"Let's blow up some shit!" I do get a little bit excited when the Fourth of July comes around here in the U.S. (this is my fifth fourth here). Fireworks in Australia were banned when was about 12, so I regress to a pyromanical kid when fireworks start appearing in stores. Or my favourite - when the huge TNT Fireworks Tent pops up in the carpark of our local supermarket.
You do need some serious cash, though if you want some Brobdingnagian ballistic bedazzlement. For the BIG BANG box of Fireworks 'you pay only $549.99' That's about $850 Australian! That's a lot of bucks for your bang.
I just went for a couple of big ones, including the ominous sounding BOMB POP.
My first Fourth Of July I had in America was actually 20 years ago today, when I travelled to Capitan in New Mexico for my book 'The Naked Man Festival : And other excuses to fly around the world.' That was the first time that I got my hands on some fireworks (as an adult) - and I nearly blew up a farmhouse. Here's an edited extract from my book on that (nearly) fateful day:
I chose to celebrate the Fourth of July in the town of Capitan because I didn’t want the anonymity of a large city. I wanted a small town parade followed by a great big small town party. I stumbled upon Capitan by typing in ‘July 4th parade’ on Google and, on page 37 of my search, found the ‘Village of Capitan’ website with pictures of their Annual Fourth of July Smokey Bear Parade. The parade seemed to be entirely made up of fat people sitting on the backs of trucks waving American flags. It was absolutely perfect. That was exactly the Independence Day experience I was after.
I did find some other interesting ways to celebrate the Fourth of July, though. In Oatman, Arizona, for example, it gets so hot that they hold a massive egg-frying contest—on the footpath. Back in 1986 in Willimantic, Connecticut, they couldn’t afford a band for their parade so they asked everyone to bring their ghetto-blasters along. The local radio station then played band music. Each year over 10 000 people turn up to the Boom Box Parade with their ghetto-blasters. Also in New Mexico, they’ve utilised the large summer lizard population in Lovington by running The World’s Greatest Lizard Race every July 4th. In 1976 this inaugural event wasn’t too successful, though. When a large tub covering the lizards was lifted, the lizards didn’t move. They were so petrified by the large crowd that they began to eat each other. The lizard with the largest stomach won the title. Still more horrifying is the Rainbow Gathering held in a different ‘forest’ every year. On the Fourth of July, a haze of hippies (I believe that’s the collective noun) sit in a massive circle in a ‘meadow’, hold hands and chants ‘Om’ together for a few hours.
Capitan had no lizards, hippies, boom boxes or frying eggs to speak of but, besides the parade, they did have an Old West Ranch Rodeo, a Country Dance, a Chuckwagon Campfire BBQ and free tattoos for the kids. The Mayor of Capitan promised: ‘Our sleepy village comes awake with a parade and rodeo that’s just too much fun. We let our hair down and have a great old time.’ I pictured a hootin’, hollerin’ time with a bunch of rowdy cowboys and cowgirls accompanied by lots of knee slappin’, moonshine drinkin’ and general yee-haain’.
The entire population of Capitan was out to watch the parade. All 800 of them. People must have come from surrounding towns as well, because there would have been a couple of thousand people lining Smokey Bear Boulevard. Half of those people were sitting in the back of pick-up trucks that lined the length of the street, glistening brightly in the hot sun. They were all parked with the back facing the street and their tailgates down. A few enterprising folk had thrown couches on the back, while others had barbecues sizzling away. The rest of the townsfolk were sitting on fold-out chairs right on the edge of the road. Everyone, and I mean everyone, was decked out in red, white and blue. I ambled down the main street and it didn’t take me long to realise that I was, and I’m not exaggerating here, the only person not wearing red, white and blue. It was incredible. People were wearing T-shirts emblazoned with ‘America the free’, ‘I’m an American girl’.‘God bless America’, ‘God loves America’ and ‘God is America’. One lady just had ‘I’m proud to be’ on the front of her shirt. The full message actually read ‘I’m proud to be an American’, but the bottom line was tucked in between her ample breasts and even ampler stomach. People were dressed up in ‘stars and stripes’ pants, dresses, shorts, cowboy hats, socks, shoes and knickers (or so I imagined).
As well as street stalls selling American flags, stuffed Smokey Bears and cowboy hats, there was a stand giving away FREE hotdogs. Not shy when it comes to free food, I had three. Even if it was only nine- thirty in the morning. The bubbly lady serving said, ‘Happy Fourth, honey!’ ‘Why, thank you,’ I said cheerfully. ‘You bet!’ she said.
The parade started with a bloke sitting in the back of a truck waving an American flag. Well, he wasn’t actually waving the flag because he seemed to be asleep (or dead), slumped in a huge lounge chair. He was Grand Marshall Ben Leslie and looked about 70. The woman who was driving the pick-up truck looked even older. What followed was a succession of pick-up trucks, tractors, cowboys and cowgirls on horses, and lots of red, white and blue. As each entrant (there was a prize for Best Float, Best Tractor, Best Dressed Cowboy, Best Dressed Cowgirl and Best Fat Bloke Sitting in the Back of a Truck) rolled by, the crowd waved their flags and screamed out ‘woo-hoo!’, ‘alllllright!’ and ‘you go girl!’.
First up after the Grand Marshall was Congressman Steve Price who was walking behind his truck shaking hands with babies. Cowboys and cowgirls were taking their horses through very impressive backwards and spinning around manoeuvres, but I was much more intrigued by the hefty members of the Capitan Hunting Club who were all clutching whopping big guns and straddling an incredibly large dead elk on the back of a truck.
As every truck went past, the occupants would throw handful upon handful of 'candy' to the crowd. The parade had only been going for 10 minutes and the young boy standing next to me had already filled a plastic bag. No wonder there was an abundance of abundant butts. Of course, not all the people sitting in the backs of trucks were fat. The Lone Tree Bible Ranch truck (well, actually a long trailer being hauled by a tractor) was loaded with gorgeously slim and sweet 20-something year-old girls with the Lord in their hearts (the boys with the Lord in their hearts were all piled on the tractor). All virgins too, I imagine. But then again they all probably went begatting like mad up in the barn loft after the parade (well, that was the vision I had in my head at least).
There were all sorts of things on the back of parading trucks. There was a team of boot-scooters, a pack of dogs, a bunch of folk wearing ‘Jesus Loves Us All’ T-shirts, a cowboy singing (well, miming) along to his ‘Big Hit’ and, of course, the star himself, Smokey Bear. The parade ended with a cavalcade of fire trucks blasting out their sirens so loudly I couldn’t hear myself think about getting a couple more free hot dogs.
(Later that that day I went to the Capitan Rodeo, and after watching a whole bunch of lunatics getting thrown of pissed-off bulls, I got to see some Fourth of July fireworks)
As soon as it turned dark, much to my surprise, the fireworks started. I didn’t think I’d get to see any fireworks. Smokey Bear (well, not him personally, of course) had declared the entire area to be in extreme fire danger and had banned all fireworks. I later discovered that, only a few hours before the scheduled blast off, Smokey had given the organisers a one-off exemption from the ban. And, thank our dear Lord, was I happy he did. It was one of the most dazzling pyrotechnics display I’d ever seen. When you consider how small Capitan is, it really was quite amazing. The night sky was lit up with fizzing, spinning and exploding red, white and blue fireworks for over half an hour.
Five minutes into the show the fellow sitting next to me said, ‘Excuse me y’all, I have to go check on mah hoss.’ Good idea. I could see a line of them tied up to the corral and, boy, were they freaking out. Not that you could hear them. Despite the cacophony of explosions, the folks around me were hootin’ and hollerin’ and, I kid you not, yee-haain’ along to every bang and pop.
(After the fireworks finished I had to look for somewhere to park my hire car to sleep. The one and only Motel in town had been booked out months before).
I drove a couple of miles out of town (looking for the perfect spot to park my mobile-motel) and, after driving down what may or may not have been someone’s driveway, found an idyllic little clearing just off the track. I stepped out of the car and was enveloped by complete and utter silence. For all of a minute that is, until I got my box of fireworks out. I hadn’t been able to resist buying some. On the way into Capitan, I’d passed through the town of Carrizozo which had tents set up by the side of the highway with large and brightly coloured signs saying ‘FIREWORKS FOR BRIAN’. They didn’t really, but they might just as well have. Fireworks were banned in Australia when I was 12 so, as soon as I saw fireworks for sale, I instantly regressed to being a boy who wanted nothing more than to blow up a few letterboxes. I did show some restraint, though. I only bought one box. Albeit a large one.
Even though there was a total fire ban, I figured I was too far away from Capitan for anyone to notice a couple of pissy little skyrockets. Although when I say skyrockets, there were actually eight large balls that came with a tubed launching device. I lit one up and bolted behind the car (I was a wuss when I was 12 as well). A pissy little skyrocket it certainly wasn’t. The ball whistled as it shot up high into the air then exploded into a mighty shower of green and red sparks that lit up the entire night sky. They would have seen it in Texas, let alone just down the road in Capitan. Before Smokey Bear and the sheriff’s posse turned up, I hastily got in the car and drove another five miles down the road. And let off another one.