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.

 

Daily Prompt: Make Up Your Mind

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Think of a topic or issue about which you’ve switched your opinion.  Why the change?

I have changed my mind about the George Zimmerman trial more times than I can count.  I still don’t know what I think, and I keep changing my mind because I don’t know which information to believe.

I am a white woman who grew up in a white neighborhood in a white suburb of a predominantly white town.  I have no idea what it is like to be black, and I never will.  It’s impossible for me to fully understand what it’s like to be the victim of racism.  I have no idea if I’m supposed to say “Black” or “African American” or “That lady over there in the green blouse” but I know that whatever I say it’s going to be judged as offensive to someone.

I don’t want to be called a racist.

I want to believe that Trayvon Martin was innocent.  That George Zimmerman was an angry, swaggering wannabe vigilante who shot a helpless child in cold blood.  That Zimmerman was 100% responsible for everything that took place that night, and that Martin was 100% innocent.

To think otherwise makes me a racist, right?  A Bad Person.

But we have been so manipulated by the Media that it is impossible to know what to believe.  Like most Americans, I’ve heard this story and that story and a million tiny “facts” that are actually fabrications, until the only thing I know is that I don’t know.

The photo we all see of Martin is of a much younger, more innocent child, not an accurate depiction of the seventeen year-old man-sized individual who died that night.  Innocent or not, plastering the news outlets with that little-boy picture is a blatant attempt at manipulating public opinion.   At making him seem child-like and guiltless, small and unable to defend himself.

I don’t know the truth about who did what that night, but I know that picture is a lie.  And that makes me angry.   If he was an innocent victim, why try so desperately to mislead the general public?

I’ve heard tales of the 9-1-1 tape being edited for broadcast by news stations intent on making a bigger story.     I’ve heard that Martin’s only injury was the fatal bullet wound, while I’ve seen the pictures of Zimmerman’s bloodied head and face.  And yet I’ve heard claims that there are pictures of an uninjured  Zimmerman walking into the police station, suggesting that he was beaten after the fact in a different altercation.

As a white person, I am afraid to voice my doubts.

I feel like I have to be angry about the Zimmerman verdict or risk being branded a racist.

The truth is, I really believed he would be found guilty.  Not because I believe he is guilty, but because I thought the jury would be afraid of the consequences of a verdict of Not Guilty.  I remember the riots after the Rodney King verdict, and I worried that the same thing would happen in this case.

Was the verdict a result of racism, or was it a result of six jurors who made a decision based on evidence alone?  I don’t even know if such a thing is possible, especially since Zimmerman was basically tried and found guilty on Facebook and in the court of public opinion long before this ever came to trial.

I am disgusted that one of the jurors has already done interviews and signed a book deal.  This strikes me as a terribly opportunistic move.  She should be ashamed, as should the bottom-feeders who have taken advantage of her thirst for fame and attention.

But what about the people on Twitter and Facebook who are calling for the death of the jurors and Zimmerman?  What about the folks fanning the flames of racism and hatred?  If there is more violence as a result of all of the exaggeration, hatespeak and outright lies, who is responsible?  Whose fault is it?

People, it’s not okay to protest racism by advocating more hate.  More violence.

Just because I am white, don’t assume I am a racist.  Just because I am questioning some of the stories circulating about Zimmerman and Martin, don’t assume that I think Martin was in the wrong or that Zimmerman was in the right.  I wasn’t there, and I don’t know.

And neither were you.

Black or white, we are better than this.  We are smarter than this.   We need to stop letting ourselves be spoon-fed by news media whose only agenda is the next big story.   We need to ask questions and not automatically believe every rumor, every bit of gossip, every inflammatory bit of anger-inducing crap that is posted on Facebook or shared on Twitter.

Black or white, we need to think for ourselves.