Confessions of a Former Kentucky Fireworks Tent Operator
It's that time of year again! The temperatures are rising (over 100 degrees in Owensboro today), barbeques are happening, yard sales are going on, and oh yeah, July 4th is just around the corner! And with that comes the yearly tradition of folks shooting fireworks into the sky for our amusement and entertainment. And just as time-honored a tradition it is to see fireworks go BOOM in the sky, so is the tradition of seeing firework tents set up in parking lots all across America. But have you ever thought about the fine folks who man these tents for nearly two and a half weeks in the blazing heat of summer? Are they part of some exclusive club? Do they realize it’s a thousand degrees outside? And why won’t they just give us free fireworks? Well, I’m here to help bridge that gap a bit, because I did, in fact, operate a firework tent, and it was, in fact, an experience I’ll never forget. Here are my confessions as a former firework tent operator.
NO, WE’RE NOT (ALL) FIREWORKS ENTHUSIASTS
I love fireworks but don’t LOVE them if that makes sense. I’m as stoked as anyone to head to downtown Owensboro on July 4th to see an awesome show on the riverfront, but it’s not like we’re counting down the days from July 5th until the next year. I’m not hankering to run home and light a bunch of Roman candles and I don’t scour the internet for the latest firework technology. I certainly get the impulse to ask the operator, “Hey, how badly do you want to set off this sweet firework mortar in the parking lot?” but the truth is, we’re just your average, hard-working folks trying to make a few bucks for the summer. We probably saw a flyer or got an email that said the firework company was looking for help and thought it might be interesting to try. And while we come to learn a few things about what makes a cool firework show in your backyard, we can’t tell you if you’re going to have a spiritual awakening based on whether or not you go with the Dr. Boom or the Zombie Cake Aerial Finale. For some things, you just have to go with your gut.
YES, WEIRD THINGS HAPPEN AT FIREWORK TENTS AT NIGHT
Unless things have gotten more sophisticated since I helmed a firework tent, operators must stay in close proximity to their product at all times, for obvious reasons. First, in case something goes wrong in the tent where safety is a major concern. But second, sometimes people with ulterior motives show up and you’ve got to handle business. And by handling business, I mean you’ve got to tell the folks showing up at 3:00 AM to your tent that you will have to call the cops if they don’t leave. I once had a group of college kids show up, park directly outside my tent, and for some reason, down dozens of tacos in minutes. Years later, I still don’t understand it, but I do know that weird things like that seem to be drawn to firework tents.
YES, WE KNOW IT’S INSUFFERABLY HOT. NO, WE’RE NOT AMUSED.
Sometimes you have to do what you have to do, and that means taking on jobs that don’t have the best conditions. While working a firework tent is a lot of fun where we get to meet new people, have fun interactions, and learn what it’s like to run a business for a bit, it isn't lost on us that the sun has decided to point its blazing finger in our face. It’s at this point that I must ask you to refrain from making any weather-related jokes at your local tent worker's expense.
NO, YOU CAN’T SMOKE NEAR THE TENT AREA
The number of times I had to remind people of this…
YES, WE KNOW YOU WANT TO HAGGLE ON PRICE. IT’S OKAY!
Making deals on fireworks is a tradition as old as America itself (I cannot verify this). We know that you are at the tent because you want something to blow up in the sky, and we are certainly interested in the money you want to spend. Basically, if you want to spend big money, you’ll get a much bigger discount, and no, this is not pre-determined. Rather, it’s very much a feeling-out process. Some firework operators have wiggle room and can negotiate on price, so don’t be afraid to barter a bit. In doing so, please remember the operators are under no obligation to give you a better deal. So just be cool and kind and it’ll likely work out for both parties.
YES, WE QUESTION OUR LIFE CHOICES DURING THE SEASON
There were many times when I questioned my very existence and wondered if I would ever go back to a life of normalcy after working a firework tent. There was a stretch where I was literally at the tent location for 96 hours straight and only got a reprieve because I hired some college-aged kids (not the taco ones from earlier) to watch the tent while I went home to shower and sleep.
YES, IT'S WORTH IT
Operating a firework tent was a memorable experience for me. In the moment there were some natural frustrations and I had to learn on the fly without any guidance, but it was unique, and I was able to meet a lot of fascinating people and sell a whole lot of fireworks. I look back fondly on it during this time of year, and I hope those who are operating tents this year are able to find a lot of joy in the chaos of it all.
So, if you head out to a local firework tent during the holiday, make sure to be kind to the operator. Chances are they are good people from the area just trying to make a little bit of money. They’ll help you in any way they can to make sure you have a fun and safe firework experience! Happy 4th!