Vandals

We drove all the way to Wyoming on a lark. But when we got there in the ending days of August we found a meaning for our travels. What started out as merely a road trip to wherever ended up as a run for fireworks.

Washington allowed fireworks to an extent; you could get sparklers and fountains and other non-ballistic goods, but you couldn’t get fireworks. Things that flew, exploded, and made more noise than eardrums were made to experience. But Wyoming sold these things, and not only that, they sold them cheaply.

We literally had a trunk full of explosives as we turned around and headed back to home territory. We spent so much money on fireworks that it was touch and go as to whether or not we had the gas to get home after our final fuel stop between the Dalles and Hood River. It turned out we did, but just barely. The gas gauge was so hard on the ‘E’ that we emptied the lawn mower gas can into the tank rather than risking the a run to the gas station. The gas station was only 200 feet from our driveway.

Unloading, we had rockets, roman candles, firecrackers, cherry bombs M-80s, smoke grenades and a box full of explosives that looked like sticks of dynamite. (For all we knew it was dynamite!)  Plus we had mortars that were four an six inches in diameter. We had serious fireworks on our hands. As the Fourth of July came rolling along, we began a fireworks display that brought most of the neighborhood out to watch. More than one person commented that our display was better than the town’s display. It was certainly noisier.

We used about half of our booty on the Fourth. We would have used it all, but we got bored. Our little four man crew divvied up the remaining loot and went our separate ways …for a week or so.

Our favorite place to ride our motorcycles had been taken over by the construction of an apartment complex. The large open space was a motocrosser’s paradise with dirt piles and curved berms that allowed criss-crossing trails and riding lines that were great for amateurs or experts. We used this multi-acre spot for years, and it had come to be considered ‘our place.’ ‘Our’ being people who rode off-road motorcycles. Then came the day that construction fences were erected and the bulldozers flattened our beloved riding grounds.

It wouldn’t be inaccurate to say that virtually everyone in town who rode dirt bikes deeply resented the apartments and the management company that created and ran them. We believed that anyone who rented from them were traitors to the race, deserving of foul luck and turning so ugly they broke mirrors.

I don’t know who’s bright idea it was, perhaps it was mine, but our little crew decided to do something about it. And we did.

Each of us were loaded with backpacks full of fireworks. We had fuses, punks, matches and packs of cigarettes to make time delay fuses with. We dispatched ourselves about the newly completed and occupied apartment complex at around half past ten at night. We met at the rendezvous point twenty minutes later,  our backpacks considerably deflated from their former bulging state. Each of the four of us had used two packs of cigarettes for time delay fuses, meaning that there were 160 separate clusters of fireworks set.

We all hustled past the decorative hedges and across the street to vacant rock and brush infested land where we took up observation spots. No sooner than we’d gotten comfortable, it began. Explosions and flares of light burst and flashed all over the complex as the explosions literally thundered. For around five minutes strings of firecrackers, cherry bombs and M-80s erupted as flying saucers, fountains and roman candles tore through the smoke filled air. Bottle rockets whistled and zipped this way and that to end their flight in loud explosive bangs. People had come from their apartments and now, frightened, ran this way and that hunched over self protectively. They yelled in query to each other, just adding to the noise and confusion of the moment. Across the street, hidden in our bushes, we rolled on the ground in laughter.

As fast as it’s begun, it was over. The noise ceased and left behind dispersing smoke and the scattered confetti of burst fireworks. Police and fire trucks rolled in with lights flashing and sirens blaring. Unseen in the darkness, our little band dispersed and made our way home, sticking to dark streets with no traffic.

It was, of course, a senseless gesture. We did no damage, save for the expense to the management company to clean up the mess. None of our group bragged to anyone, we kept it our secret all though we did get some amusement finding an article in the next day’s newspaper describing ours as a frightening and senseless act of vandals. The writer was correct, of course. But it was the only way we could find to vent our frustration at the loss of our riding spot, the touchstone of many great memories of the place where we honed our skills at riding.

More than three decades have passed since we vented our protest. In today’s views, we’d likely be branded much worse than vandals. But the fact is that we took great care and planned our stunt with safety in mind. That may sound funny, but we did no permanent damage and we hurt no one, save for scaring them.  In the end, we heard that the apartment people had concluded that someone had a cache of fireworks that was accidentally ignited, and no one was coming forward to admit involvement.  Another reason our ‘statement’ was lost on those we made it to. No one even knew it was a protest.

But such is life. It made us feel better about our loss, and I suppose that makes it worthwhile. I still smile at the image of my group rolling in the bushes laughing so hard we found it difficult to breathe as our efforts ripped apart the fabric of night.