Wednesday, October 25, 2006


PanaRadio #11 LET GO!!!

“Let go! LET GO!!


Fun with large, homemade fireworks in the middle of the Pan-American Pothole.

‘Nother Damn Disclaimer:
No one was hurt during this episode. Well, okay, not permanently or seriously. (But my ears are still ringing hours later.) This story is not a call to action to purchase, even at rock bottom bargain prices, possess, or use fireworks, legal or not. Remember: Fireworks don’t kill people, they make them hard of hearing.
Now, if you are among the large number of family and friends on this PanaRadio list who have been to our wonderful home in often wonderful Austin, Texas for our many parties, know that frequently fireworks are a part of the party.

And if you have been to any of our parties, you know Rule #1 regarding fireworks. Say it to yourself first. Right!Nothing makes any noise.” Fireworks are strictly illegal to possess within the Austin City Limits (the municipality, not the best music program on PBS.) A $210 fine, I believe, and for good reason. I recall a nice cedar-shaked condo somewhere in town burned to the ground a coupla’ years back ‘cause of a single, solitary errant bottle rocket.

Noisy fireworks also tend to spook the neighbors’ dog causing it to take a dump on the divan, scare the WWII vet up the street, and prompt calls to 911. Fireworks that make no noise, done in the proximity of your house for a few minutes amidst a party, are usually tolerated. We’re talking sparklers, morning glories, fountains and Roman Catholic Candles. Another reason to invite the neighbors to your parties.

But tonight, here at the fabulous Felicidad, the most structurally solid hotel in the entire city, with cold and cold running water, no bed bugs, honest maids, excellent Panamanian coffee, and no TVs, credit cards or phones, fireworks there are going to be...

There is a big music event in the hotel courtyard tonight, which is quite out of the ordinary for a Wednesday night in dusty Meteti. Nenito Vargas and the Plumas Negras, a great band, is headlining. Cover is two dollars. Two! Plus you have to rent your own beer, chair, and table.

Earlier in the day, the crews were setting up the stage, PA, stacks of plastic chairs, beer booth, etc. Kinda’ reminded me of home.

There is a guy shooting off these rockets that I had seen, and heard, around the area before. They are clearly homemade. They stand about four feet tall, with a stick made out of reed, or some pretty strong but light-weight stick. The head of the rocket is all cardboard, kraft paper and white cotton string. Now I have seen these things take off, reach maybe 200 feet in about seconds and explode with three loud reports. You can hear them for miles, even inside buildings with the AC on. So these guys are shooting these things off, and I ask, "Hey!, where can I get some fun?"

They point to right across the street to a local construction materials store. I race across the Pan-American Pothole and come back grinning with a dozen.

The rockets, bundled together in a dozen are a buck each, but I end up being charged $14. Gringo prices you understand. Again, we are so from “not here,” we stand out a mile away. Betina from Argentina is dressing very modestly today, an actual blouse, and a bra. Everybody, I mean everybody, in town knows us. There are maybe 10-12 outsiders here.

I ask Betina from Argentina to take my picture holding the rockets. I go out into the middle of the road, now crowded with double parked trucks, taxis, and an honest to goodness tour bus! and prepare to set off the first rocket. “Hold it ABOVE where you light it,” offers a local. Oh. I light the rocket, and with an impressive WHOOSH!! it races skyward with a trail of golden sparks and that sweet smell of black powder. (I love the smell of gunpowder in the morning. It smells like…victory.) After it has climbed a good coupla’ hundred feet it explodes, once! twice!!, three times!!! “Yee HAW!” I say in exuberant English, “Gimme’ 'nother!

I ask if any of the other folks want to try one out. No takers. I tell Betina from Argentina that she should try it once, just for the experience. “Okay, uh, no. No…” I ask a local resident, who responds dryly, “Get away from me…”

But Alan, a biologist from Colorado, who is here working to develop an eco-tourism circuit in the Darien, says he’ll try one.

I explain that it’s pretty simple, just hold the stick above where you light it, balancing the stick straight up on the ground, and the rocket will take off by itself. No muss, no fuss.

I mean, what could happen?

(Funny, I can hear some of my friends saying “Oh Christ!” right now…and I am having trouble just hearing the click of the keyboard.)

Alan's wife looks on with a good wife worried look.

He lights the short fuse. The rocket begins to burn. A tail of sparks is bouncing off the ground. He doesn’t let go. “Let go! I yell. Still he holds it.

“ALAN!! Let Go!!!” Finally, “LET GO!!!”

He tosses the rocket down a few feet from his feet, and it EXPLODES in a cloud of smoke, dust and gravel. LOUD! The crowd of girls standing by the phone booth scream and scatter. The doormen jump out into the middle of the road. A taxi screeches to a dusty halt. (No wait, that happens here all the time…) The crowd is yelling, laughing hysterically, falling all over themselves.

At least I SEE them doing that. Yes, they all appear to be laughing and yelling. But I don’t actually hear them. What I hear, and feel, is a painful, piercing ringing in my ears. “Jesus Fucking Christ!” I hear from inside my skull.


Everybody is saying “What? Yeah! What? It WAS loud! Yeah, that WAS loud!"


Four hours later, now back in my room in the Fabulous Falicidad, my left ear still hurts. Alan has sustained a small second degree burn on the tip of his thumb. Later I ask him.

“Alan, why didn’t you let go?”

I thought it would take off on its own.”

“It would if you let go.”

I guess I misunderstood you instructions, you said, ‘just hold it upright and it would take off.’”

“Yes, that’s what I said.”

Well, I thought it going to take off by itself.”

“Yes if you just let go…”

Well, I…”

I kept the last three rockets for tomorrow. They’re right here next to my bed.

I mean...what could happen?

Meteti, Panama 4/23/05

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