A little before five in the evening this past Saturday, Facebook and Twitter played hosts to a very strange story that continues to unravel. The Fairbanks Daily News Miner posted about “reports of a big explosion over in Chena Ridge area.”
Scores of comments began to trickle in, as the rest of us scratched our collective heads. Some people had mistaken the blast for an earthquake; others thought it was a sonic boom. The News Miner reported that troopers were checking it out, and there was no word yet from the fire department.
Something sizable and odd had taken place, but the general consensus remained one of mildly nervous befuddlement.
And then a firsthand account with some specifics materialized in the online thread: “It was a guy in my neighborhood off Heather Drive. It is an individual (or someone on his property) who had done this before, though never this bad. Broke windows at our house, and caused damage to other homes in the neighborhood. Recreational explosives.”
This gave me pause. It was a term I had not heard prior to this occasion. “Recreational Explosives.” The first word seemed a bit antithetical when applied to the second. A recreational explosive, to me, conjures up the image of a roman candle, or something similar and equally unlikely to remove glass from pane. Facebook began collectively scratching their heads harder.
Unfortunately, it became the term we ran with. “Several neighbors suspect recreational explosives because of a local homeowner who has a shooting range that’s been the source of smaller explosions in the past,” the News-Miner offered during Sunday morning’s coverage. Alaska Dispatch cited that article and repeated the same language.
I jumped on the Google machine and entered the term. As it turns out, it’s a thing. The first search result pointed me towards “RecreationalExplosives.org,” which features the tag line: “I don’t know why everyone does not share my delight with explosives. If they don’t, it has to be some abhorrent character defect.”
The website is devoted, as one might expect, to images of people blowing things up. And it’s got company. There are tons of fan sites for connoisseurs of the boom – they actually refer to themselves as “boomers.” Photos of blowing things up. Videos of blowing things up. Annual festivals where people travel from all corners of the country to take pictures of other people watching things blow up.
Everyone needs a hobby. And human beings are diverse creatures. Pick a noun out of a hat and I’ll show you a society of enthusiasts – complete with custom coffee mugs.
But a description of something should be accurate, right? Those who fancy a good recreational explosion should ensure that the “recreational” part of said explosion is universally enjoyed. Otherwise it can’t really be called recreational; recreation generally isn’t imposed on people.
The Dispatch highlighted the experience of resident Cody Crane, who’s “garage doors were blown off their hinges and pushed in, sliding came off the house, and there are cracks in the front wall.” The News-Miner noted that Melanie Arthur also lost three storm windows. Three quarters of a mile from the detonation, the blast was large enough to give her the impression that her propane tank had blown up. (Another witness reported the violent overturning of a salt shaker. We will rebuild.)
The News-Miner published a follow up this week, detailing that the “force of the blast did at least $15,000 in property damage to area homes, a sum that is expected to rise as more reports come in.”
At a certain point an explosion crosses a threshold where it is no longer recreational. The residents who heard a loud noise and then found shattered glass – where the barrier between their living room and winter weather in Fairbanks is generally found – probably wouldn’t be assuaged by an explanation of: “Sorry, I was recreating.” I doubt that even Guy “Chris” Mannino, the alleged perpetrator who is now part of an investigation, feels as though he made a wise decision regarding how to spend his day off.
Put bluntly, liberty ceases to be liberty when it is used as an excuse to blow up someone else’s stuff.
Homelessness is not best suited by reports on the “residentially flexible.” The crime rate shouldn’t be glossed over as reports of “street activity.” People doing stupid things shouldn’t be excused as “creative.” Simply put, words have meanings. It’s probably best not to associate hobbies like fishing or needlepoint with an occurrence that was very much a large explosion in a residential area that put “more than $100,000 of someone else’s property at risk ‘by the use of widely dangerous means.’”
One man’s haphazard fondness for repeatedly exploding things in a residential neighborhood could have easily proven fatal. We have more accurate terms that we tend to apply to people who blow up property at the risk of human life. We should stick to them. It beats couching really dumb, expensive, domestic-terrorismy activity in a phrase that sounds like a guy went golfing and used the wrong club for a tee shot.