July 04, 2010

Living Like a Local

I was tempted to pay the $13 and whatever parking fee necessary to go see the 4th of July fireworks spectacular at the Rose Bowl in Pasadena tonight, but a week after having paid $35 for a Dodgers ticket and $15 for parking, I'm suddenly worried about money.

So instead, I drove past all the police barricades around the Rose Bowl and the surrounding neighborhood, and proceeded north, which increases in altitude and was sure to provide a good overlook for the fireworks show.

Sure enough, the barricades and "No Parking" signs disappeared, and a line of parked cars had begun to assemble on the side of Highland Drive in Pasadena. I pulled over, sat in my rental car until it got dark, and then walked nearly a half mile down the barely-lit road until I saw some guys with nice cameras and tripods camped out on a ridge above a ravine. I could see the Rose Bowl stadium lights nearly two miles away through a clearing. This was the spot.

"Is the view good here?" a couple asked, and I explained that it was my first time trying it from that spot. "Oh, where do you usually watch them from?" they continued, and I had to admit that I wasn't a local and that I didn't know any better than they did.

But my guesswork turned out to be successful, and we had a clear view not only of the Rose Bowl spectacular (save for the low-level pyrotechnics that only ticket holders could see), but smaller displays to the north, the east, and the south past the Rose Bowl. It reminded me of one year's Independence Day spent on a Brooklyn roof, when we could see the Macy's, Coney Island, and Staten Island fireworks simultaneously in a 360 degree extravaganza.

I was glad to be among the locals, the wannabe photogs and the teenagers, the families with kids and the couple who'd just moved from Pittsburgh. And I was glad not to be alone.

When I returned to Highland Park, the neighborhood seemed to be sizzling with firecrackers, launched low off rooftops and sporadically flashing in the night's black sky. Even now, as the night winds down to its midpoint, the air is still explosive, the locals refusing to cease their celebrations.

It's the kind of revelry I'd really wanted, authentic and organic, specific and local. Years of watching the Macy's fireworks from Greenpoint's rooftops and waterfront, Lower East Side and Murray Hill high rises, and the east side's FDR Drive had spoiled me for the mere scale of fireworks displays possible, the capacity they have to dazzle, but the best fireworks I ever saw were at a church in the surburbs of Syracuse, a hometown experience that can't be duplicated over the Hudson River.

I didn't have much of a holiday today, though by spending it largely alone I suppose I was, as usual, celebrating my independence. But at least I got a good fireworks show in, and that was my only requirement for the day. I am forever chasing fireworks, still the little girl who ran to the attic window to catch a glimpse of the explosions in the distance, miles away, through the trees...

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