Friday, July 6, 2012

Welcome to Birch Bay, Tami's Tasty Treats

Birch Bay has a new breakfast and lunch alternative, located near the four-way stop sign where the Birch Bay-Lynden Road meets Blaine Road. It sits in the parking lot of the small grocery-movie rental-coffee store on the northwest corner of the intersection. The name of the "mobile restaurant" is Tami's Tasty Eats.

I have eaten there a couple of times, choosing from a menu that is changed weekly. The options during the last week of June were:

The Italian sub was heavily loaded and quite tasty. It was so big that I had it for two meals with a little left over for a snack. It cost $8.50, including some potato salad and a can of Coke. The potato salad was o.k., but a little drier than I prefer.

Another day, I tried the Burger with mushrooms and was pleased with the choice. The Burger patty was ample and the toppings made it a two-hander. In all, a nice lunch with some left over for a later hunger attack. It also cost $8.50 with a drink and potato salad.

Tami's Tasty Eats is open five days a week. Here are the hours:

It's nice to have an assortment of reasonably priced places with tasty food available in Birch Bay. So, good luck Tami's. 

Thursday, July 5, 2012

July 4, 2012: Birch Bay Celebrates with Flashes and Booms

On a crisp, clear day, as night approached, crowds gathered along Birch Bay Drive. Many of the people who own property near, but not on, the Bay went to their porches, decks, and balconies, joined by their guests. Others drug chairs to sit outside to watch the show. Lots of folks with beach-front property had invited guests, and they sat outside at picnic tables, eating and drinking and laughing. 

Several hundred people who don't live in Birch Bay parked along the drive or at a beach access lot. They selected the best spots they could find to watch the fireworks over Birch Bay.

As the nightfall approached, the stars of the show -- the people who had laid out big bucks for rockets, artillery shells, and other devices that produce loud noise and bright lights in the sky -- took their places along the half circle of the Bay. A few could not wait for the sunset to dim, and they started shooting their BoomBoomBooms, Whistling Busters, and Fast and Furious shells shortly after 9:00 p.m.

The explosions and bright flashes were framed by the Canadian mountains and the nearly islands.

A few explosions as the sunset lingers

Though dark has not yet arrived, this rocket produces a nice effect on the Bay
The serious firework display began at about 9:30, though the sunset was lingering. Viewing from near the entrance to the Birch Bay State Park, I could see several big firing points, most along the Bay from Harbor Road to the mouth of Terrell Creek, but also at the land owned by the Bay Rim Apartments, the public access point near the bridge over Terrell Creek, and other access points up to the state park.

Darkness deepens; the explosions intensify
The fun thing about Birch Bay fireworks is that the sequence and choice of fireworks at any given moment is random. Dozens of different people purchase the fireworks. They make, independently, choices about what they will buy, when they will shoot it, and from where they will launch their fireworks. The result is an un-programmed, even anarchic, display of light and sound. It is chaotic, inefficient, indecipherable; elements of the display might or might not exist at any minute -- depending on what is or is not done by sets of people who do not know each other. And of course, what each viewer sees depends on where he or she decides to stand or sit. Each location offers a different show. For those with an academic mentality, we would call this a democratic post-modernistic production; others would just call it crazy.  

The anarchy begins as random fireworks pop up in random places 

Light and sound along the Bay
With the uncoordinated nature of the fireworks display, the evening has moments of intense light and sound coming from different directions, often so fast that an observer is whipping his head from side to side in order not to miss anything. Then, the lulls will come, and quiet will descend for a few minutes, only to be following by another barrage at some unpredictable moment.  

The mountains, water, and boats nicely frame the fireworks display

The color of the fireworks multiplied in the Bay

Of course, many places throughout the United States have fireworks displays. Many have great, even dramatic, settings for their shows and hire professionals to plan the sequence of colors and sounds that will be shot up into the sky. Often these displays are awe inspiring and have elements that truly astound watchers.

The professional displays are great fun, but I have come to like the unpredictability and independent spirit of the Birch Bay night of fireworks. What it lacks in coherence, timing, plot, and grand finale, it makes up for with exuberance and endurance -- the fireworks display, starting tentatively in the 9:15 gloaming continues into the prime sleeping hour of midnight.

Birch Bay provide a magnificent setting for the fireworks display. The beauty of the colors of the fireworks, and the paintings they sketch in the sky, are especially vivid against the background of mountains and islands, and the reflections in the Bay.

After an hour or so of the fireworks, I grow weary of the explosions and less enthralled with the colors in the sky. Then, I like to squint my eyes as I look into the sky. Also I enjoy viewing the colors of the fireworks reflected in the Bay and on Terrell Creek. These ways of seeing the fireworks create abstract art that could hang in a museum.

Squint your eyes and look up to see this in the Birch Bay sky

The beauty of Birch Bay on July 4, 2012

Wednesday, July 4, 2012

My Inelegant Firecracker Stand, Fayetteville 1961

Early Evening, July 4th in Birch Bay
I built my first firecracker stand in June 1961. It was rudimentary. A few boards were nailed together horizontally and vertically to create a rectangular structure about 4 feet by 8 feet, with a height—after a couple of tarps were attached to the top and back—of about 7 feet. The front of the stand had a counter top running the length of the stand, about 4 feet up from the ground. The space below it was covered by “Fireworks” banners and signs. In the back of the stand, at about eye height, were shelves on which the merchandise was displayed.

The stand was built in the front of a nice house on S. School Street (Highway 71S), maybe a couple hundred yards from the red light where 6th Street (now, Martin Luther King Blvd) intersects School. The owners of the house, a quiet elderly couple, let me put up the stand in their yard and provided electricity for $10. Nearby to the south was a two-story building from which part of the bottom was missing, providing space for cars to exit the road and park out of the weather. It had been an early gas station; in 1961, a small grocery store was located there. Just a bit further to the south was a Dairy-Queen type drive in. It was here that I and my cousin Morris Daniels went a couple of times that summer to drink huge amounts of root beer and pretend like it made us drunk.

To sell fireworks in 1961, a city permit was required and I climbed the stairs at the city hall on Rock Street, near the Square, to find the office selling them. Also, I needed fireworks -- crackers, candles, cones, rockets -- to fill the shelves. That year, I could buy—with money advanced by my dad—wholesale fireworks from Mr. Laner (father of Jerry, First National Bank, 3rd baseman) and Mr. Pomfret (father of Jim, Campbell Soup, 1st baseman). The former sold them out of his house on E. Lafayette; the latter had a wholesale business on North Block Street. In the years that followed, I had to go to Ft. Smith to get wholesale fireworks.

I was able to set up and manage a firework stand in 1961 because I had served an apprenticeship with Bobby Carnes, who live a few houses up 6th Street from me. He was three years my senior with much more business acumen. I worked for two summers at his firework stands, including one he had at my 1961 location and another on Dickson in a vacant lot at the corner of N. East Street, across from the Central United Methodist Church. Mainly I sat in Bobby’s stands, working long hours as a “salesman.” To say the least, Bobby was not generous with his pay, and when I was 13 I was so hurt by how little he paid me for many hours of work that I vowed I would have my own stand the following year. And I would crush him in any neighborhood sport in which we played against each other. I did both.

I hired some neighborhood kids to help out at my firecracker stand. I am not sure who worked for me in 1961; I think it was Steve Baucom, who was a couple of years younger than me and lived nearby. In the following years, I hired Ronnie Keeton’s little brother and, I think, Bill Crook’s younger brother, John, to help out selling fireworks, plus other kids whose names I have forgotten. I probably did not pay them as much as I should have.

My first year as owner-operator of a firecracker stand was a financial success. The mark-up was 50 percent, and I sold enough to net about $200. Elated, I stored a couple of boxes full of unsold fireworks in my closet and looked forward to repeating the experience in coming years.

The next year I learned about the vagaries of business. It turned out that firework stands were a cyclical business. One year, the folks running the stands would make some good money, and tell other folks about their success. The next year, many more firecracker stands would appear. With more competition and not much increase in demand, almost all of the stand operators would have disappointing results. For example, in 1962 there was a firecracker stand on most corners of the city, I made nearly nothing. The year following the disappointment, fewer stands would be built and each person with a stand would have a good year, as I did in 1963 (it paid much of the expense of three weeks at Big State Baseball Camp in Dallas).

I continued with the firework stands for three more years after 1961, and each year I built a sturdier, more comfortable, and more aesthetically pleasing stand. Truth is, the first stand I built was something of a disaster. It was my first experience building anything, and I hardly knew how to drive a nail. I am sure the old man letting me use his yard winced every time he saw the rickety structure -- how did it stay up? -- I built in the front of his house. With practice and some investment in quality wood and nice tarps, I later built firecracker stands that were not an embarrassment to the community.

Large Fireworks Stand
Of course, small firecracker stands were near the abyss in 1964, when I built my last one. They were facing the challenges of mega-stands -- huge structures built by professionals. These mega-stands were owned and operated by big companies that had figured out serious money could be made by selling fireworks. They wiped out the little firecracker stands like mine that could not offer the same selection of fireworks or make money with the discounted prices. Selling fireworks became a big business in the 60's and still is.

When July 4th approaches every year, I cannot help but recall the fun I had with my little firecracker stands and the money that I made. I also remember, with appreciation, all that I learned from these small adventures into business. Above all, I remember with some pride the touches of elegance that I built into my firecracker stands as each year passed.