As of the time when I am writing this post, the Fourth of July is now just a month away. And for anyone who knows me, I do a lot more thinking about the Fourth of July than just about anyone I know. Granted, that isn’t setting the bar particularly high. Most people, I suspect, are content to just find a public fireworks display somewhere and call it good, or if they’re feeling ambitious enough they might make a trip out to Boom City or Muckleshoot and try to buy a few things to light off on the Fourth without losing their proverbial shirts. The fact that most of the major cities around here (including basically all of the Eastside and Seattle) just ban fireworks altogether, which means that the most powerful things you’re going to see on the shelves are party poppers. I, on the other hand, have already spent a number of evenings over the past few weeks watching fireworks videos (focusing mostly on the new items in the catalogs this year even though it doesn’t look like anyone’s actually going to have most of them, making spreadsheets, and generally overthinking the heck out of the whole thing.
Naturally, this type of thing isn’t all that typical for most people . Somehow, I doubt there are too many normal well-adjusted people out there who just wake up one morning and start thinking “You know, it seems like a good day to go set something on fire.” Then again, there seems to be a certain primal fascination with fire and its many forms somewhere within the human brain that inspires people to spend suspiciously large quantities of money on fireworks. It might also inspire people to occasionally want to set fire to buildings that don’t belong to them, but that’s a matter between those people and their psychiatrists. In retrospect, the fact that my father (and my uncle who lived nearby at the time) would frequently use the Fourth of July as an occasion to mess around with fireworks when I was growing up is probably where a lot of it came from. In theory, the permissible fireworks in the town I grew up in were supposed to be limited to the “Safe and sane” variety, but the close proximity to various Indian reservations provided plenty of opportunity for people to get their hands on the good stuff, which meant mostly bottle rockets and firecrackers (the big multi-shot cakes and reloadable mortars that fill most of the shelves of the fireworks stands these days were rare back in those days.) We did try to light those off somewhat discreetly since we technically weren’t supposed to have those (although I suspect the police had bigger miscreants to worry about anyway) but fireworks aren’t exactly an easy thing to hide when you’re setting the things off. Admittedly, I may not have had the best role models back in those days when it came to fireworks safety, and it is entirely possible that I may have made occasional use of various fireworks in manners inconsistent with their labeling back in those days. Granted, I never did anything too ridiculous back then, but then again, I suspect it was a bit of a miracle that me and my brothers came out of that period with all of our fingers.
Eventually the family moved up here to the Seattle area, and to a city where fireworks were banned outright. For a couple of years we were lucky enough to have a view of a professional fireworks display off the back deck of our parents’ house, but eventually they moved that display elsewhere. Occasionally we might find a few small items and light them off in the driveway while keeping an eye out for the police just in case, but for the most part I spent a few years just not paying much attention to the Fourth of July. Then back in 2008, my aunt and uncle and their family moved from Federal Way to Bonney Lake and started having our family Fourth of July celebrations down there. The first year or two of this was intended to be a fairly low-key affair, but as darkness fell on the first Fourth of July we spent down there, we quickly realized that people take their fireworks pretty seriously down there. Once darkness fell, there were three solid hours of people lighting off the big stuff all around us, dwarfing the couple of small variety packs we had. I’d have to say that it was something of a revelation, and the next year’s Fourth of July saw our fireworks stash increase considerably as people started making trips out to Boom City and the stands at the Muckleshoot reservation to pick up stuff for the party. At the same time, the neighbors across the street started getting pretty serious about the whole thing, and started bringing out some of the big stuff. Naturally, we’re trying to keep up with the Joneses (well, I was anyway, not sure about the others) and the stuff starts getting bigger. Over the next few years, it goes something like this:
2008: “Ooh, I can shoot off fireworks!”
2009: “Ooh, I can shoot off lots of fireworks!”
2010: “Ooh, I can shoot off big fireworks!”
2011: “Ooh, I can shoot off lots of big fireworks!”
2012: “On second thought Maybe that was too many fireworks…” (this was right about the point that quantity started to outpace quality, and we found ourselves with so many little items to light off that by the time we were done we were lighting Excalibur shells 8 at a time just to burn them off.)
2013: “Maybe I should do some research before randomly buying a bunch of stuff…”
Which is where I found myself last year. That was the point where instead of just heading up to Boom City and getting whatever looked good on the shelves of the fireworks stand, I started doing some research beforehand. This quickly turned into spreadsheets full of info on which cakes looked best, which ones went with each other, and what I could actually afford. It was also around this time that I started finding the pyro community on the Internet, and started learning where I could get stuff without paying the oftentimes ridiculous prices you’ll find at the reservation stands (which become even more ridiculous when you start learning what that stuff costs wholesale.) In the end, I managed to get quite a bit more stuff than I usually do (and even managed to throw in a few of the big 500g cakes for the first time) and just about managed to light off around half the stuff the neighbors had.
This year, having learned some lessons from last year, I’m looking to start learning a few new things. First of all, I’d like to learn to fuse stuff together better (I tried to do a finale board last year consisting of 4 200-gram cakes, a 300-shot Saturn missile and a big 500-gram, but the fusing was pretty terrible) and try to get the timing down better on that one. Second, I’m trying to actually coordinate things better, and continue with last year’s focus on making a show out of it rather than just lighting off a bunch of random stuff. Beyond that, there’s still plenty of places I could go with this. I could start getting into electronic firing, and from there (assuming I wanted to invest in the equipment to do it) I could get into doing scripted shows. I could get an ATF type 54 license in order to be licensed to work with 1.3g display fireworks, although there are a lot of added regulations to deal with at that point (which is perfectly understandable, given the dangers involved when you start dealing with stuff that basically amounts to large semi-controlled explosions.) I don’t know if I’ll ever go in any of those directions, but the options are definitely there.
Assuming I don’t lose any fingers in the process, of course.