A Few (Not Especially Political) Thoughts

Random thoughts from the extended Fourth of July weekend.

  • If you put your mind to it, you can see a heck of a lot of fireworks. And that’s without even counting all the amateur shows. Still, it’s weird that nobody seems to know why the city of Richmond puts on its show July 3 every year. I can theorize endlessly, but I have a sneaking suspicion that regardless of how it got started, the answer now is “Tradition”.
  • Not that there’s anything wrong with tradition. That’s what brings us fireworks on the Fourth to begin with. (And no, I’m not going to debate the ethical pros and cons of fireworks today. We had that discussion a couple of years ago.) Some modification of the tradition might be in order, given the risk of wildfires and all. But abandon it completely? Heck no!
  • A well-planned low altitude show is actually enhanced by low clouds. That said, strong cross winds not only distort the blossoms, but blow the gunpowder away from the viewers. I hadn’t realized how much of the total sensory experience of a fireworks show is olfactory.
  • If the fireworks show starts while you’re giving a speech, just shut up. Nobody cares how important your message is or how long it took you to write. You’re not the headliner. (This is a concept that applies to fields completely unrelated to fireworks, by the way.)
  • Don’t bother with an assortment of random music. Doesn’t matter if the songs are patriotic, popular, or traditional. Unless the music is synchronized to the fireworks, it’s just a distraction.
  • Reptile petting zoos are a concept whose time is now. I don’t know if kids are bored with goats, llamas, rabbits, and chickens (and who wants to pat a chicken anyway?) but snakes and giant lizards are a much better draw. Even the police are fascinated.
    (Never has the “Scale Image” tool been more appropriate.)


Good News

Because “A Few Things I Learned At Our Local Fourth of July Event” is too long for WordPress’ title field.

Actually, it’s probably not, but it’s not a limit I want to test.

But I digress–and I haven’t even gotten started yet.

Anyway, in this era of divisions, isn’t it nice to know that some things haven’t changed?

Faced with an unobstructed patch of grass, kids still break into spontaneous somersaults and cartwheels.

An ordinary spherical balloon, inflated with air, can still lure children away from their cellphones.

Giant slides and rock-climbing walls…
draw block-long lines of kids and putative adults.

Mexican hot chocolate is a perfect drink for those moments when you’re waiting for the fireworks to start and freezing your tail off.

(Would it be crass to point out that without immigration, we wouldn’t have Mexican hot chocolate? What the heck, I’ll be crass. I’ll also point out that two of the four food vendors were of Latin antecedents, and the pizza sellers were Indian. I’ll let you guess about the folks selling kettle corn, funnel cakes, fried oreos, and cotton candy.)

Moving on.

Speaking of tails, the police still come up with–dare I say it? Oh, go ahead–wacky ways to project a friendly image.
Realistically, the officer wearing the suit was probably the only person there who wasn’t freezing his tail off.

Even in a time of drought, climate change, and consequent heightened fire risk, amateurs still feel the need to stage their own firework shows.

A firework show doesn’t need music, nor does it need smiley-faced and heart-shaped fireworks to be compelling.

And children still find ways to be amusingly cynical. One young girl last night had been oohing and ahhing along with the crowd until a particularly bright, spectacular, waterfall bloom appeared. While the rest of the crowd gasped, she proclaimed in tones of great boredom, “I saw that at Disneyland.”

Local Explosions

Good Idea: Local governments hosting Fourth of July fireworks. Even in a major metropolitan area like we have here, not everyone can go or will want to go into San Francisco for fireworks. Or even into Berkeley. So it’s great when the smaller communities such as San Pablo have their own shows.

Better Idea: Add kid’s carnival games and some physical activities, with the proceeds going to support the city’s social services.

Bad Idea: Not ensuring that at least one food vendor will be selling coffee and other hot beverages. (OK, maybe this isn’t a bad idea in some parts of the world. Around here it is.)

Worse Idea: Limit your advertising of the event to a small roadside banner. Don’t spell-check the description on the city’s website*. And above all, make sure it isn’t listed in the major newspapers’ lists of things to do on the Fourth. Remember: nobody’s going to show up if they don’t know about it!

* “Mowtown” music? Really?

Good Idea: Amateur/guerrilla fireworks around the civic fireworks venue. I know I’m going to take some flack for this, especially since it’s illegal in most of California, including this part. But IMNSHO, as long as it’s limited to a few blocks around the official site, I don’t have a problem with it. Police and fire fighters are already on-site so they can keep an eye on it. It gives the crowd at the official site something to do during that last half hour when the games have been shut down. And, let’s face it, the people and animals living in the immediate vicinity are going to be traumatized by the noise and lights anyway.

Bad Idea: Aiming your fireworks to burst above the official site. Too many people are distracted, keeping track of their kids. Even if you have no misfires, showering ash down on somebody trying to corral a pre-school kid up past his bedtime is impolite at best.

Worse Idea: Bringing your Chihuahua or other non-service dog to the show. It’s too cold for the poor critter, and he’s not going to enjoy the show. And neither are you if you’re spending all your time reassuring your pet.

Still Worse Idea: Continuing your show after the official one starts. Trying to compete just makes you look like a three-year-old repeating “Look what I did, Mommy!” and demanding your painting be framed and hung in the living room instead of attached to the refrigerator with a magnet. Plan ahead and schedule your show to finish at the community show’s posted start time. It’ll be late starting–it always is–so you’ll have a few minutes to sweep the debris out of the street before the professionals take over.

I’ll grant a limited dispensation to fire off a few last pieces after the civic show ends. But if you’re still at it more than fifteen minutes later, you’re moving into “Impolite Asshole” territory. People are trying to drive home. Others are trying to sleep–don’t forget, July 5 is a work day five years out of seven. And the streets are too full for the fire department to get to you if something goes wrong.

See you next year!