Friday, July 01, 2005

Bottle Rockets




I spent my "formative" years, from age 8 to 17 in Charlotte, N.C., specifically the southern part of said city. I lived on a street that intersected with Highway 21 about a mile down the road. A left turn on Highway 21 South and a ten minute drive would take you across the South Carolina border. Back in those days the state of South Carolina meant only two things to us-1) Myrtle Beach- where everyone went on a week's vacation in the summer to play skee-ball, Putt-Putt golf, visit the Gay Dolphin gift shop (no the dolphin was not gay) and throw up after riding the Wild Mouse, the world's scariest rollercoaster; and 2) and buttloads of fireworks-the real stuff, not the little snake matches, sparklers and whistlers that you could possess legally in North Carolina-I'm talking about everything short of pipe bombs. Just over the border were at least 10 stores that sold nothing but fireworks, mainly to North Carolinians who flocked there to purchase the contraband. One thing I've noticed is that every state's worst "vices"- poker machines, cathouses, lottery outlets, fireworks, etc., migrate to the borders of that state so they can be quickly accessed by those living in adjoining states where the same is illegal. People in South Carolina don't give a damn about fireworks-they can buy them anytime they want, but Highway 21 North leading out of South Carolina was constantly clogged with cars full of grinning teenagers hauling dangerous pyrotechnics back into the Tar Heel State.
Those stores "pulled" at us like the moon does the tide. It was a combination of the sweet smell of gunpowder, the colorful packages and mostly the illicit nature of the venture. We were a bunch of restless kids, bored to death in the summer. When we had played all the whiffle ball we could stomach and our skin was raw from the Slip and Slides, our thoughts turned to firecrackers and bottle rockets to snap us out of our funk. We'd take our lawn mowing money, find a ride and return home toting scads of Black Cat products so we could blow some shit up.
I was particularly fond of the thousand-pack of firecrackers and the cheap bottle rockets that came in the twelve-dozen packs. I never went in for the hard stuff like the M-80's or the huge missles and artillery shells-I wanted much quantity for as little money as possible.
All this stuff was from China or some part of Asia, and the manufacturing process was not too strong on quality control. This merely enhanced the thrill for us. There was no telling what would happen when the fuse was lit. No firecracker "behaved" normally-the fuse would light, then appear to go out, then suddenly start to burn again when we snuck up to get a look at it-or the fuse would burn down in a nanosecond-or it would go out three times until you were left trying to light a stub and get the hell out of the way before it went off in your face. No firecracker would ever be deemed unsalvagable-we were gonna blow them all up, no matter what. If all else failed, we would just start a small fire and throw the "defects" into it or just light the whole package at once. Once on a trip to the lake on July 4th, I lit one, reared back to throw it and it went off in my hand. I expected to looked down and see a bloody stump for an arm but that was not the case. My hand was just a little swollen but felt like the size of a catcher's mitt and it throbbed as if stung by a hundred bees. I stuck it in the water trying to cool it down but it was about a week before it stopped hurting. It was never enough just to light the things and listen to the pop-we had to find things to blow up with them or put them in places like drainpipes that would amplify the noise. Throwing them in pools or flushing them down toilets was also popular.
Bottle rockets also were not meant for just lighting and looking. We messed with the sticks-bending them, breaking them off or removing them completely. Used normally, with the stick attached, there was no assurance the thing would go up in the air as opposed to sideways or backwards, but altering it in anyway insured erratic flight and hence increased the danger which increased the fun. We were constantly ducking or running from rogue bottle rockets. We would also shoot them at each other out of tubes.
I spent my senior year in New Jersey, where fireworks are not only illegal but also scarce as hen's teeth. I would impress my friends by supplying them with these treats from the South everytime I made a trip back to Charlotte. In New Jersey, there was this bully who lived several houses away. His pride and joy was a '68 Camaro that was the "cat's ass." It had racing stripes and Thrush mufflers that made it sound as loud as a roadgrader. He was cocky and mean as a snake and intimidating to me and my geeky cohorts. I remember clearly watching as a bottle rocket that I lit streaked through the sky, went out of control and landed directly under his car. I just knew that any second the thing would explode, his car would blow up and he would come over and throttle my ass. The rocket blew up but nothing else happened and an hour later he drove off, unaware of the spent bottle rocket beneath his car's chassis.
Seeing the fireworks going off over the bridge and on the beaches on Sunday night will bring back those memories of heading down Highway 21 South with five bucks and a sly grin on my face. Have a great Fourth!

2 Comments:

Anonymous Allan said...

I used to love to blow shit up, too, back in the day. :)

Thanks for the trip down memory lane.

7:00 PM  
Anonymous rebecca said...

Personal experience has taught me that tomatoes from your pain in the ass neighbor's rotting garden are great fun to obliterate.

11:14 PM  

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