How a practical joke nearly got me killed

Back in the early eighties, when I lived in the US, I used to work in a travelling Laser Light show that used do the carnival circuit in the summer and the car show circuit in the winter. The Laser show was called “Laser One” and it was transported in a three-wheeled trailer towed by a high cube truck with a tow ball. The trailer had a fold out façade with two revolving-door entrances at either end and it housed the control room with the actual laser in the middle.

The positioning of the entrances meant that the triple axel with the very small wheels were in the middle of the trailer, instead of the end. The mid mounting of the axels and the tow ball hitching system led to a very unpredictable and dangerous ride. The trailer was quite heavy and it used to seesaw up and down over any undulations in the road plus wheels would regularly tear off while we were driving down the highways. The wheels used to tear off because of metal fatigue caused by the forces exerted on the outside wheels as they were dragged around the middle wheels when very tight turns were made during parking. It wasn’t unusual to be travelling down the road and to see one of our wheels passing us and a shower of sparks coming off the dragging hub. I didn’t get my drivers licence until I was 35 so my job in lieu of sharing the driving was to change wheels and tyres when needed. It was needed often and, often it was in the middle of the night in freezing conditions.

Most of the driving was done by our manager, Brian “Buzz” Carlos, and sometimes my other co-worker, Jordan would help out.

Buzz

Buzz was a very levelheaded and intelligent guy who was a pleasure to work with. None of us smoked and it came as a surprise to Jordan and I that Buzz started smoking when we were in Milwaukee. At first it was only one cigarette every couple of days but then of course it turned into one a day and when he starting a couple a day. I thought it would be hilarious to play a practical joke on him. I went to a magic and novelty store and bought some “spikes”.

Spikes are about 1cm (1/3 of an inch) long and about half the thickness of a matchstick. They are pushed into the end of cigarettes to make them explode. So when Buzz put his smokes down one day, I inserted a few spikes into them, while he wasn’t looking, and waited. Lo and behold, Buzz didn’t pick a “spiked” cigarette for over a week. In the meantime, winter was coming and as it was getting colder Buzz went out and bought a very nice parka with wolf fur trim because the heating in the truck wasn’t adequate.

At the end of a “spot” (the place where the show was held) we’d do the “strike” (take down the show) at the end of the last day, which would take about five hours and then we’d jump into the truck and drive through the night, straight to the next spot.

With the show in Milwaukee finished we headed south through Tennessee as it was starting to snow and by the time we reached the Smoky Mountains there was a blizzard. We’d been up all night, and Buzz had been at the wheel without a break, when we started to hear frantic messages over the CB. Things like “if you heading down the mountain at such and such, get out of my way, cause my brakes ain’t working!” or “watch out for such and such a place as there is black ice and two trucks have left the road”, etc. There were smashed cars and trucks all over the place. Buzz took it all in his stride and just drove on through the carnage. After all, we had to get to the next spot on time. The snow just kept on falling and the blizzard winds made the visibility very poor.

During one particularly long steep descent down a mountain road thickly covered with snow; almost no visibility and a bucking and weaving truck, Buzz in his nervousness decides that it would be a good time to light a cigarette. BANG!! The cigarette blew up and hot embers went into Buzz’s eyes, blinding him and also setting his brand new parker on fire! The truck was starting to fishtail because of Buzz’s flinch at the wheel when the spike went off. Jordan grabbed the wheel and helped Buzz regain control. When we got to the bottom of the hill Buzz pulled the truck over and jumped out of the cab to put out this smouldering parka.

Needless to say, I wasn’t a very popular boy that day. I won’t be putting spikes in people’s cigarettes again.