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Thursday, July 04, 2013

Under The Fireworks

A reprise of a column I wrote seven years ago today...

Tonight, Chesterfield had its first-ever July 4th fireworks display, and everyone was invited to park for free in the mall parking lot to enjoy it. My wife and daughter and I went with another couple and their two daughters. On the way, we noticed the rainstorm moving in. It started lightly, but by the time we got to the mall, the rain was coming down pretty hard.

At the parking lot, cars were backed up all the way to the entrance. Fortunately, my wife had noticed that the fireworks launching area was set up in a field next to the public library, and suggested we try to park there instead. Unfortunately, the library had closed its lot, but there were people parked on the street, waiting under umbrellas. We went next door to the YMCA's lot, found two adjacent parking spaces, and waited there.

The girls got out and ran around in the warm rain, having a great time, while we adults hung out in our car under a sky darkened by clouds. How dark? Cecil B. DeMille "Ten Commandments" dark.

It was only 8:15pm, about an hour before the fireworks show was scheduled to start. I commented to Barry, the other dad, that it didn't look like there would be any fireworks in this rainstorm. He replied that he had checked the weather radar before leaving home, that the storm was moving across the area pretty quickly, that the sky to the west looked blue and clear, and that the rain would be gone by 9pm.

So we waited.

By 8:50pm, his prediction became fact. The sky was clear and the rain had stopped. We pulled the folding chairs out of both trunks and set them up on the sidewalk, directly across from the huge grassy area where the fireworks would be launched.

At 9:20pm, the show began, and it was truly spectacular, made even better by the fact that we were directly below the display. It was like sitting under an outdoor Omnimax dome, with the explosions filling so much of the sky that it was almost impossible to take it all in. This was a multi-sensory experience, from the colors in our eyes to the booming explosions in our ears to the concussive feeling in our chests.

But there was something more, which we hadn't taken into account. You see, when those fireworks went up, did their thing, and burned out, they continued to fall back to Earth -- right down to the area we were sitting in.

After just a couple of minutes, I felt something small hit my arm, then my leg, then my other arm. Barry and I looked at each other as we realized that the fireworks cinders (or ash) were coming down on us. We quickly assessed that this was nothing dangerous, albeit unexpected. Neither our wives nor kids seemed to notice, as their mile-wide smiles never left their faces.

The show continued for 20 minutes, with all the old standby starbursts and chrysanthemums and sperm-like squigglers and flash-upon-flashers, plus new elements that kept our interest up, including some I'd never seen before (such as one set of brilliantly white fireworks that floated down suspended on a string between two little parachutes -- very cool!).

What also made it so good was that there was no audio soundtrack blasting over speakers. Some displays claim they are "synchronized" to music, but in all the years I've seen them, I've never seen and heard one that get it right. The biggest problem is simple physics, the speed of sound vs. the speed of light, with the distance from the speakers betraying the designer's intent. Even when they're better timed and broadcast over some FM frequency, you still have to put up with such dreck as Neil Diamond singing "America." It's always better to have no soundtrack other than the natural one.

When last night's display was over, the hundreds of people around us gave it a standing ovation. Either that, or they were doing what we were doing, literally brushing off the remnants of one of the best fireworks shows we'd ever seen.

Next time, we'll try to get that unique underneath perspective again, but we'll bring umbrellas -- even if there's no rain anywhere in the county, they'll help keep us free of the fireworks remnants and effluvia.