Shooting The Fireworks

Posted: June 28, 2011 in The Roper Files

 (click photos to enlarge)

I live within a mile of where the city puts on a gala month-long event each June called the Concert In The Garden. They put up a stage in the Botanical Gardens near where I live and sometimes they have regular bands (Old 97s, Asleep At the Wheel) and more often cover bands ( an Elvis impersonator, a band that does Eagles covers, a Led Zepplin cover band, a Beach Boys cover band etc.) and other nights they have the whole city orchestra over there playing either classical music (1812 Overture with real cannons) or movie themes (Superman,Star Wars etc) Oh and Hey City Of Fort Worth – I’ve got an idea for a budget cut; hire Dread Zepplin and give the Led Zepplin and Elvis impersonators their pink slips? That way you can pay one band instead of two…

Three nights a week (Friday, Saturday and Sunday) somewhere between 9:30 and 10pm each show ends with a fireworks show: I can hear them even with the house locked up tight and my 120-watt stereo turned up. They use mortars to launch the fireworks and there is no mistaking that someone is shooting something outside; I can hear them in the distance even with my 100-watt home theater cranked up loud. If I step outside and look eastward there are too many trees between me and them to really see the fireworks, so if I want a good look I’ve got to walk a few blocks eastwards.

And due to a combination of laziness and the fact that on a 100+ degree day in Texas it doesn’t really “cool off” much outside immediately after sundown, I just found it easier to ignore the fireworks than to walk that grueling quarter mile or so in still-upper-90’s humidity. One night a friend from Austin was spending the night on my futon when mortar-fire erupted from the east. “What was THAT?” my friend wanted to know. “Oh just the goddam fireworks.….” I growled at him not because I’m such a stick in the mud I don’t enjoy a good fireworks show but because they do this on Sunday nights as late as 10:30 pm and I was a little burned out on nightly mortar fire at the time.

The local noise ordinances basically say no one but city-sponsored events can use a PA for live instruments or taped music or long story short: Hey Fuck You We’re The City. “You “little people” that have to get up at 4am can just go start your own damn city if you don’t like it.”

Or something along those lines. Noise ordinances are written for a reason: I’m not such a knuckle-head that I don’t understand this. But it’s funny how every time my late friend Kelly Parker (RIP-he brought the likes of Fugazi and freaking NIRVANA to sleepy Fort Worth back in the late 80’s/early 90s) attempted to open a club, this was one of the MANY excuses the city would use to shut him down. (“It’s too loud!”) But the city out firing off mortars late at night near a residential area is okay….oh that’s right; you’re the City…gotcha….

But back up to the next to last paragraph where I growled “Oh just the goddam fireworks…” at my friend; this was a life-changing moment for me in a small way. It made me realize that the inner Beaver Cleaver that really wanted to see the fireworks was being over-ridden by my inner Al Bundy. The excuses started automatically:
It’s too hot!”

“I gotta get up early!” (even though I can hear them in bed)

“I don’t wanna walk that far in this heat; part of it’s uphill!

See a pattern here? And most of them centered on the letter “I” as in Me. Wearing out the letter “I” on my keypad just typing this. But what I’m getting at is I have since learned to not only stop ignoring the fireworks but to embrace them. Don’t really want to admit how many rolls of 35mm film I’ve gone through just to find out how little I really know about operating an old-school 35mm SLR but it was more than one roll. I never could successfully capture fireworks on film. But digital cameras make it easy; now I’m snapping some beautiful ( and only slightly psychedelic) still photos AND video of the massive fireworks displays by my house. Like a boot-legger three nights a week I carry two tripods and two cameras a short distance from my house and set up over-looking the park to my east.

I set up one camera to shoot still photos and one camera to shoot video on tripods next to each other and have a found a good spot to do it although finding a good place on the 4th of July to do this can be tricky. Everybody comes out for that one for some reason and brings their families with them. Usually I just carry my equipment there on foot but on the Fourth I usually take my truck to mark my turf so to speak. The rear bed of my truck actually works as a makeshift platform to photograph our of as well, putting me slightly above head level of anyone around the area. Last year I drove over there really early (45 minutes or so) and there was already a crowd at my “secret spot” much to my disgust.

So now it’s gone from hobby to obsession; but it’s a great way to exercise my photography skills. And what the hell; we’re talking about a free fireworks show here after all I can complain about it or enjoy it, it’s really my choice. They’re only doing four more shows, then the weekends will get quiet around here again. And this year I think I’m going to actually miss them. Hate to admit but the shows ARE pretty cool, especially considering they’re free other than a little wear and tear on my Vans and are practically in my back yard.

Was tearing down my tripods and getting ready to leave the other night after another excellent display and feeling slightly remorseful knowing that I had just watched one of the last shows for the year. I had just stood underneath huge colorful plumes of explosions in the sky and looked around. There was one other car in the parking lot across the street whose engine was starting: I could see a lighter firing up a cigarette inside the front seat. Show’s over. Move on. There’s nothing to see here. Their headlights came on and the car roars around the corner. Now it’s just me all alone on the street with my bag in one hand and a tripod in the other.

I was hearing music from the CLOCKWORK ORANGE soundtrack in my head as I walked down the dark street back to my place. Stop at one point and turn around; no WEST SIDE STORY-gang behind me (“Hey Meester what’s een the bag?”) No Sharks, no Jets and no droogies following me; I was the only person on the entire block. Just me and a stray cat I saw in the shadows next to some nearby apartments watching me walk by. Laughing at myself now; I grew up walking these same streets as a teenager. I should be walking them as Barney Fife and not as Mr. Chicken. Turn a corner; almost there. Up an incline (“cough, wheeze…”); around one more corner and I’m home.

Thirty minutes later I have a video on YouTube and photos of tonight’s momentous occasion to boot.

From thousands of miles away “K” and myself say “3,2,1…go!” and watch the fireworks “together” and hearing her “ooh” and “ah” over the phone makes my aching legs and feet stop hurting for a few minutes. As I lift my throbbing feet into the safety and the comfort of my bed a few minutes later I drift to sleep in minutes, something lately I’m sure I can do in the same length of time as of one of my videos…

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