The Years of Living Dangerously, When Fireworks Were a Blast

Kids, do not try this at home. Besides, getting arrested isn't as much fun.
Kids, do not try this at home. Besides, getting arrested isn't as much fun. (By David Mcnew -- Getty Images)
By Neely Tucker
Washington Post Staff Writer
Tuesday, July 4, 2006

Back when there weren't so many laws against doing stuff, back when you were a kid, the Fourth was grand. Preadolescent children, cigarette lighters in one hand, explosives in the other. You'd wait all year.

"Hey, man, light this one . . . "

It comes back, this small memory of bottle rockets and firecrackers and other illicit flammables, at the sight of the red-white-and-blue fireworks stands that sprout like so many wildflowers along the roadside. An indelible moment of a childhood in another time, back when backyard fireworks did not have a bad reputation.

There was the sound of the match, smell of the gunpowder, the ppffftt , the feel of the bottle rocket taking off (or leaving your fingers, if you were dumb or daring), the dusk and the twilight and the c'mon, c'mon, it's getting late . Time for one more. You didn't watch someone else do it, and you didn't play it on a video game. Bang! The real thing.

Of course, we do not advocate the use of rocket-propelled explosives, even in modest amounts. Yes, Mom, we know, about 10,000 people are injured each year in fireworks-related incidents.

But is it wrong to miss the explosives of lost youth? Back when things weren't so quality-controlled, at the beginning of summer when everything was possible and we'd all live forever, and man, nothing's gonna happen, I'm telling ya, just light it.


Today, consumer fireworks sales are booming, up fivefold since 2000, according to the American Pyrotechnics Association, but it's not the same, it's just not. What are these pyros spending all this money on?

According to regulations, here is what is illegal in D.C.:

"Firecrackers of any kind . . . any fireworks that explode (cherry bombs, salutes, Roman candles, floral shells, artillery shells) or intended to move after the piece is placed and fires (bottle rockets, parachutes, buzz bombs, pinwheels, helicopters, jumping jacks . . . )."

Illegal in Virginia:

"Firecrackers, skyrockets, torpedoes and other fireworks which explode, travel laterally, rise into the air or fire projectiles into the air."

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