When the Earth Moves for Allison Bly, It's Time to Consider Reducing the Charge
With suppertime still in progress in the tranquil south Florida community of Port Charlotte, only a few spectators have settled in at the county baseball stadium to see the Port Charlotte Rangers play the Clearwater Phillies. No matter what happens in the game, however, there's no question that the earlybirds will see at least one big blast this evening, courtesy of Allison Bly, 26.
As the squawking PA system begins to play the theme from 2001, Bly, in a skimpy red-white-and-blue costume, flounces onto the field. Ignoring wolf whistles from the stands, she crouches facedown in a coffin-shaped box emblazoned with the words DYNAMITE LADY and mutters a brief prayer. Then she pushes a button, releasing a homemade-gunpowder charge that she claims packs the wallop of two sticks of dynamite. The box disintegrates. Bly, surprisingly, does not. When the smoke clears, she staggers to her feet, smiling despite flecks of dirt on her teeth and mouth. "The bigger the explosion," she says afterward, "the better I feel about it."
Bly prides herself on being the world's most explosive date. Since 1984 she has performed her stunt more than 200 times at minor league baseball games, tractor pulls, drag races and other events off the exits of America's two-lane highways. She earns from $1,000 to $3,000 per performance and picks up a few extra dollars selling a line of souvenirs, including iridescent ladies' underpants with DYNAMITE LADY silk-screened on the seat. She travels to her gigs in a blue Ford van purchased last year after she wrecked her old pickup truck (and knocked out two front teeth) by trying to jump it across a creek. To pass the time she hails other drivers on her CB radio or chats with a rag doll named Firecracker that rides on her lap.
Growing up in Snead's Ferry, N.C., and Tampa, Fla., Bly was a tomboy who says she persuaded boys to kiss her by beating them up. After graduating from high school in 1981, she worked briefly as an aerobics instructor before joining the Army for a stint as a truck driver. Then in 1984 she answered a newspaper ad placed by stunt promoter Jim Lawrence, who was looking for a new Dynamite Lady to replace one who had recently retired. "He hired me because of my attitude," Bly says, who saw nothing odd about getting blown up for a living. "That and the fact that I didn't have tattoos."
Bly's early shows bombed: The powder charge was too weak to blow apart the box she was using, and she had to kick her way out, hoping that the smoke would conceal her sleight of foot. "All these toothless people in overalls could see what I was doing, and I'd get booed," she says. "It really hurt my feelings." Eventually she switched from plywood to Styrofoam boxes and, through trial-and-error tests using dummies, she learned how to rig a more powerful charge while directing the force of the blast away from her body. But the stunt is still risky. Once she mixed an overly potent batch of her secret-formula powder, and the explosion broke a hand and a foot.
Between blasts, Bly lives with her mother, Irene May, in Clearwater, Fla. In 1989 she wed a North Carolina farmer she had known since childhood but broke up with him less than 30 days after the honeymoon, which she had spent drinking beer and eating pizza with her older brother (he was supposed to be in the middle of his own honeymoon but was seeking consolation after a fight with his bride). "I like romance," says the now-divorced daredevil, "but I'm terrible at relationships."
A department store swimsuit model in her spare time, Bly doesn't intend to be a Dynamite Lady forever. "My main goal," she says, "is to act and dance." For now, though, she is delighted that business is booming. "I still get scared every time I do the stunt," she says, "but it gives me a real high. It's like electricity is going through my body. I feel all lit up."
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