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The San Diego Union-Tribune

I hate to burst Poway Unified's balloon

June 10, 2006

Some people collect colorful bugs.

Me, I collect specimens of official prose, the more overdressed the better.

Why, I wonder, is it so hard to tell the naked truth, no matter how plainly obvious it is?

Before we examine today's bright-pink specimen, two admissions:

First, I would rather drive an eight-wheeler with an armed nuclear bomb in the back than steer a yellow school bus loaded with 20 or 30 middle schoolers.

The former payload might be terrifying, but the latter cargo is way too precious – and too volatile – for my nerves.

Second, I take it as a given that rules of bus behavior must be enforced to ensure safety.

For example, kids should not be blocked off from the rear-view gaze of the driver, who is not only maneuvering a bulky vehicle in traffic but acting in loco parentis.

Given my bottomless respect for drivers and the need to maintain order, I have no quarrel with the recent prohibition of balloons on Poway school buses.

The distractions posed by balloons may not rise to the level of knives – or pet pelicans, for that matter – but if they bother bus drivers, ban 'em.

What I do find collectible is the memo sent to parents informing them of the new policy.

At least one parent read the note and assumed it was a senior hoax.

Knowing I love a good prank, she passed it on to me.

And I to you.


On Monday, many students brought home a pink piece of paper, handed to them by their bus drivers.

Written by Terri Ambrezewicz, operations supervisor, the memo to parents and students of the Poway Unified School District reads as follows:

“Due to the increase of allergic reactions to latex and the fear some people have of balloons, it has become necessary to prohibit the transportation of balloons on the school buses. This rule will be in effect immediately. Thank you for your cooperation.”

Latex allergies?

Fear of balloons?

“I haven't called the school district to see if it is a senior prank,” wrote Kathy Keehan, “but I'm hoping it is. If not, I'm very tempted to send them an e-mail telling them that my daughter is afraid of bright pink paper and request that they restrict their communications with us to calmer colors.”

I saved Keehan a phone call.

No joke, Ambrezewicz said. Children can suffer from allergic reactions to balloons, most of which are made from latex, she said soberly.

No student had gone into allergic shock after being exposed to balloons on a bus, she said, but it was possible.

As for the fear of balloons, Ambrezewicz conceded that no students had bolted screaming from a bus after seeing a balloon, but she personally knew of two adults afflicted with the terror known as globophobia.

Really? I said.

I called a Web site that claimed to treat cases of globophobia, as well as every other phobia under the sun. The person who answered the 800 number said they had never actually received a call from a globophobia sufferer. But they stood ready in case anyone ever did.

In my view, globophobia ranks up there with other crippling childhood fears: anatidaephobia (the fear that a duck is watching you, courtesy of cartoonist Gary Larson); deipnophobia (the fear of dining or dinner conversations); didaskaleinophobia (fear of going to school); ephebiphobia (fear of teenagers); ophthalmophobia (fear of being stared at).

In a district famous for its world-class spellers, I suspect a large number of students struggle with macroxenoglossophobia (fear of long words) and retterophobia (the fear of wrongly chosen letters).


Unlike the pink note, Tim Purvis, the district's transportation director, set me straight.

Though one parent had warned the district of the possibility of an allergic reaction to latex balloons, Purvis implied that the medical danger may have been, well, inflated. (Allergic reactions, I gather, can be very serious among those whose jobs force them to wear latex gloves.)

As for the psychological threat, Purvis assumed it referred to phobic reactions to the sound of balloons popping.

Purvis, who had reviewed and approved the memo, explained that balloons proliferate at the end of the school year when children lug them onto buses, often in large bouquets.

Balloons, Purvis went on, can block sight lines inside the bus and, especially in the summer heat, explode. (Imagine the shot of adrenaline into the driver's back.)

Some bus drivers tolerate balloons; others don't. For the sake of consistency, balloons are out the window, he said.

Sounds sensible to me.

When I related Keehan's colorful jest, Purvis laughed good-naturedly and said, “We joked about the pink paper.”

Yes, but the real joke was what was written on it.

Logan Jenkins can be reached at (760) 737-7555 or by e-mail at

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