Tonight is the annual Red, White and Boom fireworks show in Columbus. It’s always held on the Friday before Independence Day, and it’s a great celebration of pyrotechnics and loud noises that draws hundreds of thousands of people to downtown Columbus to ooh and aah about the latest bursting shell.
It’s also kind of a pain in the ass.
The problem is that people come to downtown not just to watch the show, but to camp out and get well lubricated hours before the show even begins. So, the green space gets occupied by blankets and people working on their 12-ounce curl techniques in the early afternoon hours. By the time the show starts, some of the observers are so liquored up they don’t know if they’re actually seeing fireworks or seeing stars from the drunken tumble that caused them to crack their heads on their neighbor’s cooler. Add to that the heavy traffic that comes into the downtown area, causing mass tie-ups, and the debris left by the hordes, and its not a pretty picture.
In short, in my view Red, White and Boom doesn’t exactly show Columbus off at its finest. Because I’m a patriotic guy, I’ll accept the inconvenience and hassle once a year. But when the Red, White and Boom comes to downtown, I go.
Tonight is Red, White, & BOOM! night in downtown Columbus, and when I left the office this afternoon — we knock off early, so people can beat the traffic — fireworks fans were already gathering by the riverfront and the food vendors were hawking their wares. All of the ingredients of a traditional Fourth of July fireworks display were present: bad traffic, junk food, t-shirts with bald eagles that are two sizes too small, blankets and lawn chairs, corn dogs, miniature American flags, coolers of ice-cold beer, cutoff jeans, soft-serve ice cream, and acres of exposed human flab.
‘Tis the season for fireworks. Columbus had its big Red White & Boom celebration last night. The weather was perfect and big crowds turned out to ooh and aah at the sounds, colors, and combinations.
For many smaller communities, however, Fourth of July fireworks celebrations are being reduced or eliminated due to budget pressures. In Gahanna, which is one of the communities adjacent to New Albany, officials have said that this year’s Freedom Festival fireworks show would have been canceled if the city hadn’t already put down a $10,000 deposit. The city is facing enormous budget deficits if it doesn’t scale back its services; it has already cut its capital improvements budget to zero. The city’s investment in the Creekside project — which is an attractive, but apparently underutilized, development along one of the city’s main streets — hasn’t produced the revenue that was anticipated. Taxes could be raised, of course, but city officials are sensing that residents are experiencing “tax fatigue” and therefore may not support additional levies. So if the city won’t be patching potholes or filling vacancies, how can it justify using scarce funds for fireworks displays?
It’s sad when communities can’t support traditional Independence Day activities, but in this recessionary period civic leaders have to be realistic. Fourth of July celebrations aren’t essential city services and in central Ohio there are lots of other options for fans of fireworks. Gahanna’s decision is unfortunate, but not difficult.