Independence Day Warzone

Just as we did last year, Jenn and I went out to Clatskanie, OR, with Greg to light off the city’s fireworks show.

This year, though, we came prepared.

See, last year we were a little surprised by the fact the show was at the sewage treatment plant, which brings along with it some interesting and unhygienic biohazard-style goodness like shit-mist floating off the open vat of sewage nearby and tampon applicators in the dirt you have to bury the mortar tubes in. (For more on that, see last year’s discussion of the show.)

Like I said, this year we came prepared. Our checklist:

  • Two (2) shovels - One scoop, one spade
  • Two (2) pairs leather gloves (one for each of us)
  • Two (2) folding camp chairs
  • One (1) folding camp table
  • One (1) cooler filled with:
    • Six (6) bottles water
    • Three (3) bottles Gatorade (fruit punch flavor)
    • Two (2) cans Omega energy drink
    • Ice
  • Two (2) moist wash cloths in plastic bags
  • One (1) army surplus canvas jacket (for Travis to wear during show; Jenn to borrow fire uniform)
  • One (1) pair knee pads (for Travis to wear during show; Jenn doesn’t own any)
  • One (1) digital camera
  • Two (2) books (for reading during off-times)
  • Two (2) cell phones with car chargers for each
  • One (1) bocce set
  • One (1) croquet set
  • One (1) bottle Excedrin Migraine
  • One (1) box pseudoephedrine
  • One (1) bottle SPF 45 sport sunscreen
  • Two (2) pairs sunglasses (one each for Travis and Jenn, respectively)
  • One (1) beach umbrella
  • Two (2) hats (one each for Travis and Jenn, respectively)
  • One (1) pocketknife
  • One (1) metal rake
  • One (1) container Wet Wipes moist towelettes
  • Assorted boxes dry food (crackers, granola bars, etc.)

This probably seems like a lot of stuff to most of you, but there’s rationale for all of it:

There’s never enough tools. Having extra shovels and a rake to help fill in the mortar trench is handy.

Once you’re done filling in the trench, pending on when the show’s going to start, how soon the setup started, etc., there’s usually a lot of time to burn. Sometimes several hours. It’s good to have stuff to do (read, play games, etc.).

You’re going to be thirsty - be sure to bring enough to drink.

You’re going to be hot and headachy - bring aspirin. And if you’ve got allergies, decongestant, too.

You’re going to be dirty - bring something to clean up with.

You’re going to want to sit down somewhere far away from the shit vat. There’s no shade except right next to it, so you’re going to have to have something to make your own shade (the beach umbrella). Prop your camp chairs and table down under that and it’s like a little paradise in the middle of hell.

You’re going to be lighting things on fire, so have a fireproof jacket (there are usually some you can borrow, but there are generally not enough, so if you’ve got something all cotton, grab it). Knee pads are handy if you’re lighting a lot because you’re crawling on your knees. I’m glad I had them this year - there are huge scorch marks on them from where I’d have knelt on burning embers.

Anyway, you get the idea. Come over-prepared. If you don’t use everything you bring, no biggie. But if you need something you don’t have… well, you’re outta luck. For example, we failed to bring insect repellant (thank goodness another member of the crew thought of that) and there were mosquitoes everywhere.

The show was bigger than last year - this time we had a lot more five inch shells than we did last year, and this year there were just generally more shells to shoot. The other difference this year is that I was listed as the assistant on the show, so I had a little more responsibility. Last year I only lit the first few shells; this year, I was either watching the back of the person lighting or actually doing the lighting for almost the entire show. Knowing what to expect, I was much less freaked out than I was last year, and by the time we were halfway into the show I had gotten totally used to the noise and the smoke and was feeling like an old pro.

Setup took a couple of hours, the show lasted around 25 minutes, and teardown took about an hour. It’s a lot of work for a half hour of excitement, but the show was spectacular and the crowd loved it, so it was all worth it.

That said, I do hope Greg gets us on a different show next year because the hour-and-a-half to Clatskanie to dig in sewer-dirt is a little much. Maybe something with some more shade, or an electrically-fired show? I guess we’ll see.

One cool thing does come out of this, though - This is the third show in three years Jenn and I have done, and since we took the pyrotechnician exam last year and we’ve done the requisite number of shows (and requisite tasks) within the right time frame, we can get our state pyro licenses. I don’t think I’d be comfortable running my own show, but you have to admit - there’s a certain “cool factor” to having a license to use explosives.