I should have known by the wide proliferation of fireworks stores on South Dakota’s highways. One sign near the Nebraska border read “Last Chance for Power” while fireworks store signs simply counted down the mileage to the Cornhusker State.
I should have known when spirited dinner discussion revolved around which midwestern state has the most lenient fireworks laws. Members of the dinner party had even brought Kansas stock explosives as a present. I was clearly the only person at the table not intimately familiar with the nomenclature of M-100’s, Black Cats, Bottle Rockets and Roman Candles.
I should have known when I saw the observation deck a friend was building for the sole purpose of watching Omaha’s July 3rd post-baseball fireworks display. He was having a party, yes, but its main purpose was to see the fireworks.
I should have known that midwesterners take their fireworks seriously.
Even if I had known, I would not have been prepared.
This is not to say that we are not pyrotechnic crazy back east. Our old Front Street apartment in Harrisburg, Pennsylvania gave us a perfect year round fireworks view. Soon after moving in, we learned just how many displays our fine city gives: Fourth of July, Kiponafest, Arts Festival Weekend, the first Friday of the month during baseball season.
For the first few, we excitedly rushed outside and onto the riverside to watch. Recently though, we had stopped watching the explosions. Yawn.
Omaha was abuzz with fireworks talk. July 3rd was to be the biggest display west of the Mississippi. The show was to be done by the famous Grucci family. Everyone knew to add the ‘r’. The Grucci had indeed labeled the show as "World Class". Yawn. Would it compare to the July 4th show I had seen at the National Mall in D.C. I had my doubts.
Nine different local municipalities were to have shows on the fourth. All of Omaha travels to all the displays. Blah blah blah. My skepticism was overwhelming. Friday’s fireworks did little to change my opinions. Although maybe it should have.
Thunderstorms engulfed Omaha. As we drove through town, the steady bangs of fire crackers kept us alert. The rain continued as we ducked inside. A free Doobie Brothers and Three Dog Night concert was cancelled. A nineteen-year-old girl was struck by lightning. The fireworks show still went on. In broad daylight. We incredulously heard the blasts from the inside of our friend’s apartment. What were we in for?
July 3rd. We arrived at the party at 6:00 p.m. The observation deck had been completed. The scene around Rosenblatt Stadium was complete insanity. People were everywhere, armed with folding chairs, coolers and blankets. The baseball and zoo parking lots overflowed. Parking was available in household yards at $20 a pop. The ball game had just started. Firecrackers started to burst sporadically.
Darkness brought hordes of people to the Rosenblatt Stadium. We made our way up to the deck. The show would soon begin. It was 9:30. A radio was brought up so that we could listen to the fireworks music show radio simulcast. People were beginning to double park along a main city thoroughfare, right next to Nebraska’s own Andy Roddick, clearly visible on a "Got Milk" billboard. If only he had won Wimbledon.
10:15 and still no Grucci. The baseball game had gone into extra innings and we were all getting impatient. Despite a city-wide ban on fireworks, the people of Omaha decided to take to show into their own hands. Fireworks went off at a more rapid pace. Blues, purples, golds, expensive and powerful explosives everywhere. An impressive, impromptu show ensued consisting only of blasts surreptitiously fired by the people.
By the time the real show started, the citizens’ show had reached a fever pitch, already topping anything I had seen before. Could the Grucci’s amaze me more? Yes and no. This self-proclaimed fireworks hater was astounded by the new dandelion bursts and the slow moving magenta and green trailers. I could not understand how explosives could form the letters U-S-A. The music meshed perfectly with the show, although if I hear Lee Greenwood one more time I might snap. I much preferred the spontaneity, audacity of the people. Back east, the headliner is the only show, here the Grucci’s are only an expensive break wedged between the exuberance of the people.
“This is amazing to me,” I said. My friend responded, “It’s just another fourth in Nebraska for us.”
Hope you had a great Fourth of July weekend, we did.