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An Explosive Fourth
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Google the term “down-to-earth” and the image of an Oregonian will pop
up.  Their calm friendliness is jarring to the typical type-A Californian and
caused us to downshift on our cycle down the coast.  Yet when something
goes wrong in this lovely little paradise it surprises you like a sucker
punch from your grandmother.  On the Fourth of July we were clouted
with a left hook that neither of us anticipated.
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A day before the big holiday we
pedaled into Florence, Oregon and
rented the last tent site at the Marina
and RV Park in the coastal town.  Our
site was on a small cliff overlooking a
white sandy beach.  A few yards down
along the waterfront the marina was
filled with quaint fishing trawlers and
sailboats framed by the famous
Florence bridge with coastal sand
dunes beyond.  It seemed too good to
be true.  As we leaned the bikes
against the picnic bench Amanda sat
and marveled in disbelief at our lucky
in securing such a spectacular site.  

As we set up the tent a friendly guy
wearing a black t-shirt that said
“Vietnam Vet Never Forget”, waived to
us from a few sites down and said with
a raspy voice, “They pull the barge
right out there and shoot off the
fireworks right above us.”  He spread
his arms wide over his head and
laughed, then began to cough
uncontrollably.  Amanda and I gave a
high-five over the table for our good
fortune.  

The next morning while I boiled water
for tea another neighbor, a middle-
aged guy with a sandy mop of hair that
gave him the aura of Shaggy from
Scooby Doo, began frantically
unloading boxes from his pickup truck
into his family sized tent.  After a dozen
trips Shaggy stopped to rest by putting
a foot up on one of the telephone
poles laid down to designate the sites
and said to us, “I hope you like
fireworks.”

“We loooovvveee fireworks.”  Amanda
said with glee.  

“That’s good,” he giggled in a devilish,
middle school way, “’cause the tent is
full of ‘em”

I could see the silhouette outline
through the sheer tent material.  He
was not joking.  His large tent was
absolutely packed full.  

Halfheartedly I asked, “Wow, where did
you get all of that?”

“Fireworks are legal in Oregon,”
Shaggy laughed, “but not these.”  He
held up a bomb the size of a Big Gulp
wrapped in red tissue paper and
laughed, “It’s a felony to shoot these
off.”

“A felony,” Amanda and I repeated at
the same time.  Now we understood
why the tent site was available.  

It was surprising to discover that what
he said was true.  Any pyromanical
fourteen year-old boy under the
supervision of his intoxicated father is
perfectly within his legal rights to
launch bottle rockets, roman candles,
flame throwers and other incendiary
devices deep into the tinder-dry
forests of this lovely region with wild
abandon.  It is one of those strange
legal quirks that seems at odds with
the earthy laid-back character of the
typical Oregonian.  Then again,
Oregon is the one state in the nation
where it is possible to obtain
permission from the government to
commit suicide.

As dusk descended the Vietnam Vet
opened both doors of his 1970’s Ford
Falcon and blasted patriotic songs.  
Stepping across three sets of
telephone poles he said proudly,
“Recorded ‘em myself,” as he adjusted
his cammoflauge cap, “Got my own
personal Karaoke machine at home.”

“Ahhh,” Amanda asked, “Is that you
singing the Star Spangled Banner?”

“Yep that’s me,” he said as he took a
swig from a can of Pabst.  Then he
pointed down the river and said, “Here
it comes,” then yelled so that the entire
camp could here “Here it comes!”

Everyone looked down the river with
hoots and cheers as a tugboat pulled
a large barge.  It sputtered to a stop
just in front of our campsite about fifty
yards from the beach.  

Shaggy danced with glee and spoke
loudly in a Japanese accent, “I go blow
someping up.  Tonight we blow many-
many ting up.”  His group of twenty-five
or thirty friends who had been arriving
all afternoon, each with their own illicit
contributions to the pyrotechnic stash,
cheered him on with hoots and hollers.

At the top of the path to the beach a
wooden stake had been hammered
into the ground with a sign that read
“No Fireworks In Campsite”.  This rule
was easily circumvented by strolling
down the path to the beach.  
Technically the beach was not part of
the campsite.  The path began at the
foot of our tent.

Two overeager twenty year-old guys
began carrying boxes of fireworks from
the tent to the beach then waited for a
signal from the Shaggy.  Prancing like
a crowned prince Shaggy carried
nothing more than a lighted incense
from which he would ignite the
explosives.  As he passed the young
guys on the path he said in a mock
regal voice, “Bring me the drum.”

The guys carried a large blue fifty-
gallon plastic drum past us down the
beach path.  Shaggy began the
display by tossing M-80 bombs into the
can in three-second intervals.  The
rumbling, echoing thuds produced by
the drum was deafening.  Shaggy
smiled with glee and his inebriated
friends cheered.

With the opening salvo complete he
carefully stuffed the lighted incense
stick in his back pocket and instructed
the young guys to fill the drum with the
fireworks they had lugged down to the
beach in an effort to protect the stash
from any rocket or bomb that may
misfire.  The Vietnam Vet noticed that I
was surprised by this bit of caution and
said, “These aren’t your run of the mill
fireworks you know.”

With that shaggy began instructing the
young guys like an artillery general.  
He had them plant short lengths of
PVP piping into the beach then place
one rocket into each pipe.  Using his
incense stick he strolled down the line
lighting each rocket in time.  The sky
above our tent burst into bright colorful
light.  

After a few minutes Shaggy paused as
the young guys ran up the hill to
restock blue drum on the beach.  With
the drum full to overflowing we looked
down from the cliff side and noticed
that Shaggy was searching for
something.  Then one of the women in
his group said with a chuckle, “Uh oh,
he can’t find his incense stick.”  

That’s when all hell broke loose.  From
the bottom of the drum the sizzling
sound of a rocket began and the drum
shook.  Then another.  The woman
yelled, “Oh no, get back everyone get
back.”  

Amanda dove into the tent and said
with a groan, “Oh, this isn’t fun.”

The drum began to glow and sparks
shot from the top.  Then suddenly an
explosion.  Rockets shot in all
directions.  The force of the explosion
propelled flaming packets of rockets
up from the beach into the
campground.  

I stood, dumfounded, not knowing
where to run and hide.  Amanda curled
into a ball in the tent and said,
“Richard, this is not fun.”

Shooting at ground level, bashing into
the telephone poles dividing the tent
sites and ricocheting into the air the
fireworks exploded around our feet.  
The ground was filled with multicolored
sparks.  I tried to watch the tent to
make sure nothing would detonate
nearby but the telephone pole on the
ground seemed to be deflecting any
that came near.  Then a large boom.  
Sparks flew everywhere.  

The Vietnam Vet huddled under his
picnic table and yelled,  “You’re giving
me flashbacks man.”

Amanda “Uh oh.  Richard this isn’t fun.  
Uh oh.  Eh… Oh…. This isn’t fun at all.”

When the explosions died down
someone ran to see if the three men
on the beach were injured.  The
hillside was flaming in several places
and someone called the fire
department.  

A chubby drunk woman carrying a boat
sized ice chest ran to us yelling, “Get
your tent back!” as she dumped the
ice down the hill onto the flaming
brush.  

The fire engines arrived just in time to
extinguish the hillside.  Shaggy was
rushed to the Ambulance.  In the
confusion Shaggy’s drunk friends
picked up the tent full of fireworks and
tossed it into a pickup truck.  The
driver sped away before the fire
inspector arrived.

Just as the official fireworks show was
beginning the fire truck pulled away
and the ambulance rushed to the
hospital.  Amanda and I sat on our
picnic table in a daze.

The Vietnam vet was the only one left
in the tent area.  After a large
explosion illuminated the sky he turned
to look at us in the brightness and
said, “Man, they ain’t never getten’ me
back here again for another Fourth of
July.”
Media Coverage
The Fire Brigade Arrives
What a Joke!
Cruising the Streets of Florence
The Historic Bridge
Downtown Florence
The Official Display
The Fifth of July
Who We Are
The Bikes
Common ?s
Success & Failure
Tales
The Route
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