Lover of Canadian Smarties & Race Car Driver
I was able to interview Firebird at Wasteland Weekend in the Mojave Desert in California. He talks about his love of Canadian food, old cars and racing, and the development of his Wasteland identity.
Enjoy the video.
The transcript follows:
Introduction to Firebird and his Classic Car
Carolyn – Today here at Wasteland Weekend, the penguins are pleased to present Firebird and his car.
Firebird – What a lovely day! A little windy. 1975 Trans Am. Its name is Phoenix. It’s a 455 cubic inch stroked to 496. Used to have 200 horsepower now it’s got 320 horsepower. 430 pounds of torque. It’s really loud. Loud as Hell. I didn’t know if it was going to make it here but it made it here.
Carolyn – Cool, cool. You haven’t been taking it out in the car cruises?
Firebird – I didn’t take it in the car cruise. It would have been the only car in the cruise that didn’t have anything done to it for Wasteland but I thought it might fit in. I thought about it but I decided not to.
Carolyn – Maybe next year?
Firebird – Ya, maybe.
Carolyn – Cool.
(cut to less windy camp)
Carolyn – Welcome to Penguin’s Wanderlust. Today we have Firebird and Bugs who are going to talk to us about Canadian Smarties, cars, and what has brought him to the Wasteland.
Firebird – Hi! Would you like me to talk about those things now?
Canadian Food including Smarties
Nomenclature – Multi-coloured Candy Coated Chocolates. What we call Rockets, Americans call Smarties.
Carolyn – You tell me about those Smarties.
Firebird – Well, you can get Smarties in the US but every time you do,they’re British Smarties. I might have had them before, and never really thought about how good they are. My girlfriend, her Mom brought some from Canada, and they were delicious, and I got addicted to Smarties. So then we went on this trip to France. We went through Toronto. I got some in Toronto. They were delicious, and I ate them. Then in France I was like, oh, I need more. So I got some more Smarties in France, and they were not delicious. So I’m like what’s going on here? So I did a little research.
They’ve got one factory in Canada, and one factory in England, and they are different Smarties. Like different colours, different packaging but most of all the Canadian ones have a thicker shell so they’re crunchier. So I love Canadian Smarties but I can’t find Canadian Smarties in the US.
So big deal when I saw Carolyn posted online that you were bringing, could bring Canadian food. So I needed some missions for Wasteland, so one of my missions was to find Carolyn, and find my Smarties. I found some other Canadians who also had Smarties, and they didn’t know who Nettle was. So I thought I guess my mission’s done, and then I saw the poster they had put up saying “Where’s John? Where’s Firebird? You said you wanted Smarties.” I thought my goodness there are more Smarties to be had, and then I found you, and had more Smarties.
Carolyn – No longer an impoverished world.
Firebird – Ya, I’m rich.
Carolyn – There are Smarties in the world.
Firebird – My Smarties cup runeth over.
Carolyn – And now you have a Coffee Crisp to take home or eat on the way.
Firebird – Yes.
Carolyn – It was really hard having all the snacks in the car. We ate the Ruffles All-Dressed chips first because people said you could get All-Dressed in the States but they’re not the same. But we ate those. I still have the Dill Pickle and the Ketchup chips, and Red River cereal, and Shreddies, and today is Saturday. I’m not sure if those people are going to come and see me before then, so they may be going home.
Firebird – You ate the All-Dressed? All of them?
Carolyn – Both packages, ya.
Firebird – Because my girlfriend loves the All-Dressed, and I like them. They’re just kind of weird. They taste maybe like a combination of vinegar and barbeque or something?
Carolyn – Ya.
Firebird – They’re good but … my girlfriend likes them.
Carolyn – They have a strong flavour.
Firebird – They’re good. My girlfriend loves them. You could get them here for a little while , and every time I saw them I’d buy them. They’re really hard to find here. Ya. I don’t know if they’re different or not. That’s what I’ve been told.
Carolyn – I’ve been watching the dialogue between the people from Canada talking about what people wanted. They wanted people to bring Kinder Surprises but there’s a $500 fine if people get caught.
Firebird – Totally illegal to bring in. It’s hilarious. You should have done it though. That’s why it’s so great.
Carolyn – Because American children are too stupid not to eat the tiny toy.
Firebird – Exactly. You should have brought them in.That would have made it even better. Then it’s like actual smuggled goods.
Carolyn – No. No. We want to keep our clean record.
Firebird – Keep it legal.
Carolyn – So Albatross and Timekeeper said that you’re heavy into cars. Do you race cars?
Firebird – Ya.
Carolyn – That’s pretty exciting.
Firebird – So I consider myself a minimalist and not a materialist. So I really don’t own anything, and I don’t own a house or anything but I do own six cars. So there’s the 1975 Trans Am I brought, and I own a 1992 Toyota MR2 that my dad recently gave me. I have a 2013 Subaru Crosstrek, 2013 Subaru WRX, 2012 Scion Fr-S, and then a 2010 Dodge Challenger. My favourite thing to do with them is to race them in the Big Bend Open Road Race or the Nevada Open Road Challenge. They actually close down public roads, and we race down them, and you do have a speed limit.
Carolyn – Is it a rally race?
Firebird – Ya, sort of because you have a time, an average time you’re trying to hit, and you have a speed limit but the speed limit is like 120, 140, and this year I entered the class where my speed limit was 168.
Carolyn – Wow.
Firebird – So I was driving 150 most of the way down public roads, and it’s a blast. You can enter the top class, and there’s no speed limit at all but you have to have a fire suppression system, and removable steering wheel. All kinds of very expensive features.
Carolyn – So you can be like the Warboys with your (steering wheel).
Firebird – Ya, exactly. So it’s like expensive modifications, and I’m not even sure if the cars are street legal any more. There might be some street legal cars in the unlimited class but it’s kind of hard because you do so much to your car. I have a lot of fun doing those races.
Carolyn – Where do you do those? All over?
Firebird – West Texas has the Big Bend Open Road Race. Nevada Open Road Challenge is outside Las Vegas. Silver State Classic, and the Nevada Open Road Challenge – there are two races a year but they’re both in the same place. Then there’s one in Nebraska but that’s it. There are four open road races left in the United States
Carolyn – Oh, wow, And do you go to them all?
Firebird – I would like to. I usually have been doing two a year. I’ve never been to the Nebraska one.
Carolyn – A friend wanted to do the 2019 from Peking to Paris.
Firebird – Oh, that sounds awesome.
Carolyn – In an old car. He said it filled up right away, the registration. They do it every two or three years.
Firebird – There are some cool races like this around the world but less in the United States. Like I said there’s these four. They’re short. They’re not like that like the big rallies you’re talking about. But another one in Canada is Targa Newfoundland. It’s one I’ve heard about that I’d like to do one day.
Carolyn – Is it in Newfoundland?
Firebird – Ya.
Carolyn – So you’d have to somehow get on a ferry. I’ve never actually been to Newfoundland. I grew up in the Maritimes in New Brunswick. That’s pretty much the only province I haven’t ever been to.
Firebird – I didn’t even realize it’s an island. Is that what it is?
Carolyn – Yes, it’s an island.
Firebird – So I guess you put your car on a ferry.
Carolyn – They lumped Newfoundland and Labrador together. Labrador is next to Quebec and attached. Newfoundland is the rock.
Firebird – They close a bunch of public roads down. I think it’s a multi day event. I think. Big I think.
It’s a little bigger deal than the one I get to do.
The one I get to do is like one day, and there are a few days leading up to it, and the car shows. We invade these two little tiny towns in Texas and Nevada where not much goes on. So it’s a big deal to have all these super cars come into town for the week. So we have a car show and a parade and stuff. And then we do the race all in one day. It’s like you get to go down once, and you get to go back once in the Texas race. In the Nevada race you just get to go down once, and that’s it. So it’s like all this kind of leading up to like, and relaxing, you’re out on the desert, and it’s kind of relaxing talking to people but then all of a sudden it’s like you’ve got all your safety gear on, and then you race, and then it’s all over. There’s a lot of relaxing and waiting, and then all of a sudden a brief little moment of adventue.
Carolyn – Cool. Do you have like a GoPro attached?
Firebird – Usually I put one GoPro. Some people put cameras all over their cars. I usually put just one in the window. But the thing about the GoPro is, it’s really boring to watch the videos. The only time it’s exciting is when you’ve crashed, and so you put the GoPro on the car just in case you crash. Now sure you might die and that would be a pretty morbid video to watch, but if you don’t die it makes a great story.
Carolyn – Ya, snuff movies homemade. So do you have any up on YouTube?
Firebird – Hmm. I haven’t put them up on YouTube because I like I said, they’re boring because I don’t crash.
Carolyn – Probably a good thing.
Firebird – I’m pretty conservative with my … because they’re my cars. I don’t want to hurt my cars. I’m not doing whatever it takes to become a really good driver. I just want to be a kind of good driver, and I’m a pretty good driver.
Carolyn – Do you do the mechanics yourself?
Firebird – No, that’s one thing I don’t. I’ve thought about it. I think it’s mostly a time thing. I’m a software engineer so I don’t really have time in my spare time to like work on cars. I’m kind of learning a little bit. I went to mechanic school for a one week mechanic class last year.
Carolyn – Oh, ya.
Firebird – If I only learn one week at a time it’s going to take a long time because I don’t usually the work on the car myself. I don’t really have time.
Carolyn – What kind of software engineering do you do?
Firebird – I build websites ZipRecruiter.com. It’s like a job website.
Carolyn – I used to do air traffic control.
Firebird – Air traffic control?
Carolyn – Ya.
Firebird – I wanted to do that at one point.
Carolyn – Ottawa. We did command and control systems for like Westinghouse and different places.
Firebird – So you’re saying you used to build software?
Carolyn – I was a software engineer.
Firebird – I thought you meant you were an air traffic controller.
Carolyn – No. I was a software engineer.
Firebird – Cool. So you’ve done the same job.
Carolyn – Yup.
Firebird – I used to think I might want to be an air traffic controller. I’ve always been pretty good with stress, and they say it’s stressful.
Carolyn – Ya, I actually met Josh or Spoons here the first night, and he’s an air traffic controller and so’s his wife. Interesting the people you meet here. 5,000 people. I haven’t found him again. He made armour three years ago out of spoons, last year out of forks, and this year it’s out of knives.
Firebird – Now he’s running out of ideas. Chopsticks.
Carolyn – He’s thinking those spoon fork things sporks but I don’t think he’s going to find many sporks in the thrift stores.
Firebird – I’ve been looking for the crows so I could tell them my story of how I went looking for you, and I found them, and I did find Smarties, and then I later found you but I can’t find the crows again. They had a camp and it vanished. I can’t find it.
Carolyn – Oh, there are white crows down one of the main roads.
Firebird – I think Crow Coalition is what it’s called.
Carolyn – There are crows from Edmonton, from Alberta. Canadian crows.
Firebird – Yes. That’s probably who I found.
Carolyn – Oh, ok.
Firebird – I must have gotten your post confused because I think I saw a picture of you. I took a screen capture. I should go look at it. Because I thought it had your picture but it said I’m with the Crow Coalition.
Carolyn – No, we’re in the seagulls. Seagull clan. But I think I may have jumped onto someone else’s thread.
Firebird – Ah. That’s what it is. You jumped onto someone else’s thread. So I got confused between the two threads.
Carolyn – Ya, no there were a bunch of Canadians.
Firebird – See this is one of my missions. Seagull Clan. Crow Coalitonition question mark. So I did put a question mark.
Carolyn – No. We don’t like crows. Seagulls’ll take crows. There they go off with their stuff. So what brought you to Wasteland?
Firebird – Well I’ve always wanted to go. I love the movies. Mad Max is one of the things that got me into cars. Burning Man always seemed like a cool idea but it got really big.
Carolyn – Have you been?
Firebird – No, I’ve never been there. I just heard that it got really big.
Carolyn – 80,000 this year.
Firebird – It’s kind of like overwhelming. Maybe too much of a theme. Too many different themes. This is the main reason I would come to Burning Man For this kind of thing. The thing we got here and this is a smaller event, and closer.
I always wanted to come here but I couldn’t. I lived on the east coast for awhile. I lived in Austin, Texas in the middle of the country for awhile. But now I live in Phoenix so I’m close enough and I work. One of my companies is based in LA so I can visit the company for some facetime anytime I want. So I can come to LA anytime so I came to LA. I worked for a week. I left work early on Friday, and came out here.
Carolyn – So you drove all the way with the car, and then worked.
Firebird – It’s the longest road trip I’ve taken with the car. When I first got this classic car, when you buy a classic car, whatever you think your budget is – that’s actually half your budget. The rest of your budget is to fix it after you get it ’cause people are all trying to get rid of their classic cars because it’s a pain. There’s something wrong with it, and they can’t figure it out or whatever or they just can’t afford to keep it up. But I kind of expected that so I got this car. It was like the perfect one.
I had to go to Florida to check it out. I even talked to the mechanic there, before I talked to the sales person. The mechanic was actually really honest with me. I said something like I was thinking of just driving it back to Austin. He was like don’t do that. The mechanic who works on the car said don’t, and he’s the mechanic. Basically saying the work that I do, I don’t do a good enough job to trust it. I think it’s because they don’t want him to do it. They want him to spend his time to just to get the cars to run.
Carolyn – Ya, do the bare minimal.
Firebird – So we shipped the car, and it ran for one month, and then it spun a bearing which means a complete engine rebuild. The most expensive thing that can go wrong with a car. So took it in for complete engine rebuild, and it also takes quite awhile. If you want to not put a new engine in it would save a lot of time.
Carolyn – We had an engine rebuilt for a Volkswagon camper.
Firebird – So I mean just finding the parts, and getting a good machinist, getting time for him to actually help you out – it took a year. So a year later, after buying my car, I got it back, and it spun a bearing a month later, again, and the mechanic who rebuilt it for me honoured his warranty, and he rebuilt it again which was great.
Carolyn – How many bearings do they have?
Firebird – Well they had to keep getting more. Oh, how many bearings does the engine have? Well I guess it had like eight. But they had already replaced them all. Nonetheless it’s their fault since they rebuilt the engine.
(Truck loaded with people passed by “Don’t be a weiner! Be a winner!”)
Carolyn – So much to do here. That’s what I found.
Firebird – Ya, I’m a little even confused about what to do. Ya, so it spun a bearing again, and the mechanic honoured the warranty. Point is I didn’t have my car. I bought it and two years went by before I could drive it.
Carolyn – Didn’t you have another five?
Firebird – I had several other cars but I didn’t have my classic car. And so finally a year ago, my classic car was ready and driveable. So it’s been driving well for a year, and that’s what gave me the confidence to take it on a six hour road trip. Now in the past year, it has suddenly quit on me three times. When it does it, you just pull over, give it a little time to sit, and it runs again. So we’re trying to figure out what that is.
Carolyn – It needs a moment.
Firebird – So it did quit on me on the LA freeway.
Carolyn – That’s not a good place.
Firebird – I had to pull off. Cars were flying past , and it started up again, so I made it out here, so hopefully I’ll make it home.
Carolyn – So you’re enjoying Wasteland?
Firebird – I love it, ya.
Scrooloose and Bugs
Carolyn – Good. Anything else you want to add? How’d you get your Bugs?
Firebird – Well that’s a good question. I think my favourite movie, at least for a long time, was Thunderdome. And there’s a character in Thunderdome that has makeup kind of like this. I wasn’t doing the War Boy thing. Before there the War Boys, there was a character called Scrooloose, and he’s silent though, and he doesn’t dress like this. I was kind of riffing on his character but he has this bunny. I went looking on eBay to find a bunny like the bunny he had, and I found a bunny exactly like the one he had.
The bunny talks and says things. “Hey, take me with you!” And that’s actually the quote from the movie right there. He’s kind of wanting to go with Max, and get on a plane with Max, except that Max doesn’t have a plane.
Carolyn – Was that the second movie?
Firebird – Third movie.
Carolyn – Third movie? Beyond the Thunderdome?
Firebird – Ya, Thunderdome. He kind of wants to get on a plane. It’s kind of poignant the way the bunny says “Take me with you!” You know. He’s hoping that maybe Max can take them away. They want to find civilization again. Some of the kids branch out, and find civilization. So I kind of made up a back story for my persona. I found this bunny, and so I was thinking maybe I met Screwloose out in Australia, and now he’s missing. I’ve been trying to find him, and bring him his bunny back.
Carolyn – Nice. So is this the jacket that has the Firebird on the back?
Firebird – Yes, this is the jacket. I spent months on this jacket.
Carolyn – Nice. Very nice.
Firebird – I’ve sewn all these patches myself. I have a patch for every car that I own on here. I don’t know how to sew but I figured it just makes it more DIY if you don’t know how to sew. It kind of makes it better because you have threads going everywhere and stuff. Some of my pockets are sewn together now but … This jacket is looking too new for Wasteland but I mean I figure I’ll bring it every year. Maybe eventually it’ll get some natural wear and tear on it but I also wore it to work every day this week because it was cold. I told everyone I was going to Wasteland. (ringing) They were all like – cool jacket.
Carolyn – That was our three minute warning because the camera turns off at twenty. Cool. I’ve learned. Thank you very much.
Firebird – Thanks for having me.
Carolyn – The penguins say thank you. Bye!
End of Transcript.
Sad Ending for the Search for Scrooloose
Firebird posted on Facebook – “I attended WW for the first time this year. Scrooloose was always my favorite MM character. I came up with a backstory about having met him in Australia, but he had been kidnapped by bandits and I wasn’t sure if he was alive or dead. My mission was to find him and return his bunny to him. I didn’t see anyone dressed as him during the event. Someone told me to walk up the mountain so I did. I’m sad I never got to meet Lance, but at least I found out what happened to Scrooloose. Stumbling upon this brought me to tears. I left the bunny there.”