G-fest hotline: Bobbleheads, balloons and zip line bummers

A garlic fries balloon floats 100 feet in the air above Gourmet Alley at the 2011 Gilroy Garlic Festival. This balloon was almost in danger of no longer being at the festival because of the current helium shortage.

Giants Herbie is coming to the festival
If you paid $40 on eBay for a limited edition of famed festival mascot Herbie the Bobblehead all decked out in a San Francisco Giants uniform, now is the time to start kicking yourself.
Following the first annual Giants Garlic Fest – a wildly successful and “Herculean” undertaking where volunteers re-created a mini-Gourmet Alley at Seals Plaza inside AT&T Park – the special edition, orange-and-black bobblehead previously only available at the Giants event (which took place in June) has been popping up on eBay in prices ranging from $11 to $40.
Since there won’t be a brand new, regular-sized Herbie coming out until next year (the festival’s seven bobbleheads have appeared intermittently over the years), those who want a smiling garlic figurine may want to pounce on the few hundred leftover Giants Herbie bobbleheads, which are slightly smaller than the traditional Herbies. The Giants Herbie bobbleheads will go on sale at the festival this weekend.
The festival’s Executive Director Brian Bowe confirmed that Giants representatives will arrive at the festival at 10 a.m. Friday to sell off the remaining limited edition statuettes. The booth will be set up on “Garlic Avenue” near the big red barn on the Ranch Side of Christmas Hill Park.
“I don’t know how long it will take to sell them out,” Bowe estimated. “But I’m sure that they’ll sell pretty briskly.”
Rise of the balloons
Better late than never: The Gilroy Garlic Festival will have its balloons, and float them too.
An unusually long nationwide helium crisis was threatening to ground the iconic white balloon that’s kept airborne vigil for the last three years over the Christmas Hill Park garlic fries booth – guiding foodies to a humble tent like the Star of David where potatoes are sliced, fried, smothered in chopped cloves and served to the hungry thousands.
“We did find helium,” chuckled Bowe. “We found just enough to float both of our balloons, but there’s no extra. Hopefully they stay afloat the whole time.”
The second most abundant element in the universe is disappearing into thin air, due to scarcity in production at various helium plants around the world, causing inconsistent supply imports from global providers. The drought is prompting professional balloon artists and party supply stores – the folks whose “bread and butter” relies on the gas known as “He” – to stock up on the item with guarded vigilance.
Lucky for Bowe, his longtime, Salinas-based helium supplier – Air Unlimited – was able to spare four tanks of the lighter-than-air commodity.
“It’s costing us a little more than it has in the past, but it’s well worth it,” said Bowe.
With two “Garlic Fries” balloons to inflate – one white, and a brand new red balloon the festival purchased this year to fly over the ranch side garlic fries booth – keeping the pair of rubber orbs afloat for three days would normally take five tanks of helium at a cost of $600.
“I would have preferred five just to make sure,” said Bowe. “But we should be able to get both of the large garlic fries in the air with four tanks of helium.”
No zip line?!
What would have been the premiere focal point of the Garlic Festival’s brand new teen zone – a 250-foot-long zip line – will be absent from the action this year.
“I’m horribly disappointed,” reported Bowe Thursday afternoon. “That’s the hiccup d’jour…that was going to be the centerpiece.”
The teen zone is operated by Fun & Games, one of the festival’s primary vendors for 12 years.
Bowe explained the vendor experienced some kind of “snafu” with licensing for the attraction, stymieing the zip line’s arrival until next year.
Ever the Garlic Festival’s fearless leader, Bowe keeps his outlook on the bright side.
“It’s a bummer,” he admitted, “but it’s not all that bad. There’s still going to be other fun stuff out there.”

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