By: Tanya Ward Goodman
Last year, on the way home from our second July 4th party, I spontaneously drove to toward the Rose Bowl.
As the kids chanted, “fireworks, fireworks,” from the back seat, I maneuvered our car past the folks camped out on the grassy medians near Colorado and Orange Grove. As my husband’s eyebrows raised in surprise, I steered down the twisty road toward the Rose Bowl Swimming Pool.
“Where are you going?” my mother asked from the back seat. “Do you have tickets?”
We didn’t have tickets. We were overtired and filled with two parties’ worth of pie, but I asked myself WWJD? The “J” I’m talking about is my brother, Jason. He’s the one in our family whose fun flag flies full time.
I’ll admit I’m not a huge fan of the 4th of July. I’m all for Independence and patriotism, but I don’t like loud noises or the idea that some folks might feel the need to shoot a gun into the air in celebration. But now I have kids. And my kids like fireworks.
I drove closer and closer to the Bowl, figuring that someone, somewhere would tell me to stop, but there were no crowds, no barricades, no police. Eventually, I parked in a lot so close, we could hear the crowd in the bowl.
The kids climbed on the roof of the car and whooped at the sky. The light faded and a few more cars rolled in and when it got truly dark, the first rockets whistled up toward the heavens. As each exploded over us like a giant sparkling chrysanthemum, the kids laughed hysterically.
We stayed until the last spark flickered out and then we turned the car around and within minutes were on the road home.
It was dream-like. An American dream. So magic was this night that we talked about it for a year. The kids told their friends that we had the most special plan for the 4th. From the sound of it, you’d have thought we had a private beach or a penthouse overlooking Disneyland.
This year, we went back to the Rose Bowl. We left the house a little late, knowing we’d have a spot. My daughter sang a song about watching fireworks from the roof of the car. My son shouted happy birthday to America.
The Orange Grove exit off the 134 was mobbed. The numbers of people on the grassy median had tripled. The left turn lane down to the Rose Bowl was blocked by barricades. There were traffic police everywhere.
We drove down crowded streets around the Bowl. Every possible turn was blocked. Traffic was terrible. The sky darkened. The kids began to whine.
I felt less and less fun.
We had been in the car for nearly an hour, circling the neighborhood, when the fireworks began.
My daughter started to sob.
“But I want to be on the roof. We’re supposed to be in the parking lot.”
My mother sighed. My husband’s jaw tightened. I kept driving.
Eventually, I pulled over in front of a “NO PARKING” sign.
“We can’t park here,” my son said.
“I’m not parking, I’m standing,” I said.
My daughter continued to weep.
“It’s too loud in here,” my son said. “I’m sitting outside.”
Carloads of families circled the block, while others paused long enough to watch a few bright sparks fall.
My daughter sobbed for forty minutes and then fell into a deep sleep.
Behind the trees, the sky lit up like the 4th of July.
Another year. A different dream of America.