Light blooming ground flower, then back away
July 4, 2014 12:05 AM   Subscribe

Every year, one of the founders of Panic, makers of fantastic Mac software, ventures forth to the dueling fireworks tents in Vancouver, WA to capture the very best/worst of fireworks packaging. The 2014 offering is now available.

Visit highlights from previous years:
posted by fifteen schnitzengruben is my limit (38 comments total) 24 users marked this as a favorite
Did they get poopy puppy?
posted by BrotherCaine at 12:15 AM on July 4, 2014 [2 favorites]

Fireworks culture in America amuses me greatly. My wife and I did a 3 month road trip around the US a few years ago and always enjoyed crossing state lines and seeing what would be the big cross-border draw, as you entered a new state there would be a sudden explosion of speciality stores for a mile or two.

Occasionally it was something heart-warming like Georgia peaches. Sometimes it was a quirk of local tax or commerce laws like gas stations or liquor stores. But mostly it was strip clubs, casinos and fireworks. And fireworks had the biggest signs and the most dubious looking parking lots.

The "gauntlet" video in the article is brilliant. Really reminded me of the miles and miles of billboards counting down the distance to the firework-loving-freedom of the state line :)
posted by samworm at 12:51 AM on July 4, 2014 [1 favorite]

There used to be a classification of fireworks. It went to class "C" - "safe and sane", even though you could, with some ingenuity and a pair of pliers, change that. Somehow sparklers were included in the "safe and sane" category even though you can probably weld steel with them. You could buy class "D" from the local reservation which were actually labeled as "unsafe and insane". They used to sell partial sticks of dynamite. It's a wonder I have my fingers.

Firecrackers and bottle rockets are the best value and the most easily converted to weapons. Firecrackers have notoriously unreliable fuses. Bottle rockets are on their way though. A two person team using a copper tube, bazooka style, operating from a superior position can drive the Hodgson's off their porch from forty yards away.

It was the 70's. I was 12. The Hodgson's are fine. It was a fucking blast. I offer no apology.
posted by vapidave at 1:29 AM on July 4, 2014 [13 favorites]

I was hoping that Scream Baby Scream was the fireworks manufacturer making a sly reference to a Suicide song (or more likely the lovely Springsteen cover, officially released this year after being used in the live show for almost a decade), but it appears they may have actually been referencing a 1969 Larry Cohen movie, which is even cooler.
posted by Ian A.T. at 1:59 AM on July 4, 2014

I want to know what required those signs!

posted by empath at 2:09 AM on July 4, 2014

Once you get the wrong image in your head as you read the phrase "Shoots Flaming Balls", that image will never go away....
posted by HuronBob at 2:13 AM on July 4, 2014 [2 favorites]

And these will all be set off by the next door neighborhood kid.

In fact, a firework JUST went off now as I was typing. Heck, it's 2:45AM on the 4th, let's get this partayyyy started USA!!! USA!!! USA!!!
posted by medeine at 2:48 AM on July 4, 2014

As an aside, Panic is, slightly surprisingly, moving into game publishing with Camposanto's first game, Firewatch. Which seems sort of tangentially relevant, since it's about a forest ranger looking out for fires...
posted by running order squabble fest at 4:20 AM on July 4, 2014

> Something in my heart leaps up when I see the "No Smoking" signs plastered on fireworks stands.

All it takes is a weekend in the country where the family next to you is trying to figure out how to shoot bottle rockets. First, the fortysomething-year-old patriarch tries launching one by holding it in his fingers. It HURTS. Undeterred, he tries again by holding it by the very tippy-tippy end of the bamboo stem. It not only HURTS just as much, he can't aim the thing so it flies right at the kids.

He gets the idea that maybe the stems should be... held in something other than the fingers. So he jams a couple into the dirt. One rocket doesn't go anywhere, it just bangs on the launchpad. Unsatisfying. He pulls the other one out a little and tries again. It falls over before launching, and zooms like a jet-powered car towards the wife. She's not happy.

He gives up and lets the kids try to figure out out. Hilarity, by which I mean minor misfortunes and a lot of screaming and crying, ensues.

Now imagine this guy is a pack-a-day smoker. Picture him, earlier that day, pulling into the parking lot outside a fireworks tent.
posted by ardgedee at 4:24 AM on July 4, 2014 [11 favorites]

All it takes is a weekend in the country where the family next to you is trying to figure out how to shoot bottle rockets.

Surely, surely, the clue is in the name?

(I guess there's a kind of natural selection in action, just as many of the fireworks packets, underneath WARNING: SHOOTS FLAMING BALLS, have an instruction to read - carefully - the other warning on the other panel. I assume this is primarily to maximize the real estate availalble for pictures of sexy ladies or racially offensive depictions of Mexicans on the front, but also probably acts as a simple gate to breed inattention and impatience out of the fireworks-loving population...)
posted by running order squabble fest at 4:29 AM on July 4, 2014

Fireworks packaging antidote 1, 2 and 3
posted by madamjujujive at 5:01 AM on July 4, 2014 [5 favorites]

This post deserves a couple fireworks-graphics previouslies:
Chinese fireworks labels
Firecracker packs

Also pls add tags for Cabel Sasser and Panic Software, because they get a lot of links here.
posted by ardgedee at 5:01 AM on July 4, 2014 [1 favorite]

I stopped doing fireworks at the age of 25.

My father-in-law had, for some reason unknown to us, decided to purchase about $200 worth of illegal fireworks while he was vacationing down south, bringing the stash back to Michigan buried in the trunk of his car under all the suitcases and crates of Florida oranges and Georgia peaches.. (just in case he got stopped and searched at the border by the Michigan State Fireworks Prohibition Police, which never happens, but he was a cautious guy).

The usual 4th of July get-together at the family cottage, hot dogs and beer, water skiing and swimming all day, the ritual lighting of the campfire and the hauling out of marshmallows, graham crackers and chunks of Hersey's chocolate bars, sharpening of sticks for roasting the marshmallows resulting in the construction of flaming s'mores to be extinguished and smeared all over the faces of everyone from 3 years old to 89.

Eventually the sparklers were brought out, lit for the little kids (with warnings not to touch the hot part and DON'T THROW THAT AT YOUR SISTER!). The sparklers are waved around, little kids are amazed that the sparkles don't really hurt when they hit their hands, and the wires are thrown into the lake just before they go out to produce a sinister sizzle as they hit the water. The wires, of course, are eventually found by bare feet, three weeks later, resulting in a trip to the local clinic for that tetanus shot.

After the sparklers, Don brought out his illegal stash and handed it to me. I have no idea why he decided I should have the honor, probably something about liability... I grabbed my lighter and set up the first round of the aerial display.. Roman candles, bottle rockets, sparkling things, smoke bombs..eventually coming to the last piece... a 10 inch long rocket, claiming professional status with extreme warnings...

I set it up, the wooden peg firmly (I thought) in the ground, pointed over the lake...and lite the fuse.

As the fuse burned, the rocket slowly started to tip, from a 50 degree angle that would take it high over the dock to explode over the lake... to a 8.5 degree angle that pointed it directly at Uncle Chuck's ski boat moored at the end of the dock.

I watched in horror as the rocket launched, clearing the beer cooler, clearing the stern of the boat, hitting the windshield on the inside of the boat and ricocheting, under power, back to the stern, going under the engine mount area, where the two 6 gallon gas tanks are stored......

The adults all grabbed a toddler, threw said toddler on the ground and covered them with their own bodies to save them from the inevitable gasoline fueled fire ball filled with burning chunks of new fiberglass runabout.

We waited for the rain of fire to begin, and waited, and waited...and...nothing....

One by one folks stood up, brushing off the dirt, graham cracker and chocolate covering the, now, crying little kids...

I slowly walked to the boat and found the rocket, nestled between the two gas tanks in about 5 inches of water accumulated in the rear of the boat...evidently Uncle Chuck hadn't turned the bilge pump on and the backwash over the stern during the day's skiing had accumulated enough to extinguish the rocket.....

Y'all have a great 4th! Keep your heads down, never believe that the rocket that didn't go off is a dud until it's sat there for a half hour, and don't let the kids throw the sparklers into the lake, tetanus shots are expensive!
posted by HuronBob at 5:01 AM on July 4, 2014 [33 favorites]

> [Bottle rockets:] Surely, surely, the clue is in the name?

Hm? Why? They don't look like bottles at all!
posted by ardgedee at 5:02 AM on July 4, 2014 [2 favorites]

[Bottle rockets:] Surely, surely, the clue is in the name?

This assumes the ability to read.
posted by HuronBob at 5:09 AM on July 4, 2014

This assumes the ability to read.

Not even! "Bottle rocket" is a term in oral culture! It literally requires only the cognitive ability to connect the term "bottle rocket" with the idea that the wooden stem of the rocket would fit into the mouth of a bottle, which would then leave the rocket pointing broadly upwards.

(And then the rudimentary physics to determine that the weight of the rocket might then cause the bottle to overbalance, and that it should therefore be sunk slightly into the ground if at all possible. So, OK, two steps - association and gravity.)
posted by running order squabble fest at 5:24 AM on July 4, 2014 [1 favorite]

One of my all-time favorite side-jobs came to me many, many years ago, when I got to do the package art for a local fireworks manufacturer. It literally was a "just make it bright, fun and in your face" kind of job. They provided the product names, and I made the art. Fun stuff.
posted by Thorzdad at 5:36 AM on July 4, 2014 [9 favorites]

Pics, Thorzdad?
posted by maryr at 6:00 AM on July 4, 2014 [2 favorites]

Until about 35 years ago, penny bottle rockets were sold by the gross in Texas, $1.44 for 144 bottle rockets. These were the simplest, least sophisticated, type: They would shoot up into the air (usually) and pop like a firecracker. Kids (usually), with their lack of practical experience and sound judgement, would of course come up with off-label uses for these inexpensive and therefore abundant fireworks to make them more interesting. I went to HS with a guy who lost a bottle rocket fight in the early 70s when he was about 10. It exploded just as it hit his eye. That eye didn't quite point at whatever he was looking at anymore, and there was a jagged piece of his iris (the colored part) missing. He said he could still see with it, but just shadowy blurs.

I knew another guy (it's almost always guys in stories like these) who as an adult went to examine a "dud" to find out what the problem was. The problem was that it was just a little slow (like my friend was on that day) because it shot a flaming ball right up his nose. He healed physically but his pride bears the scars to this very day.

Fireworks are a lot of fun until something goes wrong.
posted by Daddy-O at 6:34 AM on July 4, 2014

See I'd totally have a bottle rocket fight but I'd wear me some goggles. Safety first.
posted by save alive nothing that breatheth at 6:46 AM on July 4, 2014 [1 favorite]

Pics, Thorzdad?

I wish. It was probably the early or mid-90's. Sadly, I no longer have the product samples or the art files. I have only memories. I do recall an "angry hornet" themed fountain called "Screaming Mee Mee". It had a bunch of those screamers in it.
posted by Thorzdad at 6:49 AM on July 4, 2014

Inevitably, the bottle rocket launcher and bottle rocket revolver. Also good for Metro 2033 cosplay.
posted by running order squabble fest at 7:09 AM on July 4, 2014

My parents have birthdays that fall the week after the fourth. One birthday, we were celebrating at my grandparent's house. My grandfather, having gone from a stevedore during the Depression to vice-president of X bank, had a real nice house. My grandmother was a whiz at interior decorating, and just about everything in that living room/ dining room was a spotless pink and white.

So, my grandmother was not in on the decision that we kids made, which was to put colorful fireworks on the cake. Now, this sounds insane, but my reasoning, at least, was that these were firework carcasses from the week before. Like dinosaurs, dangerous when alive, amazing to look at when dead. It sounds really gross, but as kids, we were like 'now that's a cake!'

Well, we lit the candles and proudly marched that thing to the pristine dining room. As the adults were looking at with probably a healthy dose of WTF, those fireworks went off.

That's right. They weren't dead. Merely sleeping. Enough explosive existed in those husks that for about ten minutes, it was a war zone.

My grandmother loved her grandkids to pieces, so she didn't give us shit for basically bringing Vietnam to her white/pink palace.
posted by angrycat at 7:10 AM on July 4, 2014 [9 favorites]

When I was 12 or so, my buddy and I had some plain old firecrackers we wanted to shoot off. We knew that we'd get in trouble if we just shot them off in my backyard so we decided to do them in the empty garage. It was a brilliant plan, except for the part about hearing protection. Because we hadn't thought of that. It was the first and last one we shot off that day.

My hearing eventually came back. Mostly.
posted by tommasz at 7:10 AM on July 4, 2014 [3 favorites]

I have loved, LOVED these posts by Cabel every year. And it's funny, but there's been a huge push to crack down on Washington fireworks in Oregon the past few years. I have friends that have gotten $500 tickets for firing off big loud cannons up into the air that do amusement park style blasts. It's obviously pretty easy to find and spot people using them, so Fire Marshals cruise around Portland and we have lots of billboards in North Portland asking people not to buy fireworks on the other side of the river in Washington. Oregon fireworks are alright, they just don't shoot anything into the air. After a childhood spent doing various dodgy things with fireworks as a kid in Southern California, Oregon fireworks are definitely more mellow and a little less exciting so I've always wondered about Washington fireworks.

So yesterday, my car was in the shop in Portland, I had a nice new loaner car and I already spent half the day in various meetings, but the repair was going all day and around 3pm I had nothing to do. Then I thought of Cabel and all his previous posts and I tweeted at him asking for tips on what to get. He said that he did get his stuff confiscated (but not fined) a couple years ago in Portland while firing them off, but he also filled me in on all the best stuff to get. As soon as I heard they had roman candles, I set the GPS for the address and drove the 14 miles northwards into Vancouver to get some.

The place is even crazier than you can imagine. I knew about The Gauntlet, but seriously, driving down a confusing side alley while people on BOTH sides of the street are yelling at you and pointing signs is totally confusing. I knew I was going to Blackjack Fireworks, but still, following the signs and people shouting in this confusing borrowed car was a bit much, and in the end when I finally turned off to park (there is a "decoy" lot at the front that leads to a third tent-based fireworks competitor) I saw one last sign saying "You should have gone this way" and I was literally unsure if I even picked the right parking lot, but thankfully did. It was also a mess, with teens trying to direct parking with cars going everywhere and teens that barely drive trying to direct traffic.

So the building. You can hear the "festivities" a mile away. Screaming loud pop music is blaring from EVERYWHERE. There are half a dozen inflatable bounce houses and slides and signs for Hot Dogs and Sodas and it's just loud everywhere with giant signs telling you where the entrance is. They hand you a big basket as soon as you arrive then it's a small room filled with tons of confusing aisles of fireworks with the wacky names and artwork.

I will say this though, as crazy as the place was, the staff inside the building are all super nice, and they basically acknowledge this is all very confusing and just stood there saying what the best thing in every aisle was, what any firework did that you asked about, and would direct you quickly by name to the things you should buy. By the time I got into the building, I assumed it'd continue to be utter chaos and I'd just guess and grab mystery stuff, but there were small descriptions of what everything did and helpful staff.

Oddly, it was like a wonderful fireworks library inside staffed by the most interested and knowledgeable fireworks librarians.

I filled my basket with mostly showy sparkle show stuff and a crap-ton of roman candles they don't sell in Oregon. I hate spending money on fireworks, as I'm literally blowing up my money, but I set a budget in my head and hit it perfectly. I avoided all the huge cannon style fireworks. I also avoided the "adult poppers" which were those fun tiny little popper things you throw at the feet of people, but they are FULL FIRECRACKER power. Imagine being able to throw firecrackers at people. Someone at the registers threw one to demonstrate and it was loud as fuck. They only sell them at the register, knowing kids will mess themselves up with 'em.

The lines were insane to buy stuff but they went fairly quickly. Now I had a huge box of illegal fireworks I needed to get back to Oregon, 10 miles south. Cabel and a few others on Twitter were recounting "they'll search your car!" rumors they heard as kids and I'm an adult and have never seen any Washington state cops pull people over en masse but then again I'm rarely north of the Oregon border so my palms started to sweat with this huge bounty in the back. I got out of the parking lot and the gauntlet, then realized I was in a new car with no plates and even if those kid fantasies of people searching your car were real, chances are I'd be safe and untraceable. I drove uneventfully home. The childhood rumors were just that, playground bullshit.

I can't wait until it gets fully dark tonight, I'm going to enjoy the hell out of these illegal fireworks, and next year if I go back I'm not going the afternoon before July 4th because that place was a mad house. Also, if I ever get the giant cannon fireworks, I'll fire them off on a friend's 40 acres of mostly barren land so we don't start any fires or attract any fire marshals.
posted by mathowie at 7:38 AM on July 4, 2014 [23 favorites]

Oddly, it was like a wonderful fireworks library inside staffed by the most interested and knowledgeable fireworks librarians.

I love this description so much.
posted by 41swans at 7:54 AM on July 4, 2014 [2 favorites]

Oddly, it was like a wonderful fireworks library inside staffed by the most interested and knowledgeable fireworks librarians.

Now I want to make an OPAC for it.
posted by wotsac at 8:52 AM on July 4, 2014 [1 favorite]

Damn I am missing the pacific northwest today. Taking my son to the fireworks stand on the indian reservation down at the Port of Tacoma is one of our favorite memories.

Much love to the PacNW mefites today, you are all in my heart.
posted by Annika Cicada at 9:14 AM on July 4, 2014 [1 favorite]

I am so out of date on firecracker graphic design. Amazing! If I didn't know it would be a madhouse I'd head over to check out "shitty kitty" myself.

matt, let us know next year if you want more firecrackers, we cross the border all the time and have access to a car with WA plates
posted by Secretariat at 9:39 AM on July 4, 2014 [1 favorite]

One of those super steroidal Uncle Sams is Wolverine, which is a little funny because he's Canadian.
posted by knuckle tattoos at 10:13 AM on July 4, 2014

Sitting here on the deck just a couple miles from the Colville reservation, and just a few more miles from the Spokane reservation. 13 acres in the middle of nowhere FTW. They have kindly supplied our Fourth entertainment for as long as we've been coming back for the Fourth. The teenage boy contingent has mostly headed off to college, so they don't go solid from 8:30am to 11:30pm anymore. Today they started at 10:30am and will go intermittently as the big family gathering isn't until tomorrow, and it's just my husband and the girls, so it's "just" a shit ton of bottle rockets, the rockets with parachute men, firecrackers because they give them away like candy, a couple big packages of fountains, mortars, and yada, and a "grande finale piece." Every time a string of firecrackers go off, from wherever my mother-in-law is, you'll hear her call out something along the lines of, "HAPPY FOURTH!" etc. The cows in the field just wander over to the field where the fireworks aren't being shot, and chew their cud, and watch us with bored expression. Crazy two leggers.

Light blooming ground flowers are the devil's own -- have had them explode in folks' laps, and once under my car. Hate them more than anything else. To be honest, the novelty has sort of worn off for me, and while I enjoy the smell of gunpowder, etc, it sort of feels like we're just tempting fate at this point, although we're about as safe as you can be with unsafe and insane fireworks.
posted by susanbeeswax at 11:25 AM on July 4, 2014

My cousins used to live in Missouri, where all sorts of explosives were for sale just over the state line, and they always brought a load to the family celebration. Though mostly i remember trying to get bottle rockets to explode underwater, since they made a pretty excellent flash. They do not make very good engines for most paper airplanes, though.

I look forward to the Sasser report on Vancouver fireworks every year, it's also interesting how the reports reflect the changing state of hosting--from his own space to Flickr to the corporate blog to a Wordpress blog.

I have to ask, what does your $3.00 get you to "Slide the Tiger and Play in Pooh"?
posted by fifteen schnitzengruben is my limit at 2:10 PM on July 4, 2014

Much respect to the clerk there for remaining professional and helpful.
posted by running order squabble fest at 4:25 PM on July 4, 2014

All this talk of bottlerockets is reminding me of Pain.

The band. Not the sensation sometimes associated with bottlerocket usage.
    Four Bics get flicked and the punks get lit.
    We never asked if we should
    It's a game, it's a chore, it's a bottlerocket war
    And life never got so good.
posted by offalark at 9:53 PM on July 4, 2014

Well, this post and mathowie's comment have cleared up something I've always wondered about Vancouver, WA from my thankfully brief stay there: Namely what the fuck and why the fuck there were so many fireworks. Not even on the 4th of July, either, but New Year's Eve.

I've been a lot of places with fireworks, including Mexico, but that crazy, sleepy town was something else.

Most of the year it's just this broke, quiet, kind of suburban kind of white trash place perhaps best symbolized as a fat redneck asleep in a ratty recliner in front of a TV in a doublewide with a rapidly warming can of beer in one hand and a smouldering cig on the other while the kids sneak around the trailer park or nearest brownfield jumping department store bikes off piles of and rubble while smoking bowls of homegrown or ditchweed.

Quiet. Sleepy, really. Wet and gray and not much going on except for Fred Meyer or Winco.

But not on NYE - nor, apparently, the 4th.

On NYE it's like half the city blows most of their yearly budget on fireworks and lights up the whole goddamn sky like they're Baghdad in the first Gulf War and every bat, cloud, raindrop or crow is a F 117 or B2 bomber and it's on. I've seen less air burst shells and less bursts per minute for much shorter durations at professional big city displays. People loft some really big shells/mortars. Way too big. It goes on for hours and hours in an orgy of gunpowder, metal salts and cardboard.

It's utter madness, and I never pieced together why it was such a huge thing, there.

Border town plus legal sales plus illegal interstate customers times bored as fuck locals high on their own supply equals holy shit are we at war what the fuck the sky is on fire!?
posted by loquacious at 4:10 AM on July 5, 2014 [1 favorite]

Somewhat relevant, although probably yet more viral marketing for GoPro - a Phantom drone carries a video camera through a fireworks display.
posted by running order squabble fest at 10:39 AM on July 5, 2014

My dog would appreciate these: Lesser Fireworks for the Faint of Heart.
posted by gamera at 2:36 PM on July 5, 2014 [1 favorite]

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