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Down-to-Earth Construction Worker Tries to Keep His Head in the Clouds

You might wonder why Dennis Biro, 45, a burly construction worker, goes by the name Teddy Bear.

“Actually, I’m just that kind of a person. Cuddly, understanding, the kind of person you’d like to sit down and talk to,” said the heavy-equipment operator who moves dirt on construction sites for a living.

But to tell the truth, the San Clemente resident would rather hold that conversation in his new $40,000 hot-air balloon that has teddy bears painted all over its blue cover.

“I don’t think I’ll ever recover what it cost me to buy the balloon,” said Biro, who has recorded 538 flights and spent 1,400 hours on the wind-blown flights that he says are “like having your own magic carpet.”

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Biro, who has turned his obsession into a part-time business, said he was so taken by the idea of hot-air balloons 14 years ago that “I ordered my first one before I ever got in one. . . . It cost me $3,500, and my wife thought I was crazy.” She later divorced him, he said.

Through the years, Biro has owned seven of the colorful balloons and worn out five of them. He said the balloons last about 500 flight hours.

“That means when you charge passengers $135 for an hour’s ride, you don’t expect to make very much money when you figure depreciation and $35 an hour for fuel,” he said.

Another expense is a ground crew to follow the balloon and return passengers to the starting point. “Balloons only go one way: whichever way the wind blows,” he observed. But there are compensations: “I’m the man who gets to go along for a free ride. That’s the reason I bought the balloon in the first place--although I would rather make a profit.”

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He also makes another point: “Think of something you really like to do and then have someone pay for it.”

He stores the deflated balloon in his garage, and when he gets a fare, he loads the balloon into his van and drives to Perris Airport in Riverside County, where it is inflated. Most flights start at the airport, but, he says, “I’ll go any place a person wants to see.”

Each time he goes up, Biro said, “it’s different, and you get this wonderful sensation flowing with the wind, being free of all earthy bounds. If I had my druthers . . . I would rather be flying balloons than doing anything else in this world.” He calls the flights in his eight-story-high balloon “countrywide cruises” that attract passengers who view life a little differently--"sort of like adventurers,” he explained. “Every person that has taken a ride has liked it.”

Apparently Bob Burton of Tustin is one of those really good guys.

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Some days he would get 50 wrong number calls a day from people trying to reach FM radio station KWIZ to play their favorite song and would politely tell them the facts.

His phone number is one digit different than the radio station.

Good-guy Burton got one call from a woman who wanted to hear the song “Yesterday” by the Beatles and wouldn’t believe that she had the wrong number.

So Burton sang it for her.

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Softball is serious business in Garden Grove, where 64 teams play on three lighted fields during the spring and summer.

In fact, according to Sports Supervisor Deborah Schoch, the city has started a special softball hot line to keep players in all city leagues up-to-date on such information as field conditions, game cancellations, registration dates and current league standings.

The recorded information is undated daily and available 24 hours a day. The number is (714) 741-5200.

Schoch said Garden Grove is one of the few cities to have fast-pitch softball for men. In addition, the leagues play slow pitch for both men and women, but only men’s slow-pitch softball is played during the winter.

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“We get a lot of games played on only three fields,” she said. “Softball is pretty big here.”

Acknowledgments--Robyn L. Bedell of Fullerton, who will leave for Italy in May to study classical music in Rome and Milan, received an honorable mention for her singing performance at the recent meeting of the National Assn. of Teachers of Singing. She is a Rosary High School graduate and a 1986 Las Campanas debutante.


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