Travel Story: A Buddy Movie with Explosives

a road trip of the great Northwest

Aryn Widule, illustrated by Erik Christenson

This trip almost, ALMOST never happened. My friend, Brent, got a job selling fireworks outside of Seattle for a month leading up to July 4th. He asked if I wanted in, I said “Yes.” So after getting prepared and saying my goodbyes, I get a call from Brent on the eve of my road trip out west. 

“Dude, I don’t know if this is going to work out. I might come back.” 

The job Brent and I were intended to hold was supplying fireworks to the retailers who owned stands. The operation was set up behind a carnival-ish accumulation of fireworks stands in a parking lot. Not exactly luxurious, but an adventure nonetheless. And one I was looking forward to until Brent dropped this untimely bomb.

I asked him why and, long story short, apparently he got shot at. Several times. He was fine, but rattled. I told him to let me know and we left it at that. He called the next day and told me he decided to tough it out and I made my way, slightly apprehensive, out to the great soggy Northwest. (Note: For the month we were in Seattle, it rained once.)

We created games to pass the time involving the forklift, bought a remote controlled car, and played racquetball. We blasted music and drank beer. We were Ferris Buellers living a month in a giant warehouse filled with explosives.

Using his brush with death as leverage, Brent negotiated a deal where we wouldn’t work in the wild west of the parking lot, but a half hour away tending a warehouse full of explosives in a new, sterile, industrial park in a suburb of the greater metro area. Now at this point in the story the fear of robbery gives way to an awesome 80s buddy movie. 

We camped out in the warehouse and went to town once a week to take a shower at a hotel. We created games to pass the time involving the forklift, bought a remote controlled car, and played racquetball. We blasted music and drank beer. We were Ferris Buellers living a month in a giant warehouse filled with explosives. Every time someone pulled up it was a crapshoot. It was interesting. We supplied the operation at the parking lot, but also dealt directly with the interesting folks in the stands. Never again, at 2am, will I get woken at up from my nest in the corner of a warehouse by a man with a single braid pounding on a giant metal door. Never.

The month passed and we had our adventure. Brent became the respectable face of our operation. I became the dirty mute in a cutoff Guns & Roses t-shirt who drove the forklift and loaded the trucks. We had a system. We had fun. 

The plan was to use our wages to spend the rest of the summer tooling up and down the west coast. We had friends in Portland and Seattle, Brent had family in Eugene and down the California coast. We spent the fourth on the roof of the warehouse, watching a half dozen fireworks displayed going off simultaneously in the various surrounding bergs. We set out soon after and spent a week at a friend’s house on Whidbey Island, across the Puget Sound from Seattle proper. The views were amazing, the seafood was fresh, and the company was good. This was our little vacation within a vacation; time to relax before setting out on a summer-long road trip.

After Whidbey, we hiked Olympic National Park and made our way to Oregon. We spent a day with new friends at a hidden bend in a river an hour outside of Portland. That part of the country was buried under a heat wave, and that day we jumped off rocks into the ridiculously cool, clear water. It was like the part in a bad movie right before one of the kids winds up murdered. Luckily, no murders occurred. 

We made our way down the coast, seeing the sights and generally doing what people do on a road trip. The final week was spent with Brent’s parents north of Los Angeles. One day while on a walk outside of town, I looked down and saw I was being followed by – get this – a puppy. An adorable, emaciated puppy covered in ticks. It followed me back to Brent’s parents, spent the week living in a friend’s backyard with his goofy mutt, and accompanied us on our drive back to Eau Claire. I donated her to some friends who had wanted a dog, and to this day she regularly accompanies them to Clancy’s.

Specific events aside, the moral of this story was that it was worth it. We spent more money than we made at the warehouse, my car got dinged and dented, and we spent a month camping on a concrete floor. But in the end it was easily the best summer I’ve had so far. Every road trip is different, and one thing you realize is that you don’t have to hop in a plane or cross an ocean to make a trip worthwhile. And if you’re trying to decide if you should go exploring, take the time off work, or if you should stick it out after you got shot at, the answer is simple. You should. You absolutely should.