Thursday, June 20, 2013

Guide to Winning Summer: Have a blast on the 4th of July

Fireworks - Appleton Memorial Park
The following is the latest installment in the "Badger Catholic's Totally Excellent Guide to Winning Summer."

Wisconsin's own Vicki Thorn has done some fascinating research showing that after a man's first child is born, his testosterone drops permanently. This makes men more gentle and patient with their children. I've noticed this applied to my life in two distinct ways since I became a father. The first application manifest itself when my reaction to seeing a wide receiver getting lit up going over the middle went from high fives and shouting to cringing and contemplating whether the brutality of football conflicts with the dignity of the human person.

The second manifestation involved fireworks.

One of the greatest moments of young adulthood took place when the State of Wisconsin decided that a great way to deal with a budget crisis would be to relax enforcement of the laws governing the sale of pyrotechnics. For a couple years in my late teens, every gathering of friends, performance of my garage band and (of course) the 4th of July, involved copious use of fireworks. I rarely went anywhere without at least bringing bottle rockets.

I worked at McDonalds throughout high school. One particular summer, I forgot to take off the 4th of July. But since I couldn't go to the fireworks, my friends brought some fireworks to work. They were also employees of the Golden Arches and somehow convinced the manager to allow us all to go outside to watch a mini-fireworks show in the parking lot. Since the rest of America was enjoying firework, there weren't any customers.

The show went well enough, but when I did take an order through the drive-thru, a customer pointed to the remains, which were emitting heavy amounts of smoke, and asked, "Is that supposed to be happening?"

"Ummmm. Yes, I think so," I responded.

The drive-thru window became a busy place as patriots returning home from the fireworks lined up to get their Big Mac fix. By the time I had the chance to ask one of my co-workers to douse the smoldering firework remains, the box burst into flames. My idiot friends and I didn't know exactly when we crossed the line, but we sure knew we were past it that night.

Now that I'm a dad, I'm content to leave the pyrotechnics to the professionals. And I highly advise you do the same.

Madison's Rhythm and Booms
The gold standard for a 4th of July celebration is Madison's Rhythm and Booms, which usually takes place the Saturday before July 4 but has been moved this year to Wednesday, July 3. Rhythm and Booms claims to be the largest fireworks show in the Midwest--a claim I was highly dubious of having been to some monster fireworks shows in Chicago.

My only trip to this event in 2008 made me a believer. Not only was the show as big as advertised, but the spectators were very close to the action. Maybe too close. We had chunks of debris falling on us the entire time. Some were sharp. Some were still on fire. It was difficult to watch because looking toward the sky left your eyes vulnerable to getting junk in them. I actually had to stomp out our blanket once. Laura took our son and headed for shelter. This is all true.

While the anemic website doesn't indicate as much, Rhythm and Booms is typically a day long festival featuring concerts, a Madison Mallards baseball game and appearances by military aircraft.

Now, to be completely fair, this event is about as strong of a 4th of July festival as you can ask for. But to me, spending the 4th of July in Madison feels kind of like spending the 4th in Moscow. I've gotta get out. And when I do, I head to...

Appleton's Fireworks at Memorial Park
While I've been in Madison for the vast majority of the last decade, my roots are in Appleton. And fireworks at Memorial Park tend to be one of the top three highlights of my year.

The fireworks are viewed from the slope of a sledding hill. Prior to the fireworks, a local cover band called Boogie & the YoYoz performs on a stage at the bottom of the hill. (If you've ever lived in Northeast Wisconsin, you know that Boogie & the YoYoz is an area cover band that plays every local event there has ever been for probably two decades.) As soon as the sun goes down, the fireworks start. About a half hour later, the smoke clears and the band takes the stage again.

Now that I've got a baby again, I'll probably be leaving shortly after fireworks. But if you're able, I advise sticking around and enjoying a cold one to the thoroughly enjoyable sounds of Northeast Wiconsin's best cover band playing the hits of Bon Jovi, the B-52s and others.

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