Fireworks

I remember celebrating the Fourth of July in South Haven, Michigan, with my family when I was a kid. My aunts’ cottage was right on the North Beach, so we saw some of the worst traffic, especially during the years when the town held volleyball tournaments on the holiday.

Despite the crowds, we were able to enjoy the day on the beach. As evening drew near, we dug out sweatshirts and picked out the perfect spot over in the sand. Sure, we had a great view of the fireworks from our front porch, but we wanted the full experience. Instead of a nice, comfy chair and a tall, cold glass of lemonade, we dug out a trench in the sand. At one end of the trench, we’d mound up the sand to create a pillow of sorts, and then we’d cover it all up with our oversized towels.

When the work was done, we’d lay back in our makeshift beds and gaze up at the sky, waiting. “Is it starting?” one of us would cry. “Nah,” another would answer. “That’s just somebody shooting off their own fireworks.”

We’d sigh with disappointment and settle back again until the next flicker of light started the whole round of questions again.

Watching the fireworks was never about the fireworks. It was about the experience. Ooohing and ahhhing over each explosion, listening for the appreciative gasps and applause rising up from the crowds around us. Seeing the boats out on the lake and hearing them honk and blare their horns along with our applause. Squealing when the occasional cinder floated earthward and covering our hair with with our hands as though our fingers were fireproof.

And when it was over — oh, the grand finale shot off the end of the pier! All the whoops and hollers, and then the satisfied throngs of beachgoers gathering up their things and nodding over a successful holiday.

They still shoot off the fireworks in South Haven every year, but my kids will never experience it the way I did. The town has grown, and so has the celebration. In fact, last night’s fireworks were expected to draw anywhere from 70,000 to 80,000 people.

80,000 people. Holy crap.

Guys, this is a town that normally has a population of less than 5,000.

The last time I took my kids to the beach for the fireworks, an officer from the Allegan County Sherrif’s Department kindly suggested that I take them home because it was just not a safe place for kids. For a few years after that, we watched from the safety of the front porch, but it gradually evolved from a night of celebration to a night of guard duty. Our little house was under siege as drunks stopped to pee on the walls or hurl beer cans at our windows. Our flower pots were smashed before our eyes.

Fights broke out every year, and we saw police drag away people in handcuffs. The very last year I spent the holiday at the cottage before we sold it, I lost track of the number of unconscious, drunken teens and twenty-somethings I saw being carried out by their inebriated friends.

And last night?

Hey, South Haven made the national news. Police evacuated the North Beach —my beach — due to increasing violence. People got hurt. Friends who were there have told me about near-riot conditions and multiple arrests.

 

So let me see if I understand this correctly. To celebrate America’s birthday, the popular choice is now to go to a lovely little resort town on the shore of Lake Michigan and get hurt or arrested. Instead of watching the million-dollar fireworks display, it is apparently more fun to get blindingly drunk and fight with other drunken idiots.

Forget about watching the fireworks with kids and seeing the joy on those little faces! No, these people would rather riot, thank you very much. And while some folks in this world may riot over some social unrest or political issue, here in South Haven they riot because . . . well, apparently because it’s a beautiful day on the beach and that’s great reason to hurt people, destroy property, and get arrested.

I think back on the Fourth of July celebrations of my childhood, and it breaks my heart to think that the same beach is now unsafe for families. Instead of watching the fireworks with our kids, we have to keep the kids inside to protect them.

Last night, there was a lot of talk of cancelling next year’s “Light Up The Lake” fireworks show. I don’t think that can happen; the town depends too much on the money that comes in over the holiday weekend. Local police tried to get a handle on things by enforcing the “no alcohol” rule this year, but that obviously wasn’t enough.

So, what can we do?

Look, I’m just a dumb romance writer. I don’t know anything about crowd control. But maybe it is time to shut down the show for a couple of years. I mean, sure, the tourists bring a lot of money into the town over the Fourth. But think about the money spent on increased police presence and clean-up afterward. When all the numbers are crunched, does it really add up to a big profit?

Maybe it’s time to follow through on all those arrests that were made. Impose stiffer fines or longer jail times or whatever.

I just don’t know how to fix it. But until they do, Fourth of July in South Haven is a weekend to leave town. Lock up your valuables, gather your loved ones close, and pray your homeowner’s policy will cover the damages inflicted on this night.

Happy Fourth of July, South Haven. Hope everyone makes it to the fifth.

 

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26 thoughts on “Fireworks

  1. What price are we – meaning ourselves, or in this case the community, what price will it take for the restoration of peace and a sense of godliness where we choose to live? Making a stand certainly is a counter -cultueal effort that takes a lot of courage, and comes at a cost.

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    • True. The town NEEDS the tourist dollars, and some parts of the celebration are still fun. I don’t want to fight to end the party . . . just find a way to control it.

      It reminds me of the opening scenes of Peretti’s “This Present Darkness” with the wild party in the streets.

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      • Shame on you A.J. Goode. (DUMB Romance writer? seems like fantasy to me! ) You are obviously confused, or have the readers confused. Since you don’t live there and probably never have, you may want to know that those arrested were not LOCALS, such as yourself… which is the case in most arrests here (IN SOUTH HAVEN)

        I attended the “Light up the Lake” event in 2015 and years prior back to 1974.. We have never seen an episode such as the one that occurred here last night. This was due to the event being scheduled when the Tourists/out of towners were able to attend. They are the root of the problem here!!!! NOT LOCALS..

        I will grant you that the youngsters each year can get out of hand due being loud. South Haven Beach has always been the typical place to cruise and hang out as a teen or the like. I did it, I was obnoxious and probably annoying to those of you that owned cottages along the beach, BUT I did leave when I was suppose to due to the curfew laws, and since then have grown up, but I also don’t mind that the younger generation needs to have fun too. (too bad you never were allowed to) It sounds like you never had any fun with your friends on the beach, in the summer nights heat. Get a little rowdy or loud!

        You sound like the type that forgot what it is like to be young and vibrant and free.

        Lastly, you mentioned, and I quote; “The last time I took my kids to the beach for the fireworks, an officer from the Allegan County Sherrif’s Department kindly suggested that I take them home because it was just not a safe place for kids. ”

        I call “BULLSHIT” as this beach is in “VAN BUREN COUNTY”, and there is NO WAY an ALLEGAN COUNTY Sheriff would even be on site! and the picture you posted isn’t even South Haven. The only time Allegan county is involved here is when called upon as they were after this unfortunate night of fireworks.

        In ending, quit writing smack about a town you clearly know NOTHING about, as you don’t live here anymore! Sounds like you never really did live here!

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      • I really don’t know what to say to this, other than I am truly sorry that you seem to have so much anger about the situation and toward me. Let me try to answer.

        You say “get a little rowdy or loud!” So your assessment of this year’s behavior is that the youngsters were just being rowdy and loud, “young and vibrant and free”? Damaging property, injuring a police officer, and breaking the law is all just part of kids being kids in your world?

        Wow.

        I have no problem with any generation having fun. But I draw the line when that ” fun” creates a dangerous situation for others.

        If you think what happened in South Haven before the fireworks this year wasn’t a problem, then you are part of the problem. Talk to the property owners along North Shore Drive and Lake Shore Drive, who will spend days or weeks cleaning up. Talk to the ER workers who patched up some of the injured. Talk to the families of disappointed children who didn’t get to watch fireworks from the beach because of unsafe conditions. That’s not “talking smack”. That’s just the facts, plain and simple.

        For the record, I know exactly what county South Haven is in. I also know that officers from the Allegan County Sherrif’s Department help out with crowd control on the 4th, and have for years. I was married to an officer of Columbia Township Fire Department for many years and had the opportunity to form lasting friendships with fire and police personnel from several neighboring departments — including those who assist in South Haven when needed. So you call “Bullshit” all you like, but you are wrong.

        And lastly, will you kindly tell me where I said LOCALS were to blame?

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  2. The city doesn’t make a whole lot of money on the night of the fireworks. Most of the people that come are from areas close by (Kalamazoo, And other cities) and they bring all their food and drinks with them. We don’t have 80,000 tourists here on a typical day, even in the summer. The fireworks show costed around $35,000 this year. That’s over $1,000/minute!! We definitely don’t make money on fireworks night but it’s just an awesome tradition but it is too out of control. I have an almost-2 year old and a 5 year old and we most definitely stayed home last night. Most of the locals I know stayed home…. It’s just not the same anymore.

    We definitely need a higher police presence if they do it next year. 100 officers is not nearly enough.

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    • It really is an awesome tradition that I would hate to see come to an end. And I’ve got to say that the fireworks show they put on is worth the $1,000/minute – it’s always been one of the most beautiful shows around. But you’re right — the crowd is just so far out of control that families and locals just can’t enjoy the show any more.

      No, the 100 officers who worked were definitely NOT enough. I’ve got to add, though, that I don’t blame them one bit for anything that happened. They worked hard against overwhelming odds. There were South Haven police officers, county officers from Van Buren and Allegan, and I think even some State Police officers as well, and I think every one of them should be proud of the job that he or she did last night.

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  3. I don’t know where the first picture came from, but it does not resemble South Haven, MI, Not only did I grow up there, but I live there now. Unless this is in the Old Harbor Village, this is not downtown or the on the north side of town.

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    • You know what? I was told this was a shot looking west down Phoenix from Broadway, and I believed without looking at it more closely. You are absolutely right, and I should have been more thorough.

      Thanks for calling me on it. I’ll delete the picture right away.

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  4. I’d suggest they block off the beaches with gates and not allow any cars, bags, coolers and a like down there on the 4th. Starting in the early morning. I know this is sad but the only other option is to charge a large fee to enter the beach by car or on foot or end the fireworks all together.
    I too remember those sand lounge chairs.

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    • Those are some great ideas. I like the idea of charging a fee. Why not? It might start slowing them down a bit.

      Those sand lounge chairs were the best, weren’t they? 🙂

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  5. Not sure WHY this has devolved into such a fiasco on the North Beach…we always stay on the South side (a bit more family “friendly”). However, I look at other communities that have great fireworks shows to celebrate Independence Day, specifically Pentwater and Ludington. They also have their fireworks shows on the beach, they also draw huge “tourist” crowds – perhaps not 80000 but for a town of 1000 like Pentwater, even 20-30K is “huge.” And to top it off, Pentwater is one of the few, if not the ONLY, beach that ALLOWS alcohol on the beach (just not glass bottles). And those communities don’t have the same problem….I wonder what the difference is.

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    • That’s as great question. What IS the difference? I’ll admit, my friends and I were known to sneak the occasional beer or wine cooler over there in our day, so I don’t think alcohol alone is the problem. I think it’s a big part of the problem, but not the only part.

      This trouble has been building for years, gradually getting more and more out of control. I hope this year’s issues mark the beginning of a turning point.

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      • Look, lets not beat around the bush or pretend much like the news reports about the real issue, without the use of code words like ‘teens’. We all perfectly well know but simply can not say the truth without having to wear the scarlet letter. We all see the 900 pound pink elephant in the room, but are all too scared to discuss it.

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  6. Justin K, apparently knows more about South Haven, then the residents do. I would like to know what is so taboo and can’t be discussed. Is it the rich tourist that are totally out of control on the North Beach?

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    • I’m all for open discussion and honest opinions, but I want everyone to tread lightly and treat others with respect here. Let’s keep it nice, guys.

      But yes, Justin, I’d like to know what you were referring to.

      And as for the “rich tourists” …. well, most them were probably in their rental houses or expensive hotel rooms, not rioting on the beach.

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