Land-based photos by Brevin Blach | Airborne photos by Greg Ronlov | Matchmaker: Jessica Pelligra
As the Hendrick's Gin hot air balloon prepares for takeoff, it seems safe to have high expectations for this evening blind-date adventure. Michelle and Justin met half and hour ago in the Epic Limo that's about to deliver them to the launch site. Before they arrive, let's review the pre-date interviews.
PacificSD: Where are you from and where do you live now?
MICHELLE: I was born in Mexico. Raised in San Diego.
JUSTIN: I am originally from Los Angeles, lived there until I was 12, and then moved to Hawaii. From there I moved to Carmel Valley , where I live now.
What do you do for a living?
MICHELLE: I do promotional modeling.
JUSTIN: I work with my father's company. I do some marketing help and computer tech for him, as well.
What do you do for fun?
MICHELLE: I love to dance, so anything that involves good music and good vibes, I'm there.
JUSTIN: I love to go out and have memories with my friends. I can't wait for it to get warm so I can enjoy all that S.D. has to offer in the summer.
What are you best at?
MICHELLE: I got great dance moves.
JUSTIN: I love networking and making new friends. I pride myself in being able to please people.
What do you suck at?
MICHELLE: Being on time.
JUSTIN: Waking up. I am not a morning person. My day would start at 3 o'clock, if possible.
What are you looking for in a date, physically and/or otherwise?
MICHELLE: I look for a nice guy with a huge heart; and a good beard never hurts.
JUSTIN: I look for personality more than looks; not that looks don't matter. Girl's gotta be able to hold a conversation, you know?
Describe your special brand of sex appeal in five words or less.
MICHELLE: Passionate, intense, loving, hot, pleasing.
JUSTIN: Girls who can do both.
What do you like least about yourself?
MICHELLE: That I'm a procrastinator.
JUSTIN: Sometimes, I'm highly motivated, and other times, I'm not. I wish I could channel it better sometimes.
Rate yourself on a scale from one to 10 for looks.
MICHELLE: I would say a nine. I don't really care how other people see me. It's all about how I see myself, and sometimes I feel like a ten, and that's all that matters.
How about for personality?
MICHELLE: Nine, only because I could work on my patience.
JUSTIN: Ten. My personality is my greatest quality.
What's your biggest fear?
MICHELLE: Running out of time and not doing all the things I want to accomplish in life.
JUSTIN: Spiders and the dwindling supply of whiskey in the United States.
What traits could your date exhibit that would be deal-breakers?
MICHELLE: Cocky or snobby. I can't deal with cocky people.
JUSTIN: Being rude to service staff at a restaurant.
How many people have you slept with?
MICHELLE: I plead the fifth.
Fill in the blanks: I want my blind date to be "blank" and "blank."
MICHELLE: Fun and awesome.
JUSTIN: Fun and hot.
Will the night end with a kiss, something more or something less?
MICHELLE: You never know. If the connection is there, if we vibe, then I'll go with the flow of things.
JUSTIN: Not sure, but I'll be sure to brush my teeth and bring some gum.
The balloon is nearly inflated as Michelle and Justin roll up. Once it's ready for liftoff, the gravity of the situation becomes apparent, and they hop aboard. Moments later, they're up, up and away ...
On Common Ground
The blind daters come back to earth
After launching from Del Mar about an hour ago, the hot air balloon rose some 3,000 feet above the coastline before landing softly in a construction site in Carmel Valley. Once on terra firma, Michelle and Justin jump back into the limo, which had followed them from the launch pad to take them to dinner at Carmel Valley's new Westroot Tavern, which opened at Pacific Highlands Ranch at the end of May.
Inside Westroot, the couple orders drinks as they look over the menu. After they've had a chance to enjoy their appetizers, they're split for mid-date debriefings.
PacificSD: How's it going so far?
MICHELLE: It's been good. He's fun, he's easygoing, he's taking care of me. So, yeah, it's good.
JUSTIN: I'd give it like a seven out of ten. I just don't want to be egotistical and think that she's really into me, so that's just where I'm coming from.
What were your first impressions?
MICHELLE: He was a little nervous in the limo, so I was like, "Why is he nervous? It's gonna be fun." Then he got chill once he started drinking. He needed the liquid courage.
JUSTIN: I think she's really cute; she's really pretty, really gorgeous. I'm lucky to be able to have drinks and dinner with her and spend an evening with her.
Is this the type of person you'd normally date?
MICHELLE: No. One, he's younger than me. He is a party boy, like, a little to cray for me. He's really fun, but he's not the guy I would date.
JUSTIN: Honestly, I really don't have any type. As long as the person's fun and outgoing and can, like, handle a couple drinks and can make a conversation, then I'm down to go out with them.
How was the balloon ride?
MICHELLE: It was really fun. I loved it. It was really hot up there, but it was really fun.
JUSTIN: The hot air balloon was fantastic. Thank you, Hendrick's, for making that happen. Amazing landing, by the way. Being able to cruise over San Diego above the clouds ... you can't do that every day.
What's the most attractive thing your date has done so far?
MICHELLE: I like that he likes to hold my things - like, hold my jacket, hold the door open for me. I like that. Like a gentleman; I like gentlemen.
JUSTIN: Be really independent.
What's the least attractive thing your date has done so far?
MICHELLE: He talks a lot about his ex girlfriend, which I don't care about, but it's like, "Okay, we get it."
JUSTIN: She really hasn't done that many unattractive things. Maybe get off your Snapchat a lot.
What would your parents say if you brought your date home?
MICHELLE: They'd like him, because he's fun, easygoing and crazy. He looks like a good boy, he's just not, but he looks like one.
JUSTIN: I know my mother would be happy, because she's Spanish. And my dad would be like, "Well, she's hot as hell, so, good for you."
Rate your date on a scale from one to 10 for looks.
MICHELLE: Nine; he's pretty cute.
How about for personality?
MICHELLE: Nine as well.
Do you want to kiss your date now?
JUSTIN: Yeah, I would definitely be down to kiss her.
Does your date want to kiss you?
MICHELLE: I don't think so. I don't think I'm his type, and that's okay, because he's not my type.
JUSTIN: Not sure.
SKY'S THE LIMIT BALLOONING ADVENTURES
Head in the Clouds
Well, that didn't happen, but maybe a smooch after dinner...
Head in the Clouds
As the daters' entrees arrive, the magazine crew finally leaves the couple alone to enjoy the rest of the evening away from the camera. The next morning, we call to see what we missed.
Describe the limo experience.
MICHELLE: It was fun. That's where we got to talk and get to know each other the most.
JUSTIN: The limo was awesome.
How was Westroot Tavern?
MICHELLE: It was really nice. I loved the décor. The service was amazing; they took really good care of us. And the food was amazing.
JUSTIN: Really cool bar; service was great. I liked the fire pits outside. I also love how open it is.
What did you eat and drink there?
MICHELLE: I drank their Eastwood drink; it's basically like a cucumber refresher drink that was yummy. I ordered the shishitos, ceviche and wings for appetizers, and I had the short rib. Everything was great.
JUSTIN: I had an Old Fashioned to drink and their signature Whiskey Sour. I had fish and chips, which were amazing, and for an app I had wings, which were fantastic and not too messy.
Where did you go and what did you do for the rest of the evening after Westroot?
MICHELLE: We went to a couple more bars in downtown San Diego. His best friend joined us in the limo, so we partied with him.
JUSTIN: We went to Florent in downtown post-dinner for some more cocktails and partying.
When did you get home?
MICHELLE: That same night.
JUSTIN: Around 2 in the morning.
Was there a kiss or romantic exchange?
JUSTIN: I don't kiss and tell.
How and when did the date end?
MICHELLE: It ended at the end of the night, after the bars.
JUSTIN: Date ended after we went to Florent in the Gaslamp.
Fill in the blanks. I wish my date had a bigger "blank" and a smaller "blank."
MICHELLE: I wish he had a bigger filter and a smaller mouth
JUSTIN: Not sure how to answer that one without being mean.
What was the best part of the date?
MICHELLE: The hot air balloon was really cool, really calm and beautiful views. I loved it.
JUSTIN: Dinner was fantastic. Being able to try new foods with someone was fun.
What was the worst part?
MICHELLE: At the end of the night, he got really drunk and got really loud. I wanted to separate myself from him, so I did. His friend and I left to OMNIA.
JUSTIN: Me and her didn't click really well, but we had fun enjoying San Diego's nightlife.
Will there be a second date?
MICHELLE: No, I just don't think he's my type. Plus, he's younger than I am. I need someone a little more mature.
JUSTIN: No, I just really didn't feel anything there.
What's one thing your date really should know before going on another date?
MICHELLE: To not take over the date by being the loudest one in the room.
JUSTIN: Nothing, she doesn't need to change anything or need any tips.
What did you learn about yourself last night?
MICHELLE: That I have more patience than I thought.
JUSTIN: Tequila, vodka and whiskey cause a horrible hangover.
AFTERMATCH: While Justin scored nines at the mid-date break ("He's pretty cute," Michelle said), too many drinks made his appeal plummet, leading to his fall from grace. Michelle, too, was more attractive to Justin when the couple was walking on air. Things appeared to be going well when he gave her a 10 for personality and said, "Yeah, I would definitely be down to kiss her," but her constant Snapchatting (and not paying attention to him) seemed to weigh heavily on him. Going on a date with someone who isn't a good match, it turns out, is kinda like hanging out with hot air balloon operators - no matter what high points you may reach together, in the end, they're going to bring you down.
6025 Village Way, Carmel Valley