A Pandemic of Nightly Fireworks
Was it bored teenagers, firework dealers, or police officers blowing up neighborhoods?
The battle for my Silicon Valley neighborhood began at 9:00 PM every night. A steady round of pop-pop-pop, several loud booms, and missiles exploding in brilliant displays of light. An occasional ka-BOOM rattled the windows, setting off car alarms and dogs in equal measure.
Was it the police firing rubber bullets and gas canisters at Black Lives Matter protesters hurling Molotov cocktails in the streets?
Oh, hell no.
The nightly fireworks show of firecrackers, cherry bombs, and bottle rockets started on Memorial Day and kept going until Fourth last year. Each show lasted 15 minutes in case someone did call the police and a patrol car showed up 20 minutes later. The shadowy people who lit the fireworks slipped back into the night. The pungent smoke in the air and the spent fireworks in the gutters were the only evidence that any illegal activity took place.
Not in my neighborhood, but in everyone’s neighborhood.
Scrolling through the #fireworks tweets on Twitter in the days leading up to July 4, 2020, nightly firework shows were a regular complaint for many neighborhoods throughout the United States. Three different groups may have been responsible for the pandemic of nightly fireworks.
It’s hard to believe that “bored teenagers” have the money and the discipline to shoot off only 15 minutes of fireworks night after night.
When I was a bored teenager in the summer of 1984, my friend and I pooled our leftover stash of fireworks on the last day of summer. We had only noisemakers. We lit and dropped each one into the deep hole in the front yard of his house. One after another. Every loud bang became a muffled thud, smoke drifting out of the hole.
That went on for 45 minutes.
The mom across the street who calls the cops on everyone yelled at us that she was calling the cops on us. My friend flipped her the birdie. She went back into her house and slammed her front door. A loud bang that echoed in the neighborhood.
We saw the patrol car through the tall bushes on the property line 20 minutes later. The empty box went underneath a bush, the last firecracker was an M-80 that went down the hole lit, and my friend plopped his fat ass over the hole. I sat down next to him and talked about the weather.
As the police cruiser slowly came into view, the M-80 exploded in the hole. A puff of smoke came out behind my friend like a cartoon fart. We talked with straight faces and waved at the police officers. The two officers stared at us for a long moment before they sped off to a real emergency.
When the mom across the street came out yelling at us again, my friend flipped her double birdies.
The nightly fireworks could be fireworks dealers calling out potential customers to check out the merchandise they have to sell.
My older brother and his first wife used to drive down from Silicon Valley to Tijuana to party in the late 1970’s and early 1980’s. He always came back with a stash of “not safe and not sane” Mexican fireworks — bricks of firecrackers, bags of cherry bombs, and bundles of bottle rockets. His $250 USD purchase in Mexico turned into $2,500 USD within a few weeks.
The fireworks that I’ve seen in my neighborhood are very much the “not safe and not sane” fireworks from Mexico. The “safe and sane” fireworks available in Gilroy — 30 miles south of Silicon Valley and the only city with legalized fireworks in Santa Clara County — are overpriced whimpers.
After my parents retired to Sacramento, CA, I visited them for the 4th of July weekend in 1995. Fireworks then and now were legal in Sacramento County. We visited the various firework stands that were everywhere.
The fireworks available for sale were overpriced boxes. Nothing was available for sale a la carte. A childhood favorite of mine was “spinning roses” (ground spinners that changed colors and looked like a rose blossom). I wanted a half-dozen packs to shoot off. A single pack was available as part of a large box set that cost $130 USD.
I don’t know if the people shooting off the fireworks were dealers. They appear at 9:00 PM, shoot off 15 minutes of fireworks, and disappear into the night. I haven’t seen anyone in the lingering smoke surreptitiously trading a bag of cash — or, more likely, bitcoins — for a bag of fireworks.
The majority of #fireworks tweets pointed virtual fingers at the New York City Police Department for engaging in psychological warfare against minority neighborhoods by exploding confiscated fireworks.
With NYPD being the biggest police department in the U.S. with 36,000 officers, the Big Apple has plenty of “bad apples” (pun intended) that would happily toss out fireworks from their patrol cars.
Whether or not that’s happening in NYC and elsewhere was a major source of conspiracy theories on social media.
When I first moved into my neighborhood 16 years ago, the beginning of summer was always herald by the police helicopter flying overheard at all hours of the night. The bright spotlight sweeping over rooftops and backyards to find the bad guys lurking in every shadow.
The neighborhood then was mostly Latinos and 20+ varieties of pot smoke hung in the air. The police were always in the neighborhood at 2:30AM on Sunday mornings.
The neighborhood today is mostly Southeast Asians and curry hangs in the air. The only time I see the police in the neighborhood is when officers are filling out paperwork at the coffeeshop down the street.
Short of a nightly sting operation by plainclothes officers, I doubt the police were running the fireworks shows in my neighborhood.
After fireworks lit up Silicon Valley and many neighborhoods like a war zone on Fourth of July, the nightly firework shows ended as quickly as they started. Except for an occasional boom (probably lit up by a bored teenager), my neighborhood has been relatively quiet for the past year.