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Slices of Life After the Tennessee Fireworks Fire

Titan missile!

Thankfully this wasn’t a real missile or the incident would’ve made even bigger headlines.

We’ve seen missiles sitting next to interstate exits before, but we’re not yet jaded enough to pass them by without wondering what their story is.

Previously on Midlife Crisis Crossover:

Earlier in October Anne and I drove down through Kentucky and down to Knoxville, Tennessee, to meet a few fabulous folks at Fanboy Expo’s Totally Awesome Weekend, a convention we’d never done before. After we’d had another round of geek fun, we capped off our weekend with quite a bit of sightseeing (including but not limited to a giant dragon)…

We first noticed the missile on our way down to the convention, seemingly abandoned on a hill behind a gas station. Honestly, it’s impossible to miss. We didn’t have time to investigate it in the morning, but we agreed it had to be added to our afternoon to-do list. Exit 141 is seven miles north of the Big Green Dragon on I-75, making for one heck of a roadside attraction double-feature. Accompanying the faux Titan was an assortment of mismatched ruins that didn’t quite add up till we looked into the story later.

Ferris Wheel!

Sorry, kids, the fake Ferris wheel is permanently closed.

Once upon a time there was a fireworks superstore called Patriotic Palace. I imagine for a long time it was the local headquarters for all your July 4th needs, or for any other days when local authorities permitted off-season explosions. We’re not from Tennessee, so I can’t speak to their reputation or whether or not they were essential members of the community.

Patriotic Palace!

Celebrate the birth of American democracy with explosives bought from a pretend-monarchy!

What we do know is that on the afternoon of Sunday, July 6, 2014, Patriotic Palace caught fire and burned to the ground. I was unable to locate any follow-up reports about the cause of the fire, assuming the local fire authorities eventually did ascertain the chain of events and didn’t simply fill in the “Cause of Fire” field on their official forms with “I’m thinking fireworks, probably, duh.”

We saw nary a trace of the original building, but one site has three different videos of the day the sparklers burned too brightly. Several of the superstore’s super-sized showpieces still stand as a sort of surreal, sooty Stonehenge.

Ferris Wheel also!

Leaning against the castle is a second, equally non-functional Ferris wheel, possibly acquired as part of a BOGO special at Amusement Mart.

Fire Dept!

Ironic old-time firetruck with advertising extensions.

Fire House No. 1!

Have we reached Peak Fire Irony here yet?

The former store’s gateway remains at the bottom of the hill at the edge of the gas station parking lot. Sources indicate the area had been closed off at least as late as June 2016. That’s not the case anymore. As we approached and drove through, we paid no heed to a minor modification overhead.

Fireworks Superstore!

We dismissed it offhand, focused as we were on the Titan missile coming up.

I parked the car in the middle of the empty lot where the store once stood, the pieces perched around us on the perimeter. When we got out of the car, a distant voice yelled something like, “ARE YOU HUNGRY?”

I turned toward the source and realized we weren’t alone. Somehow we’d both overlooked an entire trailer, a truck parked behind it, and a man standing at a grill tending to one or more large chunks of meat.

Smokin' Butts!

To say nothing of their de facto dining room.

And that’s where we met the proprietors of Smokin’ Butts BBQ, a husband and wife selling fresh barbecue sandwiches and sides by the roadside. It’s not as though anyone else was using the space, so why not. They were kind enough to let us try free samples of two different meats, pulled pork and tenderloin slices. The wife prided herself on two different homemade, Kansas City-style barbecue sauces — one sweet, one hot. Both were excellent, but the sweet sauce tasted of instant addiction. I wasn’t exactly starving after our sizable lunch in Knoxville, but I refused to leave empty-handed. I bought a succulent tenderloin sandwich for the road, plus a small cup of the sweet BBQ sauce that I am really missing right now.

What we figured would be three minutes of photographing weird ruins turned out to be an unexpected yet happy moment of culinary surprise. From the ashes of the fireworks superstore have arisen a pair of new occupants putting fire to much safer and tastier use.

* * * * *

Previous chapters in this special MCC miniseries:

* Pedestrians Among the Not-So-Pedestrian
* Our Fanboy Expo Totally Awesome Weekend 2017 Photos
* Scales of Danger!
* Journey to the Heart of the Sunsphere
* The Art of a Downtown Knoxville Walk

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About Randall A. Golden
Hoosier since birth, geek since age 6, father at 22, Christian at 30; launched Midlife Crisis Crossover at 39. Full-time service rep; part-time internet contributor; former message board admin; inhabits Twitter as @RandallGolden. Views expressed herein do not necessarily reflect those of any other corporation, being, or party line.

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