Well, once again it’s the middle of June. And that means that once again, the Fourth of July is right around the corner. As you can probably guess from some of my earlier posts on the subject, this is easily my favorite holiday of the year. Sure, some of the other ones are nice, but last time I checked, I tend to get in trouble if I try to set things on fire on Christmas or Valentine’s Day (Long story, don’t ask.) It’s also the one holiday that I have an occasional tendency to go overboard on, as has been evidenced by some of the gigantic piles of fireworks at previous family get-togethers. Then again, it doesn’t take too much searching on the Internet to find people who are putting far more into their fireworks shows than even I’d do. For example, here’s a show from a couple of years ago down in Bonney Lake that makes even our Culdesac of Carnage look like a safe-and-sane value pack:
Of course, by the time you’re motivated enough to put a show like that together, you’re pretty much going to have to start buying your stuff wholesale. In comments on another YouTube video showing the setup for all that, the person responsible for that show puts the cost around $5,000, although half of it is coming from donations from the neighbors. All the stuff used there is 1.4g consumer fireworks, but by the time you’re spending that much you’re getting pretty close to 1.3g (professional fireworks) territory. On one hand, I’m pretty sure I could get much better bang for the buck (literally) by contributing to something like that. On the other hand, I’d much rather be the one lighting stuff than just watching someone else do it. There’s just some sort of primal satisfaction to watching some amazing display of color up in the sky and knowing that you were the one that lit it off. Combined with the fact that the Fourth of July is one of the few opportunities we get to really go a little wild with things (complete with an easily captivated audience of young and impressionable minds to corrupt,) and it’s no surprise that the Vanderhoeven 4th of July keeps getting bigger every year.
Of course, over time, it also starts to become clear that there’s more to the Fourth of July than just random reckless pyromania. As far as I can tell, we’ve been doing the annual Fourth of July get-together at my Aunt Pam and Uncle Mike’s house every year since 2008 now, and every year the pile of fireworks has gotten larger and larger. It’s started getting to the point in recent years where we had so much stuff that we were mostly lighting it all off to get rid of it. It’s one thing to be doing that when it’s mostly little stuff you’re lighting off, but when you start finding yourself doing the same thing with Excalibur shells, that’s when it’s time to start rethinking your approach to the whole fireworks thing.
For a number of years now, I’ve wanted to try out some of the bigger cakes on offer at the various stands, but have not bothered to do so previously, owing mostly to the ridiculous price tags attached to most of them. It’s one thing to drop $60 on a 24-shot box of Excaliburs or some other big canister shell, because you at least get 24 satisfying large shots that you can spread out throughout the show. If you’re putting that same $60 price tag on a single 500-gram cake (which is pretty typical for a lot of the 500-gram cakes at Boom City) which you light once and have it last all of a minute (although they do look pretty impressive in the process) you’re investing a pretty big chunk of your fireworks budget on one single item. Granted, a lot of the big 500-gram cakes tend to be referred to as “finale cakes” because they’re intended primarily to act as a grand finale to a backyard fireworks show, but an even bigger problem with these cakes is that you’re basically shopping blind in a lot of cases.
This is a pretty typical scene of what you see when you arrive at the fireworks stand. Lots of colorful graphics, and basically zero information on what any of it actually does. Sure you can get recommendations from the stand owner, but I suspect that even they have trouble keeping track of that many different items all at once. And while you could probably just buy from their recommendations and get a pretty decent show out of the deal, It still seems like there’s a better way. And that’s where the power of the Internet comes in.
One of my longstanding theories about researching things is that if you do a bit of searching, you can find a bulletin board on the web about just about any subject you could think of, filled with people far more knowledgeable than yourself that can be used as a valuable source of information (although this does come with the caveat that you need to be able to filter at times for excessive fanaticism.) It didn’t take long to find out where all the pyros hang out (that’s pyrotechnicians not (necessarily) pyromaniacs,) and from there it took just a little bit of browsing to not only find some really good recommendations for both 200-gram and 500-gram cakes, but also to find some much better sources to buy fireworks from than the reservation stands, with much larger (and higher quality) selections than you’re going to find on the usual stands. And most importantly, prices on things that put the reservation stands to shame. Granted, it’s still more expensive than buying wholesale, but there’s no point in stand owners even bothering with the whole thing if they can’t make a profit out of it, right?
Even with better sources to buy fireworks from, there’s still the problem of figuring out what things do. Which is also solved quite nicely, thanks to the power of YouTube. A quick search can bring up a video of just about any firework you can think of being set off, all the way from the 3-for-a-dollar mini fountains to the big 500-gram cakes and giant nine-on-a-board shells that will run you big bucks even in the best of circumstances. Over the past couple of weeks, I’ve spent hours going through YouTube videos of fireworks, watching videos to audition fireworks (often several times to make sure I know what I’m getting) and cross-referencing them to a list of inventory and prices, and ultimately making a list for a pre-order to pick up the Saturday before the 4th. Even though I am throwing a box of Excaliburs into the mix (and paying $15 less than I did last year for a box,) I’m going for a quality over quantity approach this year. Sure there won’t be as many fuses to light this year as there have been in the past (although I suspect there will be no shortage there either), it will give me the chance to just sit back and watch for a bit while the others light their stuff, then break out the big stuff later on. And believe me, there’s going to be some big stuff in there. Even if you are doing something as ridiculous as basically burning money for fun
and profit, you’ll have a lot more fun doing it if you just do a bit of homework first.
Just in case anyone was wondering, the Vanderhoeven Fourth of July might be a little ridiculous this year. Just saying…
(Quick plug: If you want some of the big stuff at shockingly non-ridiculous prices, give Stinky’s Fireworks in Stanwood a try. It’s where I’m getting most of my stuff from this year, and quite possibly for years to come.)