Five years ago, right at the end of our first year living in Southwest Washington, we had our first experience with something we truly despise about our community ... the legalized hooliganism associated with how Independence Day is celebrated here. Before you start calling me Un-American and chastise me, as a stick-in-the-mud who just wants to spoil other people's fun, let me explain. I am fiercely patriotic. I love the USA and I thrill at celebrating our independence. I, simply, object to being prevented from enjoying the Fourth of July, celebrating it in the manner I choose to, as a result of the overindulgent manner in which others are allowed to do their celebrating in this area.
Ironically, we really enjoyed our first Independence Day celebration here. We were visiting the Portland/Vancouver area, prior to our physical move, in order to rent an apartment, store a car, etc. During this visit, we stayed at one of the major hotels at the airport (PDX). Since we're baseball fans, we decided to spend the evening of the Fourth at PGE Park. At the time that was the home of the AAA Portland Beavers. PGE Park was a great venue for Minor League Baseball and their post-game fireworks were spectacular. On the way back to PDX from PGE Park, we saw a fireworks show in progress on the banks of the Willamette River, in Downtown Portland. And, it turned out that our hotel room provided a great perspective for the fireworks shows going on across the Columbia River, in Washington. We noted countless cars parked and driving along Marine Drive between our hotel and the river. The most impressive show appeared to be the one at Fort Vancouver. At the time, I thought, "What a great way to celebrate the Fourth! I can't imagine any Patriot not being gratified with that celebration." When July 4, 2006, came along, our attitude got turned a full 180 degrees. By then, we were living in the home we had purchased in Hiddenbrook, a nice area in East Vancouver. That change resulted in an Independence Day celebration experience that was completely miserable.
Unmet expectations are often a major contributor to miserable experiences. Naturally, our expectations about celebrating Independence Day were mostly based on our prior experience. That meant what we had experienced living in Southern California and for me, what I'd experienced growing up in Indiana. Living in the Golden State is quite different from living in the Hoosier State but the way that Independence Day is celebrated is fairly similar in both states. The basic experience in Southern California involved taking in a major fireworks display at a public venue like Anaheim Stadium or a civic site such as the beach in Belmont Shore. In addition, there were the "Safe and Sane" fireworks stands that opened up in the days approaching the Fourth of July holiday. At these stands, you could purchase things like firecrackers, sparklers, etc. ... all small ground-level fireworks meant to be set off in a person's yard or a similar setting. Independence Day celebration, living in Vancouver, turned out to be dramatically different from anything we had previously experienced.
The way this unfolded for us seemed to start innocently enough. In the days leading up to the Fourth, we started to notice tented fireworks stands being set up all over the place. That seemed "as expected". Our first hint that we might be about to have a different Independence Day experience than we had ever had before came during a visit to our dog's Vet. The Vet asked, "Is Figgins (our dog) going to need sedatives to get him through the Fourth?" Since we had just gotten Figgins less than two months prior to that and we hadn't been through the Vancouver version of the Independence Day celebration, we had no clue regarding the answer to the Vet's question.
Before going on, since Figgins plays a key role in this story, let me tell you a bit about him. He is the Corgi/Pug mix you see in the photo that accompanies this article. We adopted him from the Oregon Humane Society just before his 3rd birthday. He has the run of our home, including doggie-door-access to our back yard and he is very well behaved ... no peeing or pooping indoors, nothing gets chewed or scratched, etc. When Figgins meets someone new, he wiggles and wags his tail, trying his best to get petted. Likewise, when he encounters a new dog, he wags his tail and does all he can to get the other dog to play. OK, I'll admit to extreme prejudice about Figgins and that I tell him he's the world's best puppy dog. Regardless, he is a very good dog.
The next step in our introduction to the Vancouver version of the Independence Day celebration came on the first of the legal dates for fireworks use in the city. Typically, these "legal dates" include several days prior to the Fourth plus the Fourth itself. On those days, fireworks use is allowed from 9:00 a.m. to 11:00 p.m. (midnight on the Fourth). During the daylight hours of the first of the "legal dates", occasionally, there were some pretty loud fireworks going off. Those got our attention and they caused Figgins to react but, so far, it didn't seem that far out of the scope of our experience. The real difference came with sunset. It was like nothing we had ever known before and it went on until 11:00 p.m. (midnight on the Fourth). Out in the streets, all over our neighborhood, fireworks were being set off continuously. These weren't just firecrackers and cherry bombs (like I'd known, growing up in Indiana). Although those were sort of mixed in with the background the predominant fireworks were aerials that sounded like canon-fire, with many including color-bursts rivaling those I've seen over Anaheim Stadium. What made this an even more unbelievable experience was that there were the equivalent of three major fireworks displays going on right in our neighborhood, surrounding our home ... one to the North, one to the East and one to the South. Later we learned that these were groups of neighbors who had gone together, spending thousands of dollars, to have their own fireworks show on their block. Thankfully, I've never been in a war zone but being in a war zone was the analogy that immediately came to my mind, being encircled by the continuous sound of canon-fire and having the windows on each side of our home brightly lighted (even with the shutters closed) with flash after flash from aerial fireworks explosions. Although this wouldn't have been "our cup of tea" under any circumstances, if we didn't have Figgins, we probably would have barricaded ourselves in the family room with the TV volume turned up as high as we could stand it, as a way to get by. But "the world's best puppy dog" was with us and he was absolutely frantic for every second of the hours of this experience. Although we had gotten sedatives for Figgins, since we had no way of anticipating what was coming, we didn't realize how badly he would need the drugs until the fireworks were fully under way. We did manage to get sedatives into him at that point but they didn't really take effect until the legal fireworks use time had passed.
A Closer Look
Understandably, after going through the experience described above, we determined to see what we could do about it. As I said at the outset of this article, my goal was not to spoil other people's fun. However, I couldn't help but think of a lesson my high school Social Studies Teacher had taught me about independence. He said, "Your right to swing your fist ends where my nose begins." In this case, I saw those setting off fireworks as the ones swinging their fist and our household as the ones getting hit in the nose. And, this wasn't just a grazing blow. We had, pretty much, been knocked out of the ring. With this in mind, I set out looking for reasonable solutions.
One solution you may be wondering about is, "Why didn't they just get in the car with their dog and go somewhere else in town until the fireworks were over?" The answer is, "There's no place to go." Vancouver's population is approaching 200,000, Clark County's population is approaching 1/2 million and Portland's population (across the river) is about 3.8 million. The fireworks experience in our (fairly upscale) neighborhood is what you find in almost every neighborhood in the area.
Another solution we have considered is taking a vacation during this time of year. But, that hasn't worked with our schedule so far. And, like all the other solutions I've mentioned here, it doesn't fit with the lesson I learned in high school about independence - i.e. The way others celebrate their independence shouldn't mean that we can't celebrate ours quietly at home, without drugging (poisoning) our dog and trying to find ways to escape the miserable experience. Since none of the solutions I've mentioned up to now seemed reasonable and we didn't want to end up having the one thing "we truly despise about our community" cause us to move away from the area we've chosen as our home, I began to focus on finding a way to make a change in the community that seemed reasonable for everyone involved.
A Reasonable Solution
As desirable as it might seem to me, banning fireworks in Vancouver's neighborhood's doesn't seem like a solution that's "reasonable for everyone involved". However, it did strike me that perhaps this has been tried before. I can't imagine that I'm any place close to being alone in preferring to enjoy fireworks in a public venue while maintaining the ability to enjoy my home quietly. According to the American Veterinary Medical Association, there are 1.52 dogs per household in Vancouver or an approximate total of 300,000. Surely, out of this huge group, there are many others trying to cope with the frantic reaction of their dogs to fireworks in their neighborhoods. The Vets themselves are, obviously, aware of the problem. Anyway, I thought that by looking at attempts to ban fireworks, I might find clues to a more reasonable solution.
What I found was that attempts to ban fireworks had, generally, run into two major obstacles: (1) Complacency and (2) Money. With Complacency, there seemed to be two sub-categories: (a) Those who have just grown accustomed to the way things are and (b) Those who want to keep doing what they're doing, with no regard for the impact of their actions on others. Frankly, I didn't see much that could be done, effectively, about Complacency. Money was another matter.
The first comment I remember hearing about money, in this regard, was that the company behind all the fireworks sales in Vancouver "Gives millions of dollars to the city." I don't know if that meant they actually contribute to the city's budget or to elected official's campaigns or another sort of direct contribution to the city. I've never taken the time to investigate. What I have observed, though, is that the company behind fireworks sales makes funds available to groups for doing things like providing volunteer workers at fireworks stands. A good current example involves my own church. Our Youth Group is getting $6000 towards a Mission trip to El Salvador in exchange for staffing a fireworks stand. Although it would be easy to compare this tactic to that of a drug dealer first assuring a user's dependency on drugs, as a career Sales guy, I have an appreciation for the move. And, through redirection, I see it as holding the key to a solution that's "reasonable for everyone involved". Here's what I have in mind:
In order to find a compromise that allows for fireworks continuing in the neighborhoods while avoiding having some homeowners feeling that they're trapped in their homes in the midst of what seems like a war zone, it seems ideal to find a location in neighborhoods that is away from most homes where fireworks enthusiasts could easily gather to fully enjoy their pursuit. In my neighborhood, Fishers Landing Elementary School seems like a great spot for that. And, that seems like a good model for my solution, in general. The reasons for this include:
- Pretty much every neighborhood has a school that has a big open athletic field, ideal for fireworks.
-Neighborhood schools have ample parking and they're within walking distance of neighborhood homes.
- Schools are not in session around Independence Day.
- School systems are in great need of budget help. If the company behind fireworks sales in Vancouver are as altruistic as they want to appear, surely they would be pleased to benefit our local schools while maintaining their sales. They could, also, contribute to our Police and Fire Departments, if public safety is a concern with this.
- Fund-raising opportunities for organizations, like my church, can be maintained and even expanded. Fireworks stands still need workers, school grounds would need clean up after the holiday, etc.
Hopefully, the above suggestion provides enough of a nucleus of a reasonable solution that I can get others to join me, to fully develop and enact my idea. If you have helpful thoughts along these lines, please let me hear them. In the mean time, I would ask that, if you are a neighborhood fireworks enthusiast, please be as considerate as possible towards your neighbors. This year, in Vancouver, fireworks sales began at Noon on June 28th. Legal dates for fireworks use are July 1 & 2 & 3 & 4. That means, for each of those four days our household will be enduring the misery I described above about our first legal date for fireworks usage experience. Additionally, occasional fireworks usage began even before legal fireworks sales started ... leftovers from previous years or fireworks brought in from out of the area, I guess. Furthermore, once legal fireworks sales start, there are those who will choose to ignore that legal use doesn't begin until July 1st. During the daytime of the 29th, while working in my front yard, a neighbor on the cul-de-sac across the street was setting off fireworks he had just bought. That night, we drugged Figgins for the first time of this, yet another miserable Independence Day celebration season in Vancouver, WA.
Take a page from Washougal
Submitted by Jon R (not verified) on Thu, 2011-06-30 11:12.
+-In Washougal fireworks can only be used on the Fourth of July. This restriction has been very successful. Not 100% compliance, but it works. Camas is a mile down the street and they have no restrictions. It is very loud in the evenings.
Comment via Facebook
Submitted by Gary Wiram on Fri, 2011-07-01 03:05.
+-From Rori Homme:
I completely agree with you on this one. Its not safe, its disruptive and has always been hard on my pets.
Comment via email
Submitted by Gary Wiram on Fri, 2011-07-01 03:20.
+-From Mike Boyer:
I am appalled at your attitude about this.
If you don't like the way we Patriots Celebrate our Independence Day Feel free to move back out of the area.
I have to disagree with you.
Submitted by Steven J Nelson (not verified) on Fri, 2011-07-01 11:51.
+-What would John Adams say?
"I am apt to believe that it will be celebrated by succeeding generations as the great anniversary Festival. It ought to be commemorated, as the Day of Deliverance, by solemn acts of devotion to God Almighty. It ought to be solemnized with pomp and parade, with shows, games, sports, guns, bells, bonfires and illuminations, from one end of this continent to the other, from this time forward forever."
Do like we do. Take your dog to a kennel in the country and enjoy!
I also completely disagree....
Submitted by Nick Smith (not verified) on Sun, 2011-07-03 07:52.
+-1) Move back to California
2) What other freedoms would you like to restrict? Are there too many churches, or should they only get to meet when you decide? Do you not like peaceable public assemblies? Perhaps your ability to even write an article like this should be limited as well? Perhaps you should only have your right against self incrimination available on Tuesdays between 2 and 3.....
3) Move back to California and take your bankrupt approach to governing with you.
4 FYI, I grew up in Vancouver and have never personally purchased any fireworks, yet I would never suggest limiting the freedom of others to do so....
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Submitted by Gary Wiram on Sat, 2011-07-09 06:56.
+-From Larry J. Smith: