Tuesday, July 08, 2003

Putting the fire back into fireworks

I’m not sure if it’s the smell of ignited gunpowder, the latent pyro inherent in everyone, or the thrill of real danger to one’s digits, but I love lighting fireworks. This past 4th of July was the first one in the last 14 or so that I’ve been able to be an active participant in the processes of formally fêting our fair nation’s birth and narrow escape from the foul tyranny and drab clothes of Britain.

The opportunity presented itself during a planned escape from the foul tyrannous firework prohibition of California. In truth, on the onset of the journey I wasn’t aware that Oregon did not share the same prudent, cautious and boring legislation that destroys many a young Californian’s dreams of blowing stuff up. So, upon my arrival in Portland, I was delighted to learn that the city compensated for its lackluster weather with open views towards putting explosive materials in the hands of ill-supervised children.

I was informed of this fact by our Portlandian friends who ventured out to the airport to pick us from our two-hour journey from sunny San Diego. Apparently, there is some validity to being able to take the weather with you, because I doubt Portland would have been so hot and sunny if we had arrived from Seattle or some other sun-challenged locale. Regardless of how it happened, the weather in Portland was impressive, which was a stark change from the oppressive weather that I was expecting

Our Portlandian friends are actually recent transplants from the Bay Area, who I now think moved up north for the fireworks. That’s the reason that seems to make the most sense anyways – that and perhaps Portland’s more reasonable attitudes towards what a two- bedroom, one-bath house should cost. Anyway, these friends informed us that they had stopped at Costco, the mass purveyors of mass quantities of all things American, and purchased the standard firework sampler. I was informed that the jumbo sampler was the size of a large door and wouldn’t have fit in their car. Luckily, most of Costco’s members drive super-sized SUVs, so sales of the jumbo version were still brisk.

Spending my adolescent, fire-curious years in New Mexico, I was used to going to firework shacks, lean-tos and back of pickups for my firework buying needs. However, I did find Costco had a decent selection of the safe, crowd pleaser types. What were missing, though, were the dangerous, self-pleasing ones. This latter category, of course, covers your lady finger, bottle rocket and M-80 varieties.

While these were sorely missed, we managed to still have fun with the fire-marshal approved incendiaries. Plus, I discovered, that if miss-handled, you can still add an element of danger. For example, when burning ash blew into my eyes while looking up at the spark emitting ‘candles’ that I was waving above my head. This was almost as thrilling as discovering how quick the fuses were on some illicit firecrackers that were shared with us by some patriotic, drunk passerbys. While drunk, I have to give them credit for not trying to light the firecrackers themselves – and passing them onto a slightly more sober, definitely less discerning, pyro.

The drunken revelers also informed us that you can get the “good fireworks” in Washington State, or on the Indian reservations. So that’s the mission for next year. I think it’s sad that I have to leave the state to find proper rockets that red glare, but if that’s what it takes to celebrate the good ol’ USA with Chinese-manufactured explosives, then that’s what I’ll do.

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