy of the wind, but at last they float over the suburbs and find a large field in the distance. The ballooner commits to landing there and begins to descend quickly.

Pausch watches the land below and sees a train track at the edge of the field—and he sees a train coming their direction. He transitions from groom to engineer and asks the ballooner what would happen if the balloon were to hit the train. The man suggests several scenarios, and in all of them there is a high probability for “great bodily harm.” The ballooner gives the couple his best advice: as soon as the balloon hits the ground, run as fast as they can.

These are not words a bride dreams of hearing on her wedding day. Jai no longer feels like a Disney princess, but her husband is imagining himself as the hero of a disaster movie who must rescue his lovely new bride. Pausch often relies on other people’s expertise, but when he looks at the ballooner’s face he sees fear and the beginning of panic. He looks at Jai and thinks their marriage has been good so far.

Pausch begins calculating how best to escape the balloon once they land; he will take Jai and run. The ballooner is desperately trying to drop the balloon as quickly as possible, for landing anywhere else right now is a better option than hitting a speeding train.

They make a hard crash landing in the field, and the basket hops and bounces several times before landing at an almost horizontal tilt. The balloon silk drapes to the ground and fortunately misses the train. People on the highway stop to help. It must have been an odd sight for them—Jai in her wedding dress, Pausch in his wedding suit, and a very relieved ballooner. Everyone is pretty shaken. When Pausch’s friend Jack arrives in the chase car, he is happy to see that everyone is safe.

As the balloon is loaded onto the ballooner’s truck, they have time to reflect that even fairy-tale moments contain risks. Just as Jack is about to take them home, the ballooner brings them a bottle of champagne (part of the wedding package) and offers his congratulations. The couple made it through their first day of marriage.