Pyrotechnics, Patriotism and Panko Flakes
Forget Mom, baseball, hot dogs and apple pie. In my book of cultural icons, the quintessence of Americana is the 4th of July trinity made of flags, fireworks and fried chicken (make mine with panko flakes, please!). Oh, and I’d definitely drop a dollop of potato salad on that patriotic plate, too.
Whatever decorations and cuisine are included in your family’s Independence Day traditions, I think we’d all agree that nothing says “America” like a nighttime display of fireworks – bombs bursting in air accompanied by an earthbound crowd of “oooh”s, “aaaah”s and “wow”s in all the right places.
While I’m sure I got to see the annual pyrotechnics extravaganza at the Rose Bowl at least once or twice growing up here in the Southland, I don’t remember much more than a sea of cars all trying to leave after the show. Yes, local traffic was a nightmare even in the ’60s.
But raising my own kids for the past 20-some-odd years, we’ve certainly experienced our share of booms, blasts and blooms of colorful explosives. Some of our favorite displays have exploded in the rarefied air over Crowley Lake, high in the Eastern Sierras. To witness the powerful presentation of pyrotechnics against the natural alpine beauty of the surrounding mountains is breathtaking on so many levels. One year, when the annual fireworks show was cancelled at the last minute, we drove even further north along Hwy 395 to watch the free annual show put on at the small airfield outside the historical town of Bridgeport.
Our most memorable family fireworks experience to date was watching fireworks burst at eye level, seen from the balcony of a house we rented one summer at the end of a dirt road, high up on the side of a cliff above the tiny Rocky Mountain hamlet of Ouray, Colo. The house was aptly named, “Eagle’s Nest.” Truly majestic.
Closer to home, we’ve enjoyed fireworks up close and deafening many times from a blanket on the lawn directly under the explosions at Lacy Park in San Marino. But, lucky us, we live within walking distance of Crescenta Valley High School where nearly every year since 1989 there has been a carnival and fireworks spectacle to rival any fireworks display in Southern California.
My earliest fireworks memories involved holding red-hot sparklers and lighting sidewalk-staining “snakes” that sizzle and hiss and squirm and leave a permanent black mark on any surface that you happen to light one on. Whoops, sorry neighbor.
Of course, there is a dark side to the tradition of Independence Day fireworks. Recently on the NBC News blog, for example, reporter JoNel Aleccia wrote that fireworks injuries sent more than 5,000 people to U.S. emergency departments in the 30 days surrounding the 4th of July holiday last year. Six people died (all men, no surprise there), including a 17-year-old Arkansas boy who taped together about 300 sparklers to make a so-called “sparkler bomb.”
For some reason, the phrase, “thinning the herd” comes to mind.
When I think about all the times I held sparklers as a kid, it’s more than a little sobering to realize that these curiously named “safe and sane” fireworks can burn at somewhere close to 2,000 degrees Fahrenheit. Might as well hand your grade schooler a lit welding torch. Then again, in spite of my affinity for sparklers and Black Cat firecrackers, I somehow survived my youth. Just as I did without seatbelts, bike helmets and SPF 50 sunscreen. Go figure.
Speaking of fireworks, I’d love to see a barrage of outrage ignite when Americans consider that, at the same time many of our military bases have had to cancel their traditional fireworks shows due to petulantly targeted federal budget cuts, our ever-traveling, vacation-prone President and his family have just spent over $100 million on a week-long African tour.
Light ’em up, people. And happy 4th of July!
I’ll see you ’round town.