Like all mere amateurs, I had to stand in awe of the work of a master.
I’m sure more than a few of you watched the presidential inauguration celebration on Wednesday night. Wait, wait. Before half of you tear up your newspaper or throw your phone into a lake, this isn’t a column about politics.
It’s actually a column about another explosive topic: fireworks.
For those that did watch the inaugural finale on Wednesday, you know it ended with what had to be the mother of all fireworks shows near the Washington Monument, as pop star Katy Perry sang “Firework.” The song and the show were synced up with one another, down to the last note.
According to the Chicago Tribune, the fireworks extravaganza was directed by a man named Adam Biscow, with a company out of Chicago called Strictly FX. The company typically does pyrotechnics for rock ‘n’ roll shows and big sporting events, such as the Super Bowl. Biscow told the paper that about 20,000 shells were used for the inaugural, set off from two launch pads.
If you’re among the folks — all seven of you — who’ve been reading this column through the years, you know that I’m something of a would-be pyro. I have an unusual zeal for fireworks, and for many years I put on a neighborhood show on the Fourth of July that, honestly, probably should have been a licensed affair. But the city manager usually was in attendance with his family, so I figured if anyone came around wanting to see a permit, he’d speak for me.
So, for me, watching a fireworks show at the level of the one at the inauguration is kind of like a duffer from Greenwood Country Club watching Tiger Woods play golf, or a plugger from the basketball courts at the Y watching LeBron James do his thing.
And when I remarked on Twitter Wednesday that the inaugural fireworks show was a blast (literally), Executive Editor Richard Whiting chimed in with a memory that reminded me I’ll forever be a fireworks amateur.
Years ago, probably more years than I care to remember at this point, when I was a full-time staffer at the Index-Journal, I was slotted to do a story about fireworks safety ahead of the Fourth of July. Whenever that story came around each year, I always raised my hand to be the one to write it, naturally.
On that particular year, it rained the day I was writing the story, which screwed with our plans to get a photo for the piece. I had a bag full of bottle rockets and had planned to get a photo with our photographer at the time, Maddy Jones.
Since we couldn’t get the photo outside, I suggested we instead stage a photo back in the composing room at the Index-Journal office building. You’re probably thinking, “Wait, Chris, wouldn’t the composing room be ... indoors?” Yes. Yes, it is.
The idea was that Maddy would get a close-up shot of the bottle rocket, with my hand in the photo holding a lighter, with the flame several inches away from the fuse. And so, we did that, and she got several good pics.
Then the air conditioning cut on.
When that AC kicked on, the flame sucked toward and lit the fuse. Yes, in the composing room. I quickly kicked over the bottle and attempted to stamp out the fuse, but it was too late. The rocket ignited under my shoe and took off across the composing room, slamming against a wall and eventually exploding near an old faux leather couch where the pressmen would snooze on their break late at night.
Thankfully, nothing caught fire, which is a miracle in a building full of paper and chemicals. But it did smoke up the place and made one hell of a bang. People came running from other departments, wondering what had happened. “An accident,” I quickly mustered, in a “nothing to see here” manner, and then I quickly scurried back to the newsroom to write up some police reports or something.
Neither Whiting nor then-Publisher Judi Burns, God rest her soul, terminated me for this pyrotechnic act, thankfully. But you know when the fire department says to never, under any circumstances, light fireworks indoors? (It’s usually the first rule.) Yeah, be sure to take that advice.
Maybe I should just leave it to the pros, after all.