Chicago Sightseeing (Part 2): Fireworks on the Pier

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During my last blog post, I spoke about the commercial and historical gem that is Navy Pier. Normal summer days bring waves of tourists and locals for ice cream and the Ferris Wheel — but today was no normal summer day. This was Fourth of July. The Pier transforms into an electric, light-studded grandstand for one of the major fireworks displays in the city of Chicago. I arrived thirty minutes before the big show. Here’s what I saw…[flickr id=”7507984652″ thumbnail=”medium” overlay=”true” size=”original” group=”” align=”none”]


I mean, lots of people. Throngs of people. Everywhere.

There is something to be said of the power of colorful explosions in the sky. I’m being a little undercutting here — I mean, I was there to go Ooo and Ahh with the rest of the crowd. I don’t mean to belittle the Chicago crowd mentality here. In a similar vein, I won’t divulge into a dripping patriotic bleeding heart either; that, somehow, all of us were merging as one nation, on the pier, for liberty and justice for all.

…except there is a little truth to that as well.

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For me, there is a communal fascination with the spectacular. We want the once-in-a-lifetime feeling on a regular basis. Crowds. Cameras. Ice Cream. Summer. Somehow, these elements click together on a sweltering July night on an already magical piece of Chicago real estate, and people feel the pull of the fantastic. That’s what I think people paid their money to see (though the fireworks are free…perhaps the Ben & Jerry’s and the glowsticks). They want to step outside of themselves in the comfort of a crowd…or the crowd itself creates this feeling of disembodiment. We all hear the countdown on the speakers dotting the concrete strip. We all applaud. We all look up.

[flickr id=”7507983726″ thumbnail=”medium” overlay=”true” size=”original” group=”” align=”none”]Ooo!

[flickr id=”7507983290″ thumbnail=”medium” overlay=”true” size=”original” group=”” align=”none”] Ahh!

Fifteen minutes. Sort of fitting, those fifteen minutes, with what Warhol is quoted as saying about fame (it’s a heck of a lot shorter than that in this millennium). That is the amount of time for the magnetism to hold. The top-forty radio hits interspersed with old Sousa anthems captivate us as the sky catches light and fire like so much flash paper in a magic act. Bing, bang, boom — over and over until the air smells of sulphur and the scores of boats blow their horns for a goodnight. Fifteen minutes to be an American — or at least a participant in an American tradition — with thousands of other similar people.

What a feeling.

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I sat on a bench and watched the crowds recede from the Pier, spangled with stovepipe hats, star tattoos, and glow necklaces. I watched their faces. Like concerts or good movies, there is a communal spirit of people talking about what they saw and enjoying it. Everyone would go off and either go home, go partying, go dancing…but for those fifteen minutes, they were here with me and I with them. Another sight to add to the Chicago board.

I can salute to that.