Meet Frank Dibb, ex-cop, part-time balloon man, full-time nice guy.
Thursday, July 18, 2002
Photo by Randy Tunnell.
Photo: The Balloon Baron-Frank Dibb and his zany balloon creations appear most nights at Chevy''s in Salinas.
When Frank Dibb twists, kids watch, wide-eyed. Even adults flash an intrigued eye in his direction. You can''t help it, really. We''re all kids at heart, right? And when he passes the table, sizing up what''s left on your plate, you have to admit you''re hoping he''ll stop for a visit. Everyone wants him to stop. And he will-when it''s time. When he does, it''ll be quite the treat.
Come to think of it, it''s kind of like having ice cream on an actual cone, this knack he has. I mean, a cone is way better than one of those boring adult-style cups. Balloons work in kind of the same way. Sure, any balloon is good. But we''re not talking any balloons. We''re talking artsy creations that have been contorted from mere puffs of air into wondrous displays of imagination. Ah, yes, that''s what Frank Dibb can do.
Dibb has been the master of balloon creations since the early ''70s when, as an ordained minister, he got into ballooning to summon up smiles from kids at Sunday school. Today, you''ll find him at Chevy''s Mexican Restaurant in Salinas, still evoking ear-to-ear grins from the wee ones.
While Dibb says he enjoys making dogs and hummingbirds most, the kids have their own preferences. "Nope. They like butterflies, flowers and dinosaurs," Dibb says. But there''s plenty from which to choose. He has 30 to 40 creations up his sleeve-okay, in his apron-from hats to hippos and pretty much everything in between.
Dibb, who spent most of his career as a sergeant with the San Diego Police Department, is charmingly considerate with his craft. "I try not to interfere with people until the children are through with their dinner because it takes away from all-too-important family time," he says.
Customers like Amelia Delong and her 7-year-old son Luke, who travel through Salinas frequently, return to Chevy''s time after time because of Dibb. "We stopped here once on our way to San Jose, and Luke talked about ''the balloon man'' for days," says Delong. Chevy''s is now their ritual stop on the occasional Friday night when they make the trek. This time around, Luke is showing off a lizard. Mom has a swan.
While Dibb gets the occasional tip from a customer, he''s not paid by Chevy''s for what he does. "I don''t ask for anything from people," he says. "They''re gifts. I just like to make the kids smile."
He''s been making them smile for years around these parts. If Dibb looks familiar, perhaps it''s from the eight years he spent concocting the latex creations at a local Olive Garden, or maybe the five summers he spent at El Torito in Monterey doing the same.
Despite the many requests for Dibb to do private parties, he always passes and refers people to other locals in the biz. "I don''t do it for that kind of thing," he adds modestly. "I do it because I find a real sense of satisfaction in being around families. And it gets me out of my wife''s hair for a little while," he chuckles.
That''s not to say Dibb is blase about his pastime. He''s certainly not. If you''re under 8, you won''t be walking out of Chevy''s with a balloon hat. Why not?
"They''re more likely to pull them down over their eyes. If it pops, it could take out an eye," he warns. Dibb adds that a leading cause of accidental death in children under four is choking on balloons. So toddlers get balloons that Dibb entrusts to their parents instead.
And the tykes may as well forget guns, swords or other weaponry. "I don''t want to do that. Kids are starving for good, wholesome attention and fun," Dibb says. "And if I can show a little bit of love and happiness to the kids, then that''s what it''s all about."
Dibb also dabbles in tableside magic, thrilling his junior audience with disappearing hankies and rope tricks.
If there''s one thing Dibb says his life as a police officer taught him, it''s the importance of making a difference in people''s lives. "I felt like I couldn''t change people''s lives that way," he says. "But now, most families are glad I''m there. And you can affect a child''s life in a very positive way when you give them these positive experiences."
Dibb jests about occupational hazards. "Well, you know, they do pop once in a while," he avers. Popped balloons make for very unhappy kids. Dibb''s solution, however, is pretty straightforward: "I go back and make them another. Then the tears stop." Fair enough.
But it doesn''t end with the kids. Dibb flaunts his flair with adults, too. "They ask for balloons all the time," he says. "Occasionally, we have to cater to that little person inside of every one of us."