Things That Go Boom

By Karen Quinn June 22, 2009 Published in the July 2009 issue of Seattle Met

AMERICANS CELEBRATE INDEPENDENCE DAY by blowing stuff up; stuff like soda cans, grasshoppers—and their hands. That’s why Seattle City Council banned fireworks sales back in the ’90s, hoping people would enjoy professional fireworks shows and stay away from personal packs of TNT. But at the Muckleshoot Indian Reservation’s fireworks emporium, open from late May till early July, the baby-bomb bans don’t apply.

Some 40 stands—with names like Pyros R Us, BurnTime, Millie’s Bomb Shack, and PyroZone—line a dusty dirt road across the street from the Muckleshoot Casino, in Auburn. Patrons zigzag from stand to stand, going gaga over the smorgasbord of artillery and chatting with merchants, who lounge in plastic white chairs smoking cigarettes. Larry Hutchens, manager of the Dawg House stand, looks forward to the few days before July 4 when “anywhere between 15,000 to 30,000 people” plunk down dough for fuse-lit fun.

Joel Cowart, the 32-year-old manager of Pyros R Us who has worked at his stand since he was 13, likes showing newbies around. Most eye-catching: the “Big Bang,” a six-foot-tall pack of fireworks with a $1,200 price tag; and the “I Love USA” firework, which includes “33 shots of death,” according to one eager thrill seeker, and a label that reads: “WARNING: Shoots flaming balls.” Joel set on the counter a $125 Black Cat 16,000—firecracker roll, which, if ignited while in the packaging, he said, would explode for seven minutes straight, emitting a 10-foot, roaring flame.

Out in the nearby clearing mini mushroom clouds rose like ghosts as customers darted around, trigger happy with their Bics. The air boomed with the rumbling blasts you expect from a Fort Lewis artillery practice. Back at his stand Cowart pulled out “The Airport” package, which is designed to look like an airport terminal and has a fuse running through it to blow up the building and shoot the little planes into fiery balls. A little too Al Qaeda for our patriotic blood. Not for Cowart. “This one,” he laughed, “it’s for the kids.”

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