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A not-so-objective ranking of ‘driveway fireworks’

UNITED STATES (MEDIA GENERAL) — My fellow Americans: As we prepare to celebrate another Independence Day, I think it’s time we have a discussion about what I refer to as “driveway fireworks.” Not the big display downtown over the river or whatever your hometown does to celebrate. I’m talking about the giant paper bag your uncle has tucked under his arm while he’s rocking an American flag tank top and a twelve-pack of Bud in each hand.

Driveway fireworks are the ones you buy from the grocery store or the temporary circus tent in said grocery store’s parking lot. Driveway fireworks are just a small way to celebrate our freedom and let your neighbors know you don’t mind burn marks on your sidewalk. But not all driveway fireworks are created equal. Here are my rankings, from worst to first:

Last: Sparklers

First, let’s get this out of the way: I’m speaking in generalities. I’m sure I’m leaving out some type of firecracker or whatever. I have seven types of fireworks on this list, but I’m not willing to list sparklers as No. 7. In case I forgot a type of firecracker, let’s generally assume that will finish above sparklers – because sparklers are the worst.

Sparklers are in last place.

Sparklers are meant for kids, presumably, because small children are the only ones entertained by them, but dissecting what is a sparkler shows how horrible they are. Sparklers are a thin, metal rod coated with a pyrotechnic compound that gives off sparks. You get a minute of sparks (fun!), then you are left with a burning-hot metal stick. Great for kids? No, bad! Bad for kids! Bad for everyone!

6. Firecrackers and smoke bombs

This may be an unpopular opinion, but firecrackers and smoke bombs are low on this list. Simply put, they are pretty pointless. I’m not big into loud bangs. Even 8-year-old me is like, “That’s it?”

Your dog agrees with me.

5. Snakes and poppers

Let’s be honest, no one likes snakes or poppers, but at least they are fireworks that are entertaining for kids and the odds of them injuring themselves are notably lower than sparklers. So here they are at No. 5.

Glad we got that out of the way. Let’s get to some fireworks that actually have some entertainment value.

4. Fountains

Woo, fountains! Every kid gets that unrelenting excitement over the giant cardboard package of assorted fountains at the local box store.

“And it’s only $19.95. Come on, mom! You cannot pass up that bargain!” Don’t worry, kid. Dad always secretly doubles back and gets the cool pack of fountains.

Fountains are entertaining if only because there usually is some element of surprise. My favorites are the ones you think are duds and then go off right as “tank top uncle” bravely goes to check the wick. “Hit the deck, Randy!”

3. Bottle rockets

I can’t quite pin down what makes bottle rockets as entertaining as they are. They come in packs of 50, which, as a kid, brings endless possibilities.

Lighting off bottle rockets was the first time my dad trusted me with his lighter. A 10-year-old with a Bic lighter. Oh man, I thought I was the coolest kid on the block.

It was also fun to pretend with my brother and friends that we were lighting artillery shells and “bombing” the enemy — AKA our grumpy neighbor — in the opposing trench. “These colors don’t run, Frank! This is what you get when you said you wouldn’t let me get my football from your yard!”

That is an act of war to a kid.

2. Roman candles

Now we’re talking. Roman candles are somewhere in between the fireworks you get at the box store and the stuff you have to buy from the guy’s garage a few blocks away. When you think about it, Roman candles are just a mini version of the big-time fireworks, and that makes them cool.

I know people who used to take Roman candles and shoot them at each other. This never even crossed my radar as a kid. If someone asked me why I didn’t want to get in a Roman candle fight, I figure my response would be, “No thanks! I don’t feel like getting shot by fireworks,” and then shoot them a big ol’ “what the heck is wrong with you” sneer.

Seriously, people do this. Don’t do this.

1. Artillery Shells

It’s hard to feel more patriotic than spurning local or state ordinances about fireworks than by smuggling in some artillery shells from out of state. “Freedom! You can’t tell me what to do!”

To a kid, artillery shells are thrilling. It’s a mini-version of the cool show downtown! But equally as thrilling is secretly wondering if the cops are gonna show up and bust your dad.“It’s the fuzz! Someone stash the evidence! Frank! Did you call the cops? This fight isn’t over, Frank!”

In all seriousness, enjoy the holiday weekend. Be safe, and obey all state and local ordinances and follow CPSC safety suggestions.