Friday, December 12, 2003

Manhattan Grill, Cresta

Friday, December 12, 2003

Service: * * 1/2
Food: * * *1/2
Ambience: * * *
Babe Count: * * * *1/2

Bonnie Pon, boss of Starburst Pyrotechnics, fireworks display king!It's eleven o'clock at night. My shoe soles are still smouldering. I have tiny splinters in my hands and arms. My eyebrows are a tad singed.

Funnily enough, Troy Bentley's suffering something similar.

And so is Bonnie Pon. But with the addition of a pressure bandage round his ankle from when he fell in the hole.

Bonnie is the head of the Pon family, the dudes responsible for many of the night-sky fireworks spectaculars you see in South Africa. They go all over the place, and they've got state-of-the-art equipment. This year they've synchronised their explosions to the music by using an amazing computer program linked to various detonators. These people are WAY up there on the technological wizardry scale.

So lemme start at the beginning of the evening, before the burning started.

I'm in Bookdealers of Rosebank, trying to find some suitable new screenwriting books. Or sketching sourcebooks. Or anything that a compulsive book-buyer might want, really. Jacqui is off at the Hoogland Hydro for five days of pampering, and I'm killing time till tomorrow, when Damon and I will recommence work on writing our B-movie horror screenplay.

Margaret Pon, Bonnie's wife. She looks a whole lot better in real life than in my drawing. And I'm not just saying this cos they bought me supper. It's cos it's true!My phone rings. It's Troy Bentley, Damon's cousin. "Get your butt to Cresta," he says. "Fireworks starts in half an hour!" I discuss where to find him, and skedaddle, after only buying one book, something on how to structure corporate social investment programs.

The traffic is crazy. Getting to my flat just across the way from Cresta Shopping Centre is sheer mania. But hey. Fireworks! I park. Walk to Cresta and find Troy.

Every year, he helps the Pons out with setting up, monitoring, and packing up the show. Last year he also invited me, and I ended up helping load the trucks at the end. Hard, dirty work.

Tonight, I'm early, and Troy is on fire duty. He's got a team of six guys, and they've all got fire beaters. That's cos Cresta borders a nature reserve and office park, and noone wants a fire now, do they? Specially not me.

So the show starts. And it's absolutely unbelievably mindnumbingly wonderful to be allowed into the restricted zone, and see the fireworks from below. To feel the vicious thud of the big rockets as they smash out of their metre-long plastic launchers 300 metres up into the air. To smell the spent gunpowder as it pelts down like hail. Yeah! This is the life.

And all's going perfectly well, really. Until the very last minute of the 21-minute show. That's when the corkscrewy sorta sperm-like explosions happen, with the white flames showering down under power. Carried by the wind. To the ground. Into the dry grass.

So of course, no fewer than three fires start. And Troy and his men are gone, sprinting into the dark. So I figure that a bit of heroism is a good thing on a Friday night. I go sprinting after them.

Theresa Pon, one of Bonnie's daughters. Yummie.And boy, do I find out just how difficult it is to fight fires on a dark night in marshland with thorn trees? From about 8pm till 11pm when we finally get into the restaurant, we all battle the blazes manfully.

Troy and I team up, working as a pair, beating the advancing fires against the wind. Of the six fire beaters employed to do this job, only one guy is effective. The other five kinda hang back, superstitiously warding off the flames with broken branches held over their eyes.

So it's basically me, Troy, Bonnie, and the tall dude, whose name I don't know. We put out three goddamn fires all on our lonesomes.

Except Bonnie walks to some reeds and then disappears. A calm yelp from him, and he re-emerges a minute or so later. He's fallen into a human-sized hole, and his ankle is wrecked. He limps back to the real world.

There's a romance involved in firefighting. I'm sure it's one of those esoteric things that only firefighters know, and that noone can know unless they've been there. It's this... the grass sings like a billion serpents all writhing in a high-pitched orchestra-tuning pit. And the singing is tangible... it feels like there's something like razor-wire just below the surface of the grass, ready to uncoil and slice your legs off. Scary as all hell, but beautiful.

At some point, the wind changes, and starts blowing towards us. I've been going to gym, but not enough. I'm winded. I'm thirsty. I'm scared that I might be hallucinating. I hand my fire-beater to one of the five branch-wielders, and fall back. I see some torches on the horizon, and I head for them. They turn into red revolving lights. It's the firebrigade.

I stumble up to the truck, feeling as though I'm about to pass out. "Please can I have some water?" I say to the driver.

"Eva Pon, married to one of Bonnie's sons. She and Theresa definitely pushed the babe count into the four figures.Sure," he says. Climbs out of this monster truck, heads to one of the vast taps on the side of it, checks the valve number, and lets rip. I can report that I'm the only person I know who has drunk straight from the mouth of a fire engine. And the water is hot. But that doesn't stop me from drinking around two or three litres of the stuff.

Sated, I head back to the front. The fire truck can't navigate the marshes, so they're driving around to meet us at the road.

Troy and his guys are already at the fence. The fires are out. "Hey!" I shout, and he flashes his torch at me. I've got this tiny Maglite, the smallest one, but it allows him to locate me.

I see red flicking lights again as I draw closer. Troy says, "Hey! Hang on! There's two more of us here! Whoah!!!" The truck drives off without us. We walk back to Cresta, about a kilometre.

We find Bonnie overseeing the loading of the trucks. He's sitting awkwardly. He gives us two bottles of mineral water each, which we down in seconds. "How's your leg?" I say.

"Sore," he says. He drives a Merc, so I ask Margaret, his wife, to let me hunt for the first aid kit. I find it, find a pressure bandage, and draw on my three months of Boy Scout knowledge to fashion a pretty neat immobilising wrap round his ankle. He'll need help in the morning, but it's not broken, since he can voluntarily move his toes, and a light finger touch to the skin doesn't make him strike dragons or un-crouch tigers.

And then it's off to supper. With about 16 members of the Pon family. The service isn't diabolical. Just ultra slow. We've been saving the world, and it takes the kitchen staff till midnight to get our order out.

And of course, it has to happen. Bonnie orders his meat rare, and it comes out well done. Seems as though his steak got caught in the fire.

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