IMPASSE, Arizona–Jose Cuervo Gomez, mayor of this central Arizona town, has spent the week responding to rumors that a North Korean missile caused his town’s Fourth of July fireworks to explode prematurely.
Gomez said the fireworks cache actually exploded due to a “miscalculation” by an Impasse police officer. That resulted in what could be described as the grandest finale ever, or the shortest fireworks show on record, depending on your point of view.
The mayor said the town’s police chief, Winston “Worm” Wormley, came up with the Korean missile scenario to “cover his department’s butt.” Gonzales said Wormley told the missile yarn to reporter Spade Holloway of the Impasse Weekly Record, not realizing that the newspaperman was a stringer for The Associated Press.
News travels fast, and on Wednesday morning, the mayor was dealing with skeptical inquiries from the AP, CNN, Oprah Winfrey and the FBI.
I have celebrated a couple of Independence Days in Impasse, and I have to say that the town puts its heart into the celebration. The arsonists who put on the fireworks show also donate an occasional finger to the cause.
People who grow up here usually have to leave town to find work, but many return for the Fourth, with their spouses and kids. There are barbecues, dances and a small rodeo.
Political divisions are forgotten for one day. No one questions another’s patriotism, because this is the Fourth of July.
For such a small town, Impasse puts on an impressive Fourth of July parade. The town has grown so much that they no longer have to run it past twice to make it last an hour.
Clubs, businesses and churches put a lot of work into the fancier floats, and they get pretty competitive. Shriners from the big city show up with their funny cars and motorcycles.
However, anyone who wants to be in the parade is free to get in line. This day is about freedom, right?
A citizen may ride his or her horse, motorycle, quad, 1929 Ford, restored or in decrepit condition, his or her antique bicycle.
Several collectors travel the parade route aboard “Johnny Poppers,” antique, two-cylinder John Deere tractors.
Mortician Charles “Deerely” Departid puts a boombox on top of his prize 1936 John Deere and plays Lee Greenwood’s “I’m Proud To Be an American.” There is not a heart that is not stirred by that song, even when the popping tractor engine gives it a syncopated beat.
One year Spud Hawkins drove an old gasoline-powered Maytag washing machine in the parade, but he has since sold it on eBay.
Spud’s brother Earl decided to put his sixteen Texas longhorn steers into the parade this year. He had three of his kids saddle up to help him herd them along the parade route, and keep them out of people’s yards.
That was not nearly enough cowboys for sixteen Texas longhorns, who preferred to walk on the sidewalks where spectators had placed their lawn chairs. However, the only serious damage was when the left horn of one rambunctious steer tore all the bunting off the side of the VFW float.
When Delfina Wormley, the police chief’s wife, heard that Earl was going to enter his longhorns, she decided to ride her spirited pet zebra in the parade. It is believed to be the first zebra ever imported into the Impasse Valley, and it kept wanting to turn around and go back to its pen.
Keeping the parade on track is the job of Sergeant Bruce Lockjaw of the Impasse Police Department and his minions, officers named Dennis and Debby.
Lockjaw was called on to ameliorate a vigorous dispute about whether a zebra is a white horse with black stripes, or a black horse with white stripes. He said alcohol seemed to be a factor in the argument, which involved several morose patrons of the Bar X Bar. They had been expelled by the bartender, Betty, who wanted to watch the parade.
Then Lockjaw discovered that when the parade turned left at the town’s one traffic light, Earl’s longhorns had gone right. He urged Earl to take the longhorns back to their pasture, rather than trying to rejoin the parade.
Sergeant Lockjaw had grown weary and ill-tempered by the time he had to help direct traffic to the fireworks show.
The fireworks are always set off from the asphalt pad behind Safeway, and people park all over Walter Sansom’s pasture to watch. Lockjaw and the two other cops were trying to persuade people to park in something resembling rows.
The “committee” which does the fireworks is a daring crew. They had put the arm on a good many Impasse businesses, and laid in the biggest stock of fireworks ever.
Mayor Gomez said no one on the committee will confess to tinkering prematurely with the fireworks. But suddenly, Lockjaw saw a rocket coming at him, laterally, rapidly, following a crazy path.
Reflexively, he pulled out his .40 caliber Glock and fired five rounds at the oncoming rocket. Lockjaw dived under his car just after his bullets hit the fireworks magazine.
Mayor Gomez, who had planned to give a patriotic speech before the show began, said it looked like a volcano was erupting behind Safeway. He admitted that he tried to crawl under a large dumpster behind Safeway, and found it was too low to the ground.
Latecomers, who were parked safely out in the middle of the pasture, stood and cheered. Spectators nearer to the explosion ran for distance or for cover, diving under cars and trucks as opportunities presented themselves.
Ace Chavez said he sought protection in a port-a-john and found five screaming women already there. Some moisture was evident, he said.
Under his patrol car, Sergeant Lockjaw encountered a rattlesnake. He blew the snake’s head off and flattened his right front tire with a single shot.
Mayor Gomez said there were only minor injuries, and the Impasse Volunteer Fire Department held damage to a minimum. He said the feed store and the high school were fully insured.
The mayor said the explosion was a minor headache compared to the rumors of Korean missiles. By the weekend, however, only the sleaziest supermarket tabloids were still phoning him. He suspended Police Chief Wormley and Sergeant Lockjaw for a day without pay.
Now there’s a new rumor floating around, and it is the stuff of which urban legends are born. The story is that Enron founder Ken Lay did not really die on Wednesday in Aspen, Colorado.
This story says that the CIA planted another body in Aspen, and that Lay is hiding out at a defunct resort ranch near Impasse.
Mayor Gomez said, “Hey, I love my town, but why in the world would someone want to hide out in a jerkwater place like this? We don’t need another Hoffa.”
Wormley replied, “Don’t you see? That’s the genius of the plot. Who’d look here for Ken Lay?”