Andrew Dys

Oh, say can you see N.C. revelers heading south for rockets' red glare?

Erik Bolin shops for fireworks Thursday at Tim Reid's fireworks stand off Carowinds Boulevard in Fort Mill.
Erik Bolin shops for fireworks Thursday at Tim Reid's fireworks stand off Carowinds Boulevard in Fort Mill.

FORT MILL -- North Carolina is a state filled with men who cheer for basketball players whose mascot is a sheep, yet have made a life's gag out of looking down at South Carolina.

Stunner: In North Carolina, it's illegal to have a blast the next few days.

Fireworks. Punishable by up to 30 days in jail.

Cops could confiscate your loot or lock you up for blowing off anything that leaves the ground or makes a bang.

Charlotte, a place that considers a party two Cheerwines and a call to the neighbors complaining about why their grass is too high, will get a good night's sleep around Independence Day. They will play their James Taylor records as lullabies.

While we do not go gently into that good night.

North Carolina wants to make people such as Mike Hendley of Rockingham County a criminal. Hendley came all the way to Paramount's Carowinds to give his kids a thrill and then stopped at Tim Reid's huge fireworks store in a nearby parking lot to buy something legal in North Carolina.

The selection of what is legal would bore the dead.

"Once a year, I want to be patriotic, show how much I love my country," Hendley said. "I want to show I care about my country. But I can't. I'm no lawbreaker."

There are people like Reid at the state line on the South Carolina side who know people demand action. Reid has sold fireworks for 20 years from his spot.

"We get people from North Carolina, sure, but as far as Pennsylvania, too," Reid said. "I bet 80 percent of our business this busy few days is from out of state. Probably more."

In South Carolina, almost anything short of a bazooka is legal. Not really a bazooka, but if it rises into the night and showers colors, makes enough noise to scare the mother-in-law into going home early, or is just plain fun, it's legal.

"There was a time when South Carolina was the stop for everybody going up and down the East Coast," said Jerry Wingard, program director for the S.C. Board of Pyrotechnic Safety. "Places like Hardeeville and Fort Mill and North Augusta and Fair Play along the Interstates were filled with crossover buyers from all those states who wanted what we had and they didn't."

Now, 45 states allow some fireworks, Wingard said. North Carolina allows yawns.

South Carolina is so serious about fireworks and safety that it is the only state in the country with a pyrotechnics safety board, said Brian Mixon, who runs American Pyrotechnics Events in Rowesville and sits on the board.

Mixon and Wingard said that North Carolina's fireworks laws allow what is called in the trade, "safe and sane."

Translation: Boring and cheesy.

Maybe Charlotte's bankers can ring in Independence Day with a glass of overpriced wine, soft cheese and giggles about how they lost their cell phone call trying to get a tee time.

Yet like the lottery, before North Carolina elbowed in a few months ago to get all that tasty money, and video poker before that, South Carolina holds up its fireworks to lawbreakers from North Carolina like a trophy. Come get 'em.

Balloons soar over state-line fireworks businesses. Tar Heels who refuse to fall asleep in lawn chairs July 4 to the sound of crickets chirping flock to the state line to buy fireworks that immediately become illegal as they drive home.

One guy gave me his name as he bought fireworks to take home to Charlotte for his son. Like his dad did for him. And his father before him. You will not read that man's name here. The rocket scientists that make the laws in North Carolina say this father is a criminal.

"I know I can't get what I want in Charlotte," the man said. "It's a tradition to have fireworks. We are safe. We just want a big spectacle."

Over the next few days, South Carolinians will light their rockets and carry on with their neighbors and laugh until their sides hurt.

Towns around North Carolina will have sanctioned fireworks on the Fourth of July. They will ask people to come and watch. To stand quietly. One can almost hear James Taylor inducing comas from the mountains to the sea.

Ooh. Aah.

Blah.

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