Thursday, July 05, 2007

Fireworks and Seagulls

Here in Celebration, the Fourth of July is a throwback to small-town festivities of yesteryear. It typically starts off with a cheesy hometown parade, followed by downtown activities and capped with a fireworks blow-out over the lake.

Nostalgia usually places such events sometime between the 1940s and 60s, but this year it jumped ahead in time: Our theme was the 1980s.

While some residents scratched their heads over what the era of Alf, Rubiks Cube, and hair bands has to do with patriotism and independence, overall it seemed well received.

The big capper of the weekend was a concert by A Flock of Seagulls, mainly (perhaps entirely) known for their song, "I Ran (So Far Away)." It's running through your head now, isn't it?! Or at least it is if you're in a certain age group.

Back in the 1980s, lead singer Mike Score was well known for the whoosh of blonde hair spilling over his forehead. Unfortunately, current photos show that nowadays the last remaining hair is waging a valiant battle against baldness. The only territory it seems to have managed to retain is the back of his head. A victorious pony tail hangs from beneath a ball cap, diverting attention from areas of the battleground that were claimed by the troops of male pattern baldness.

Also, the band isn't quite a flock of seagulls any longer. Mike is the only remaining original member, so it might be more aptly titled One Seagull and Some Pigeons.

Still, it was intriguing to have an 80s band headlining in our little town. Unfortunately, I missed the concert because Mother Nature decided to make up for our early summer drought with a midafternoon/early evening deluge.

We had gone over to a friend's house for a little pre-fireworks party. We had all hoped to walk downtown together, leaving early enough to catch some of the concert and to stake out a good spot to watch the fireworks on the lawn at Lakeside Park. Driving downtown on the 4th is a good way to have yourself certified insane; even with shuttle buses, it's typically a parking nightmare. We're only 20 minutes away via the boardwalks, so we planned to hike en masse.

Sadly, the storm clouds impeded our plans. Not too long before we had planned to leave, the heavens let loose with a wall of water. When it slowed down, most of the party-goers headed out with their plans up in the air based on which way the weather went.

We went home since I had some work to do, planning to wait until 9 p.m. to make our "now or never decision." Since the fireworks were scheduled to start at 9:30, that would give us enough time to get downtown and stake out a spot. Rather than going to Lakeside, we figured we would just hang out across the lake from the backside of the hotel.

At 9 it was barely drizzling, so we decided to risk it. We were the only ones on the boardwalk, which seemed a little odd as it's usually pretty packed with fellow residents on festival nights. My husband predicted that many had chosen to drive despite the sheer insanity of that decision. Sure enough, when we reached Lake Evalyn, there were packs of people parking on the narrow streets. Residents know that it's a quick walk downtown from Lake Evalyn if you take the boardwalk, so they had swarmed the area.

We took our spots and watched as the mass of humanity grew. I don't know how many people were downtown, but it seemed that all those who'd been driven away from the main festivities by the rain had now swarmed out for the fireworks. The darkness was broken by an eerie glow of blue and yellow cast by the dozens of children wearing glow necklaces.

9:30 came and went with no explosions. 9:35...9:40...9:45...the clock ticked away as the restless crowd shifted around and slapped at the ravenous mosquitos that must have seen as as a human buffet. I decided that if the show didn't start by ten, I was going to head home before I succumbed to anemia.

Finally, at 9:50 an abrupt BOOM signaled that the show was on! My husband and I watched in awe as the sky filled with color and sparks descended like fiery sprinkles over the lake. Nearby, I heard a cell phone ring, and someone launched right into a conversation despite the deafening booms and bangs. I wondered how she could hear the person on the other end and what was so important that it couldn't wait 20 minutes. Was it really worth missing the spectacular in the sky to plan what restaurant you're going to over the weekend?

My thoughts drifted back to the theme. Back in the 1980s, people weren't tethered electronically to cell phones and Crackberries and the internet. At the time "I Ran" was popular, I had just graduated high school; although I had ambitions, I could never have guessed my future job because it literally didn't exist at that time.

Now here I was in Florida, in a town that didn't exist back then either. Just as I couldn't have imagined my future job, I could never have known that I'd live in a place called Celebration. It made me ponder what the next two decades might bring and where I would be standing on July 4th 2027, celebrating a retro theme "Return to the 2000's."

After the display we headed home, following a wall of humanity that dissipated magically when we reached Lake Evalyn. Our path was farther, out into the wilds of East Village. Malfunctioning path lights and the heavy air that had trapped the firework smoke like fog in a layer so thick I could barely see two feet in front of me turned a leisurely walk into something that felt like a Grade B horror movie. The lights that usually marked our way were completely off, and the swamp critters put on their own concert of squeaks, groans, grunts and chirrups as we blindly followed the concrete.

Finally we spotted lights from a house at the end of the path. We were nearly home! We had made it through the fog, and Duloc Manor was within striking distance. I sighed with relief to see the familiar pool and park.

We made it home by 10:30, so I snapped on the TV and found a fireworks display in Boston. It was the strangest thing I had ever seen; if some people here in Celebration thought the 80s was an off-kilter theme, the Boston presentation was way off the map in weirdness. There was everything from "Unchained Melody" to the type of shit-kickin', boot-stompin' caphony that makes me lunge for the remote. Strangest of all was the Sesame Street theme, accompanied by fireworks in the shape of alphabet blocks, smiley faces, and the numbers 1, 2 and 3. That gets old after about the first three repeitions. At first, it's like: "Oooo, look at the shapes." The second time, it's, "Yeah, that's kind of clever." Then it's, "Okay, been there/done that...time to move on." Unfortunately, it went on for the whole song.

If nothing else, the Boston display showed me that our modest little town hadn't done too badly. With Disney World right down the road, the bar is pretty high. Perhaps we hadn't achieved that level, but our fireworks display had drawn out plenty of Ooooooos and Ahhhhhhhs. Hometown festivities are always the best, especially when your hometown is Celebration.

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