A Very Loud Fourth of July in Silicon Valley

Explosion Day @ Penny ArcadeDuring the nine years that I lived in my Silicon Valley studio apartment, most Fourth of July fireworks celebrations were quiet affairs. With the fireworks celebration at the Children’s Discovery Museum being a few miles away, I normally heard the air cannons thumping the earth and a distant boom in the sky. Not this year. Seemed like everyone got multiple boxes of Satan’s Orgasm and blew the neighborhood to Kingdom Come. Fireworks exploded loud enough to set off car alarms and rattle my windows. One idiot lost both hands from lighting a “mortar-type” firework.

Selling, buying and lighting fireworks are illegal in most parts of Santa Clara County. A wise precaution since California is officially in a severe drought and most lawns are various shades of brown. A wayward firecracker could easily set off a grass fire. My friend and I recently tried to get on to the 280 from Meridian Avenue when a fire truck blocked the ramp. As we drove around the fire truck, we saw that the fire started at the base of the embankment, as if a passenger flicked away cigarette, to blacken the dried grass and send plums of white smoke into the air. Fortunately, this stretch of embankment wasn’t large enough to snarl the rest of the freeway.

If you really wanted to get some fireworks, you drove down to Gilroy to get the “safe and sane” fireworks that are nothing but the pale whimper of the fireworks I lit as a child in the 1970’s and the early 1980’s. If you wanted some serious fireworks, you drove down to Mexico City to buy firecrackers by the bricks, bottle rockets by the grocery bags, and cherry bombs by the fistfuls. Some of my friends did that several times in the 1980’s. I’m not even sure if that can still be done today in post-9/11 America.

While going to college in the 1990’s, I visited my parents for Fourth of July in Sacramento. The ubiquitous firework stands of my childhood are still legal there. We bought a small box of fireworks that contained my favorite fireworks: the Ground Bloom Flowers that looked like spinning roses and shifted colors three times before burning out. Alas, the fireworks stands no longer sell the Ground Bloom Flowers or anything else individually. You must buy an entire box set even if you don’t want the sparklers, snakes and screamers.

As I ran errands over the weekend, I talked with the assistant manager at my bank. She lives in a different part of my neighborhood. Not only did she confirmed that fireworks were unusually loud this year, but people were shooting them off on the street in front of her apartment. Walking through the parking lot for CVS, I spotted the burnt out remains of fireworks. It’s one thing to find an empty dumpster to toss a cherry bomb into for a really loud boom or exploding a few fireworks in the front yard. (Or, God forbid, shooting bottle rockets off the balcony as one idiot did several years ago.) Shooting off fireworks in a public parking lot was something else. It certainly wasn’t quiet.

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