Headed home, but fast like

Pink glitter stools - la, la, la, la!

How could I not fall in love with a place that had pink giltter stools?  I've stayed at the Shady Dell five or six times now, and for various and sundry reasons each time, the spiffy diner that sits on the property, Dot's, has always been closed.  This time, however, I was in luck and I would finally get to have some breakfast there Tuesday morning before I started on my long, long drive home.
On the short walk over to the diner, I struck up a converation with several couples that had stayed the night in the trailer park and were headed over for some breakfast as well.   By the time the five of us took a seat and were joined by a nice pair from Colorado and a few other assorted characters, the tiny diner was completely full.  It was impossible not to be intimate as we talked and laughed over our coffee, watching intently as our lovely waitress Cha-Cha made us freshly squeezed orange juice that tasted like liquid pleasure.  She was a great hostess, affecting a hipster Mae West persona that felt very gritty and real.  She made herself a glass of orange juice after she finished working on all of ours'. 

While the biscuits and gravy looked awfully tempting, I opted instead for a croissant breakfast sandwich paired with crispy home fries which resulted in a delicious and amusing breakfast, fueled with damn fine coffee and plenty of personality.

I rolled out of Bisbee around 8:30 in the morning, ready to get home and willing to engage in a long day of steady driving to try and make it to Austin before midnight.  Well, that is, with the stop or two I'd inevitably need to make to investigate anything intriguing I saw.

Not long after I finally merged back onto Interstate 10 in western New Mexico, I saw a sign for a rock/fireworks/cheesy souvenir store just ahead and was by then ready to stretch my legs a bit...well, that and I might just be persuaded to buy some pyro too! And it turns out the Continental Divide Historic Trading Post in Sepah, New Mexico was just what I wanted - packed to the gills with cheap consumer fireworks, tacky souvenirs and grave horrors of capitalism.  


Suddenly, it dawned on me - surely they'd have a good jackalope here! I'd been on the lookout for one with some spunk for well over two years now.  I'd scoured Wyoming, the supposed epicenter of jackalopes, and even there I wasn't able to turn up anything but the standard issue wall mount made in China.

I asked one of the gals behind the register if they had any jackalopes and she simply motioned toward the front counter with a wry grin.  "That's the last one!  We can't keep those things in stock!" When my eyes connected, the world stood still for a nanosecond.  Of course they couldn't keep them in stock - it was the perfect Jackalope!  A tad scruffy, but with a distinct look of mischief in his eye, sporting a respectable little rack and a nice fluffy coat.

I fell instantly in love.  He seemed to like me, too.  Let me scratch him right behind the ear.  It wasn't long before we had the cute little fellow wrapped up and in a nice tall box so he could ride on the seat behind me all the way back to Austin.  Turns out he's very well behaved and hardly makes a peep.  I asked him his name several times, but he hasn't chosen to reveal it to me yet.

Before resuming my pell-mell journey to Austin, I decided to take a stroll out to the ancient roadside attraction teepee at the entrance to the trading post that served as a once-compelling invitation for passing travellers to pull over and come inside.  Now it mostly looked like a poorly designed disintigrating sheetrock pavillion, only vaguely western in theme.

As I walked around and then ducked into the dark interior of the shabby old teepee, I found myself feeling a bit mournful, thinking about how the age of roadside relics is quietly drawing to a close.  The entertainment quotient is so much more sophisticated these days and that's if you can get people out of their cars for more than some jalapeno Cheetos and a Big Red after they use your bathroom.  People want Vegas or Branson, and have no tolerance for hand made concrete brontosauruses.

When I opened the door to get back in the car and head out, I glimpsed the tall box that rested snugly on the back seat and it gave me an instant feeling of relief.  By gum, as long as there are still fiesty jackalopes to be had in this world, the spirit of the road cannot be pronounced near death.  Especially at exit 42 on I-10 in western New Mexico.

Then, I drove into the sunset and lived happily ever after.


Headed home, but slow like

Now that's more like it!  Perhaps since my previous meal had been so disappointing, my breakfast at Waffle House the next morning seemed like the best meal I'd eaten in a long time.  It was delicious and perfect in every way.  The only thing that would have made it better was if Pearl Fryar had been there to join me.

My advice to you: if you find yourself on the road, sick of all the lowest common denominator chow you've been forced to ingest, head toward a Waffle House for a bit of relief.  I had my favorite plate: eggs scrambled with cheese, raisin toast, bacon and hash browns extra crispy with onions and jalapenos.  Based on my previous meals in Arizona, I imagine they had to import the jalapenos from Texas and they've been closely tracked with special paperwork due to their spicy nature.

There were two stops I wanted to make in Phoenix after breakfast: Apache Reclaim and Sunnyslope Gardens.  Apache Reclaimation is a salvage operation that focuses on electronic and mechanical stuff, plus they've got another 10 acre lot nearby that's piled high with much larger high tech (and low tech) junk.  I first spent a giddy hour shopping the dusty shelves of the store, lingering longest on the bearing aisle.  Yes, aisle.  I came home with a whole huge pile of different bearings and they are SEX-eeeeeee!  And yet as fabulous as that is, this place is not just a wonderland of parts - there are shelves and shelves of mysterious and arcane electronic gizmos with dials and needles and lights.  That's where I found a turquoise 50s era time card clock/punch that I can't wait to use for an art project.  At the enormous junk yard location, I uncovered the front piece of a 40s or 50s era Zenith television complete with thick tinted glass.  That thing is going to make about the most bad ass frame you've ever seen.  Aside from all the awesome shopping, visiting Apache is also like taking a trip to a poorly kept technology museum.  For example, on my brief tour, I saw several multi-million dollar testers (used to evaluate silicon based microprocessors) lodged in large piles of rubble, weeds growing from the robotic arm.  I'm telling you, if you ever need to take over the world, there has to be sufficient technology in this 10 acre plot of electronics to at least yield a couple of death rays!  When the attendant let me out the high razor wire topped fence, I smiled a smile of deep contentment for both what I'd seen and what I'd managed to lug home with me.  Just wait until Mark sees!

My next stop was a folk art environment I've had on my list to see for a while called Sunnyslope Gardens.  It's on a humble little side street in working class Phoenix, tucked behind a trailer park.  The fellow who created it died many years back, and unfortunately, it can only be viewed from the street at present but I decided to go by and see what I could see anyway.  It was mostly frustratrating, maddening really, to be able to just see the focal point of the garden way in the distance.  From what I could see there were lots of intriguing busts tucked in between the pottery shard walls and structures.  I would sure have loved to go in and see them up close, but apparently the woman that lives there now isn't too keen on tours and the fence is pretty forboding.  Too bad.

Ah, well.  It would be just downright cheeky for me to complain about  my luck.  I got back on the interstate and headed toward my destination for the evening, which also happens to be one of my favorite cities in the U.S.: Bisbee, Arizona.  I had reserved a tiny little trailer at the wonderful Shady Dell Trailer Park ( http://www.theshadydell.com/Rates.html ) and I could hardly wait to get there.  When I arrived, I leapt out of the car and threw my hands high above my head and shouted, "Yeaaaaa!! I'm at the Shady Dell!"  The clerk inside behind the cash register smiled brightly and applauded my grandiose entrance.

The trailer I had rented this time (this was my fifth stay) was the Homemade, a 10 foot wonder made at home from plans sold in the back of Popular Science. It was astounding to open the door and see just how cleverly everything fit in that little bitty space.  It was really cozy, but not the least bit clausterphobic.  While I was poking around, I found a 60s era Spirograph set stashed in the top of the closet.  I was absolutely thrilled!  It was the EXACT set that I couldn't continue living without...oh, let's say, in about 1968.  I remember staying up with a flashlight under the covers after my weary mother relented and gave it to me late one Christmas eve to placate my incessant begging.  I could hardly wait to start playing with it, but I made myself put it away because I still needed to go take my walk for the day.  I decided to drive into the old part of Bisbee, park the car and just walk for the entire hour.  Every time I visit, I'm usually driving back and forth, so it would be a great opportunity to just meander and see the things that can only be seen on foot.

It was a pleasant hour and I was rewarded with many beautiful gates and fences along the way.  After my walk, I stopped and had some pink ceviche for dinner before heading back to the Shady Dell for some serious Spirograph action.  I wanted to make an early night of it since I'd be driving a good long way the next day, and I wanted to get up extra early to make sure I could have some breakfast at the fabulous diner called Dot's there at the Shady Dell. 


No smoking, bad food okay

I'm noticing a theme here.

After a leisurely start to Sunday, I headed out to the convention site for a couple of classes that I wanted to take.  It was fountain day!  First I attended a fountain/mine class taught by the hilarious Griz Smith from Alaska.  He had me chuckling the entire hour.  The class members all helped make fountains for use in the grand finale of that evening's demonstration show (a lot of the stuff that goes up during the shows is made right there on site).

My second class was one I'd been eagerly awaiting the entire weekend.  Not only was one of my very favorite instructors teaching it (Steve Majdali), but what we would learn to make were amazingly beautiful hand held fountains (somewhere between a sparkler and a roman candle).  With brake drum turnings.  And a little bit of other easy to obtain scientific stuff.  They are SO gorgeous!  They have a delicate little spark that branches like tree limbs.  I can't wait to show all of you!  Just ask for a demo.
After I finished Steve's class, it was time for me to hit the road and start back home.  I began the process (one which I detest) of saying goodbye to folks.  There were a bunch of people that I had bonded with over the weekend, and trading business cards and e-mail addresses hardly seemed adequate.  I made the rounds, stopping last to say goodbye to my friend Ken Smith.  He and his wife Noelle are both some of the nicest, most interesting people you'll ever meet - I just love them.  I run across them at Burning Man events and pyro shows and I never get to spend enough time with them.  As I was leaving, I promised Ken I was going to stop by Mussel Shoals for a visit in the not too distant future.  I mean to keep that promise, too.

I hopped on the highway and headed toward Quartzsite where I could access the interstate.  I stopped in Quartzsite at one of the few restaurants, but one that had a legion of cars outside.  Oh yeah, I forgot.  It was Valentines and everyone would be gussied up for a intimate romantic evening.  When I looked over the menu, steak seemed to be the specialty of the house, but I avoided the prime rib and instead ordered a rib eye, medium rare, because that's pretty hard to goof up.

Without going into too much detail, I have to say that it was the worst meal I've had in a LONG time.  Memorably bad.  It reminded me how spoiled I am.  There were plenty of people raving about how good their meals were, but then maybe they had that special Valentines glow that made it extra tasty.

After quietly paying the tab and retreating to the car, I scurried off to Phoenix where I planned to spend the night.  I saw with relief that there was a Waffle House the exit before my motel.  That would go a long way toward making up for the unfortunate Quartzsite poisoning.


It's All About the Stick

"Hey!  What are you kids doing out there?!"
"Don't lie to me - I can smell smoke!"
"Aw mom, we're just making thermite...."
"Not again!  I told you kids that was the last Etch-a-Sketch I was going to buy you and I meant it!"

The first thing I did Saturday morning was attend a seminar on dangerous household chemicals.  The instructor walked us through all sorts of dire things you can find at the grocery or hardware store.  The one that scared me most is a rust stain remover that's made of hydrofluoric acid.  You know, the kind of acid that dissolves your bones once it soaks through your skin.  Use with caution - death or serious injury may occur, but your sink will look TERRIFIC!
After the lecture, we went out onto a nice flat gravel area, upwind, and watched some live demos.  They were all really cool, but my favorite was seeing thermite burn.  I've seen it on You-Tube before, but never in person.  It was way too bright to look at, vaporized the stainless steel beaker that the reagents were poured into and left a hard metal smoking cookie in the clay saucer (see above).  Cool.

After witnessing the unleashing of all sorts of toxic clouds into the crisp desert air, I moved on to the next seminar: black powder rockets.  I've taken this class before at the PGI conference in Gilette and I absolutely loved both the class and the teachers (Kurt Medlin and Steve Majdali), so there was no question  whether I'd be attending or not.  Those guys are so knowledgeable that I could sit through that course 20 times and still learn something new.  Plus they're really nice and funny.

I knocked my rocket out in no time flat and walked out to the magazine on the rocket range with a wonderful fellow named Antonio that I met in class.  He's a Vegas performer that uses colored fire, so I talked his ear off in the 15 minutes it took to walk out to the range and back.  One of the things I really enjoyed this year was how many wonderful folks I met.  Everyone is so nice and most seem to feel really comfortable being themselves, knowing like-minded individuals are about.

Later in the afternoon, I walked back out to the rocket range to watch some firings up close as dusk was falling.  I absolutely LOVE it out there.  I've decided I'm a rocket geek.  I didn't know what kind of geek I would end up being for a while, but I think I'm definitely starting to lean toward rocketry.  There were, as usual, all sorts of interesting experimental rockets on the launch pad (making the risk of malfunction pretty high).  It was fascinating to watch all the different effects that had been packed onto sticks.  I really love how beautifully simple the concept of a rocket is.  Just good old fashion physics at work.

After while, the range shut down for the Saturday night public display - always a high falutin' show and we all headed back to sit in the middle of it.   And it really was beautiful.  The choreography was well done and there were SO MANY gas and methanol mines (big fire balls)!  There were several times that they set off three closely timed blasts consisting of about six mines at once, each blast a different color: red, green, pink/blue  Wahoo!!! A bunch of us old timers were comparing notes and none of us had ever seen so many in one show.  Awesome.

I went back out on the rocket line after the public demonstration had concluded and worked safety there for the remainder of the evening.  It was late in the shooting schedule when we were finally cleared to launch and for a heady, dazzling, exciting 5 minutes there was a barrage of well over 50 rockets going up.  Several exploded right out of the tube, giving the sensation of standing right in the middle of the burst.  It is so incredibly cool, I can't tell you.

I dropped into bed, exhausted, when I finally got back to my hotel room around midnight.  Having fun can sure take a lot of energy, but man is it ever worth it!


Blastin' Bunnies and other Fine Pyrotechnics

Lest any of you begin to believe that those of us who attend this convention aren't really "professionals" so much as grown up kids who who just want an excuse to get together and play with fireworks, I've provided the photo at left as evidence.  Fire cracker assault on the golf cart.  Ahem.

One of the first things I got to help out with on Friday morning was a really fun project called Bunny Blasto put together by a group called Jackalope Brand Fireworks (that's one of the group's founders, Bill Brett, at right explaining how the effects will work). It's an absolutely brilliant concept: a Roman candle shooting gallery!  And as you'll see in the photos, not only is the gallery a brilliant concept that taps into EVERYONE'S secrete desire to point a Roman candle, but the group's execution of the concept is just top notch.

The whole shooting match (I just had to say that) is bicycle powered.  The gear and wheel mechanisms from two bikes were used to make the track that the little exploding rabbits turn on, and that whole mechanism is powered by a bike which is pedaled by a lucky and intrepid soul.  Behind each bunny on the track is a mortar that holds a shell.  When the gunpowder target is hit by flaming pyro coming out of the end of someone's Roman candle, KABOOM - a shell goes up into the air and bursts right over your head!  There are a bunch of different effects built into the facade, some that even set off rocket powered pinwheels.  Just look at some of the decorative details too - they're so well done!

Here are a few shots of us helping make the pyro effects.  Below is one of the spinning pinwheels.   You can see two rockets, and that's a type of fuse called quick match (burns around 60 feet a SECOND) that has the two leaders going into middle where the fuse has been totally exposed so it's just essentially gun powder on a string.  As soon as any lighted pyro hits the very middle, it lights the whole thing up and it starts spinning like crazy, making a beautiful round nest of sparks.

This is Bill, priming the targets with a very fine grained gunpowder.

Finished targets, waiting to be loaded into the bunny track:

With a bunch of happy pyros on the assembly line, it didn't take long to get everything prepared.  Now came the hard part - waiting until dark so we could start shooting!

In the meantime, I entertained myself by fraternizing with fellow pyromaniacs and taking a fun and easy shell building class taught by a fellow named Richard Haase.  We get to select from all sorts of fabulous fillings: silver glitter, dragon eggs, aqua, willow, green...a wide array of colors and effects.  Those little round pellets in the cup I'm holding are called stars - it's one of the basic components of any bursting firework you see.  I've lined one half of my shell with aqua stars.

On the left, I've finished filling the two halves (aqua on the outside, silver stars and white strobes in the middle, filled with gunpowder coated rice hulls to make the thing burst) and now all I have to do is jam them together, glue it together around the equator and then put a lift charge (a dixie cup of gunpowder) on the bottom.  Later that evening, we'd go down to the shooting range and fire them off electronically (as opposed to hand lighting the fuse) which is really a huge part of the fun in and of itself!  Being out on the firing lines has become my favorite part of the event.

Alright, one more thing to tell you about before we move onto the night photos.  Fireworks are fired out of a tube called a mortar.  Most mortars are made out of a super tough high density plastic that is made not to shatter (i.e., no horrible schrapnel) when there's an explosion in the tube.  The item in the photo at right is a mortar tube that had a 3" report (those loud booming shells) explode in it.  You can see how the plastic has stretched, but not fragmented.  Interestingly, it's actually sitting on the table upside down - if you can imagine it, the explosion occurred in the bottom of the tube, not coming out the top.  I've noticed that people tend to display relics like this to help us all stay present to how powerful and deadly what we're working with is.  It's easy to get lulled into a sense of ease, so it's important to keep stuff like this around.

Night time!  At last!  Not so many good photos Friday evening, but a few:

Roman candle warriors at the ready

Bunny Blasto under siege

Poorly focused image of MY 4" shell - see the aqua and silver and strobes???

From the Friday night display show:

Those are gas mines going off in front, she says clapping her hands wildly:

After the public display had concluded, I high-tailed it out to the B Rocket line to work security and watch this madness up close and personal.  I love it out there and had a marvelous time, even when we got chewed out repeatedly for sending up loud reports late at night.  You know, the kind that set off car alarms.  Tee hee!

After the range closed, I went over and visited with some wonderful folks that I know from Burning Man.  We sat by the copper enhanced fire and swapped stories for awhile until I felt the need to stumble back to my motel room and fall in bed.  Smelling like gunpowder, smoke and happiness.