Living the Wally Lifestyle
May 22, 1999
This weekend I attended a truly wild and incredible festival called Desert Blast, possibly the wildest event anywhere. Desert Blast has only a few rules. Anything goes and it is by invite only. It was the 13th year for the festival and I had just recieved an invite to come by and perform Pyro Boy and do a few of our other wild circus acts. We were heading to a festival that makes you sign a waiver that says, "If you are hurt in any way, we are not responsible" and they really mean it. We couldn't wait to check it out.
Sadly, our support truck never made it out of Washington state. It broke down in Yakima, Washington and required us to completely re-juggle our plans. Still Roger, Maque, Miz Jewelz and I had purchased tickets and darn-it, we had to go. It would be nice to have our safety gear and crew at the event, but we could rent most of the stuff down in Los Wages.
The first thing we did was rent a car. We needed something large enough for the luggage of 4 people plus 300 lbs. of flour, leaf blowers, lawn chairs, water, food, beer, more beer, and most important fireworks. Lots and lots of fireworks. I had reserved a Ford Explorer because it was roomier and cheaper than a Cadillac convertible. Besides, the dust and heat would make the top impractical. We waded up to the counter and rented the car. The woman asked us if we wanted the optional insurance. So I asked her, "Lets assume for a minute that the car is sitting on the side of the road and out of nowhere a large flaming ball shot from the sky and hit the car, burning the damn thing to the ground. Would the insurance cover that?"
"As long as you didn't fire shoot the flaming ball."
We took the coverage.
Next she started to act a little nervous and asked us, "So what are you doing in Vegas?" I looked her in the eye and I told her the truth. "We're here for a convention."
She had no real reason to deny us the rental, and she did make a commission off the insurance, and as far as I was concerned it was going to be a smart investment in cash. If things went wrong we could simply hand them the keys and give them directions on where to find the remains of the car, and be on the plane with no worries. This would of course be after calling the credit card company and explaining the car caught on fire due to what we felt was faulty wiring. That would give us some leverage in making sure the rental company didn't charge us for any extra days.
We then beat feet out of the airport and looked for a place that rents tools. We needed two really good leaf blowers to complete an effect. We told the people at the counter what we needed and they rented two leaf blowers. We let our companion Roger who was dressed in a tiger patterned jacket to handle the rentals. Since we were weird looking and out of town, they demanded a $1000.00 deposit before they would even rent to us. I was out in the car loading our ice chest full of free ice when Roger came out and asked us, "Um, they want us to tell them the location of the job site where the equipment is being used."
"What did you tell them?" I asked.
Roger shrugged and said, "I told them I was part of the crew filling in at the last moment and I didn't know."
I smirked, looked at Roger and said, "Tell them we will be at Texas Station. We are going to do some landscaping."
This wasn't that far from the truth. We would be at Texas Station and we would be cleaning the ground. All I was doing is combining the story. They didn't need to know we would be using the leaf blowers to whip up a conflagration that would be so hot there was a chance that the gasoline tanks might explode.
Once we coughed up the deposit and gave them an address they rented us the leaf-blowers and we were on our way to Costco to buy the rest of our supplies. First on our list was at least 300 lbs. of flour. Call us a group of master bakers if you must, but we needed the flour for the Fire Cyclone. We would have preferred our own mixture of secret sauce, but this would do the job.
We then loaded up on nearly every thing we needed minus booze because Roger, Maque and I all were up until 4:00 AM at a party drinking heavily and Roger was not impressed with the sound of booze or beer right now. We realized our mistake later and purchased well over a case of beer in addition to several gallons of Gatorade and water.
We made it past the actual site and on to a fireworks store to pick up the supplies I would need for Pyro Boy. I was still thinking to myself that people would not be all that impressed, but so what? I would have fun and that is all that really matters. One thing is for sure, this store was about as overpriced as I had ever seen. I could not believe how much the fireworks cost. Items that sold for under $10.00 in Seattle were selling for $45.00. I ended up walking out with $200.00 worth of pyrotechnics which was a far smaller pile than I could get locally, but it was far cheaper and easier to deal with than if we tried to smuggle fireworks onto a plane and got caught. Few organizations can really make your life more miserable than the FAA, and I would rather not deal with that kind of madness on my way to a fun festival like Desert Blast.
We rolled in right about the time I predicted we would roll in and the festival was already in full swing. Planes were buzzing the dry lake bed and dropping bombs, ultralights were firing rockets off the wings and people on the gun range were doing things I would rather not mention. In the middle of all of this was another good friend of ours that we were going to hook up with. We parked, grabbed some water, grabbed some beer and set out to track down Ken.
Desert Blast has much of the same feeling as a smaller Burning Man. The size of the area is vastly smaller. Burning Man is huge and expansive while Desert Blast is small and focused. The front street at Burning Man is 2 miles long in the shape of a crescent moon. The only street at Desert Blast is maybe 500 yards long and in the shape of an L. The people were friendly and easygoing. They had the air and feeling you expect from a group of people finally able to let their hair down and relax. You find this same energy in a private fetish club where people feel safe from society and among their own people. Of course, unlike a fetish club or Burning Man, the people at this festival have no wild costumes, weird theme camps or people walking around naked. Of course, Burning Man does not have people setting off 12 inch mortar shells without a lifting charge a few hundred feet away. At least, not many of them.
Along the way we finally found Ken and we found the organizer's mother. She was a real kick. A nice lady that really loved the community you feel out here, not to mention the explosions. We walked around for a while taking in the sights, meeting people and collecting supplies from those that could offer such things as cardboard lifting tubes. I would need some for the mortars I would be strapping to the back of Pyro Boy and I could only manage to finagle one from the overpriced fireworks store.
We set up our camp and around dusk we started preparing ourselves for the night of fun. I started assembling the Pyro Boy costume while Roger and Maque made preliminary plans for the fire cyclone. It was too windy back by the truck so I packed everything over to a sheltered spot next to the road. As we started attaching the fireworks person after person would walk up and say something like, "Oh my goodness, what are you going to do with that?"
"Put it on my body" I would reply.
"You're nuts!" they would say, and then add, "When are you going to do that?"
"When it gets dark. I'll be down by the reviewing stands." I started to think people were going to really enjoy this show after all.
Then we watched this guy start to unpack this U-HAUL 15' truck loaded to the top with mortars and cakes. He had pyrotechnics than you could believe. It was as if he had bought out the indian store we were just at two or three times over. I started wondering how I could compete with this display and I thought I better get the suit finished. Before I could finish he started to set off his display and it went for the next half hour. It was incredible. It was all class C mortars and cakes, but it looked fantastic. After a while it became part of the background. Further away rocket engines stuck into the ground would ignite throwing up a 100' intense flame and all around was plenty of rockets, bombs and other madness.
Finally I finished the Pyro Boy suit and I put it on. By this time we had collected quite a crowd around us. People could not believe I was crazy enough to do this. People thought I was insane. Maybe I am, but I am just a bit crazy, but I am in control. I have done this gig a number of times. Maybe not as wild as this show, but suffice to say I felt I could handle it.
We got up and started walking down to the podium and as we passed people they would look and exclaim something like, "HOLY SHIT!" and get up and start following us to see what was about to happen. All the time Maque and Roger chanting Pyro Boy! Pyro Boy! The rest of the crowd was chanting Pyro Man! Pyro Man! They were a bit off, but what the heck. They knew what was going to happen. It was the type of insanity that people come clear across the country from Alabama and Pennsylvania to see. This is why the event existed. This is why we congregated was to see wild stunts that could be performed in few other places.
Finally we reached the podium and the crowd parted and Bob Lazar came walking up to me. Bob is a wild man. He was building rocket powered cars since he was 13 and just 200' away was a car powered by a jet engine that formerly belonged to an F-4. After 12 previous yearly events Bob was used to wild and crazy explosions and borderline people. However, Bob had the look in his eyes of a man that was generally afraid for my life. He was shaking his head in disbelief. It looked like he was going to tell me that this cannot happen so I spoke up. "Bob. I've done this before."
He relaxed a bit after those words so I added. " I am wearing 2 layers of NOMEX, and several layers of safety gear. Trust me." He asked me, "You're not planning on doing this by the podium are you?"
"No," I replied, "we will go out to the playa about 200' well away from the stands and the crowd."
"What do you need for a safety perimeter?"
"About 80 feet."
I could see that he was really concerned for my safety and I didn't blame him. He really doesn't want anyone hurt and he didn't know me. Anyone in the same position would be a bit concerned. Maque started yelling to the crowd that was following to back up. They didn't listen. They were following me like the Pied Piper of pyro. Maque, Roger and Miz Jewelz kept telling people that they really, really needed to back up at least 80 feet, maybe more, or they would be hit by the explosives. The stunt is dangerous and I didn't want to see anyone -- including me -- getting hurt.
Finally we had the perimeter secure and I got into place while Maque made one last safety check. Once everything checked out OK, he lit the fuse and BLAMMO! The show was off and there was no going back. I started dancing and right away a problem happened. A piece of magnesium burned through my safety gear just below my left cheek. I did my best to wipe it away and move on. There was no way I was going to bail out of this show. I did my Pyro Boy dance and the crowd loved it. Finally after my head was racked by multiple explosions caused by the mortars launching and exploding, I took off the helmet. I was still burning away! I took my bows and the crowd rushed forward to congratulate me. Another successful show!
After that we kicked back and relaxed. Pyro Boy uses up a healthy amount of adrenaline and I need to kick back and relax a bit, but I didn't get much of a chance. Maque and Roger were up next with the fire cyclone. Once I stripped my kevlar pants, two layers of NOMEX, four layers of cotton I joined them. We set up 100 lbs of flour in a semi circle as a gasoline cannon fired overhead. Finally we fired up the leaf blowers and created a cyclone of fire. It is truly a thrill when for the second time in the night we caused people who were firing off bombs and rockets to look at us and think we were insane. People loved the fire cyclone. as much as they liked Pyro Boy.
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