Sunday, July 17, 2011

Sailfest 2011 Fireworks

Fireworks Over the Thames River
 The past two weekends have been busy here in Groton.  There have been two celebrations which provided Duang a little more flavor of American culture.

On July 4th, we attended the annual Groton Fourth of July parade.  The parade had a small town flavor to it and the highlight actually was watching the small children around us.  I was able to explain the Revolutionary War and Groton's role in the rebellion fairly well to Duang.  However I was not able to explain very well the large women roller skating down the street as part of the parade - they were representatives of a women's roller derby league.  Duang was just as much at a loss of understanding of the concept of "roller derby" as to why large women in unflattering clothing would be roller skating down the middle of a street in full public view.  I don't always succeed in explaining the idiosyncrasies of American culture but I always try.  As Duang often says "Thailand not same America".  I have seen women walking down the street in Thailand but they were always wearing their best clothing and behaving demurely and acting dignified - often part of a religious procession or celebration.

The big highlight of early July was the fireworks display on July 9 as part of Sailfest Celebration in New London across the river from Groton.  The fireworks display this year was sponsored for the 19th year by the Mashantucket Indian Tribe.  My parents had often told me how nice the fireworks were so I was determined to see them with Duang this year.  The Mashantucket Tribe own and operate Foxwoods Casino in Ledyard.  As I posted on FaceBook "Thank you to all those who gambled and lost (I guess that means just about everyone) for making this spectacular show possible."

I had been told that approximately 300,000 people could be attending the fireworks celebration so I knew that Duang and I needed a plan.  My first decision was that our plan would exclude driving our car to the event.  Fortunately the fireworks are fired from barges in the Thames River just upstream from Electric Boat - an area that I had walked to many times as a young boy.  I figured that the best place would be in the parking lot of Garbo's Lobsters.  Saturday afternoon just after lunch Duang and I drove down to the area to scout out optimum viewing locations.

As we drove, I was shocked to see how many streets were going to be closed to parking for the event.  This only reaffirmed my decision that we would be walking that night.  We made it down to Garbo's and the entrance to the parking lot was roped off.  Some people were lined up at 12:50 PM to enter the parking lot.  I spoke with some people and they said the the street along the river was going to be closed to traffic at 3:00 P.M.  Just before 1:00 PM a couple of men showed up to remove the barrier to the parking lot.  I spoke to one of the men, obviously the "Boss" since he was carrying a clipboard, about being able to walk onto the parking lot later for the show.  From our conversation I determined that it was possible but whether I had a car or not the fee for a space was $30.  I informed me that there were only a couple of spaces remaining.  It didn't matter to me because I had no intention of paying that amount!  Upon leaving the property I spoke with a family waiting to enter, the husband informed me that he had spent $90 to view the fireworks that night.  He also told me how crowded that it got in the Garbo lot and surrounding area.  He suggested that we walk down and place lawn chairs on the sidewalk across the street.  That sounded like a pretty good alternative to me and definitely a great deal cheaper.

Duang and I returned to our car and drove down Thames Street reconnoitering vantage points.  Everywhere along the river bank barriers had been set up to restrict access.  Property owners were either denying access to the river for their own use or were charging $20 to $30 a car for parking.  I remembered many fond days at Fort Griswold State Park overlooking the river, so I turned the car right to climb the heights to get to the Fort.  Just as our drive along the river vantage points were roped off and parking was severely restricted along the streets - either no parking along one side or no street parking allowed at all.  However when we got to the Fort, I could see people already entering the park carrying blankets, ice chests, and blankets.  From the sights it was obvious to me that this would be our site to view the fireworks.

Since the afternoon was still young and we had our plan, we drove over to New London to attend Sailfest.  Once we arrived in new London, I could not find any available parking for less than $20.  Undeterred I had an idea; we would drive to Shaw Cove, park the car, and walk to the festival.  Shaw Cove is an office development which houses government offices such as Social Security and Veterans Administration along with many doctor's facilities.  Since it was a Saturday afternoon, I thought that there would be plenty of parking,; free parking.   Well I was partially right there was plenty of parking but it was $20 a vehicle.  I found an empty lot that had a sign stating "Event Parking" with no barrier tape or attendants.  As I pulled in, the attendant from the lot across the street walked over to me.  I asked if I had to pay for parking and he confirmed that it was $20.  I told him that it was not personal and had nothing to do with him and inquired if he had a boss.  He confirmed that he had a boss after which I responded "Tell your boss, he can go ... himself"  The guy laughed and we returned to our home in Groton.

I had lived for a time in California where we also had festivals.  At those festivals the city persuaded or perhaps strong armed the local developments to allow the use of their vacant parking lots for festival use.  I suspect that the city provided police surveillance as well as clean-up services for the lots while they were being used.  The businesses contributed to the festival at no cost to themselves - a good deal for everyone.  The city also provided free shuttle service between the parking lots and the festival site.  I believe that New London is missing out on an effective and economical way to encourage festival attendance by not doing something similar.  However New London is the city that a few years ago made international notoriety by refusing to hire a policeman candidate because he scored too highly on an aptitude test.  They informed the applicant that he was too smart to be a policeman in New London.  I will write no more on that matter.

Part of the Gucci Fireworks Show

After returning to Groton, commencing at 6:00 P.M. we walked from my parent's house to Fort Griswold with our car conveniently parked in the driveway.  It was a beautiful night for a walk and most importantly - fireworks show.  The sky was clear.  There was no wind and the temperature was just right for sitting outside without a jacket.

I selected a scenic as well as nostalgic route to get to the Fort, showing Duang the way and building that I attended elementary school, pointing out where long gone restaurants, movie theatre, and friend's homes were located.  It was interesting how much the area had and had not changed over the past 4 decades.  Of course it was all new to Duang which made it exciting for her.

We had not travelled far when the wisdom of not driving a car was readily apparent.  The roads around the park and leading to the park were all closed to traffic other than pedestrians.  Police were at the intersections maintaining control.  We like so many other people walked up the center of the streets past the homes where residents were grilling as they enjoyed ice cold beverages.  All in all it was a very relaxing and festive atmosphere on our way to Fort Griswold.

We arrived at the east side of the park and walked leisurely towards the monument and Bill Memorial Library.  It was very impressive.  There was a mobile Connecticut State Police command center set up along with some ambulances staffed with several EMTs.  The area was well organized and under control.  The control was not oppressive or intimidating but just sufficient to keep thousands of people from getting out of control.  There were vendors booths set up along the road as well as booths where you could buy food and non-alcoholic beverages.  There were also plenty of Porta-Cans available should the need arise.  All in all I was very impressed with the planning and organization apparent along the viewing venues.

I stopped and asked a Policeman if the Fort it self would remain open for the duration of the show.  I believed that the park typically closed at sunset.  He replied that it would remain open for the show.  That was good enough for me.  Duang and I entered the fort and soon found a nice spot on the slope to set our beach blanket.  As it turned out we were actually almost directly behind and about 150 feet above my original planned destination of Garbo's Lobsters. After seeing all the closed roads, I knew that this location was superior for getting out at the end of the show.  It was also cheaper - $0.00 each.

There were a great deal of people watching the fireworks.  Many of the people were drinking.  We were out for 4-1/2 hours and did not see one incident of bad or threatening behavior.  It was, unlike many events in Isaan, a very peaceful as well as relaxing celebration.  Back in Isaan we attend many outdoor shows and we have only stayed from beginning to end at about 4 shows out of about 35.  There is drinking at those shows too but Duang always makes me leave when the fights start and the fights almost always start.  In Isaan it seems like the people get drunk, sloppy drunk; the kind of drunk where the person loves everybody and wants to be every body's best friend.  At some point this aggressive friendliness crosses the boundary of acceptance and becomes a perceived slight or affront.  A push or a punch is made and the fight is on.  Once a fight starts the night is fairly well ruined.  The initial combatants are usually separated but ancillary skirmishes break out between the people trying to break up the inital combatants.  "Face" is often lost which requires combat until "Face" is somehow believed to have been restored.  In general people are not afraid of the Police so running skirmishes continue until the concert is completed or shutdown by the Police.  Duang is afraid that somehow I will get involved in the middle of all this so she has me leave.  The funniest thing was the closest that I got to being involved was at the last show.  I had been dancing at the front of the stage in the "Mosh Pit" area.  Duang became fearful and walked up and brought me back to sit on a chair in front of the police.  While I was cooling off, she went off to buy me a soft drink.  While she was away, the first fight broke out followed quickly by a couple more.  The crowd ran in panic down the center of the viewing area.  The combatant ran along the edge of the viewing area right where Duang had placed me for "safety".  I dodged a couple empty beer bottles that had been thrown not directly at me but in the general vicinity of some "bad guys" that happened to run near me.  I went over to Duang's mother and hovered over her as I told her to go back to our truck.  She was impressed that I was concerned with her safety to the point that I am still in her good graces almost 9 months later.  Needless to say the excellent behavior of the crowd at the fireworks show made a very big impression on Duang as she told me "Amerika not same Isaan"  For me, this was an occasion that I was glad that "Amerika not same as Isaan".


The fireworks lasted about thirty minutes but it was a very intensive thirty minutes.  Tandem fireworks were constantly being fired into the sky.  There were all kinds of colors, sounds, and sights from the exploding fireworks.  There were special fireworks that when they exploded created star patterns and even "Smiley" faces.  Some fireworks exploded to create bi-colored hemispheres.  By chance we had watched a show on cable two weeks before about how fireworks were manufactured or more appropriately "created".  For us it was even more enjoyable to see the melding of science and art to create such an enjoyable art performance.

Our surprises for the night were not over.  The police kept the roads closed until most of the pedestrians had cleared the area.  Duang and I were home 30 minutes later and in bed and I am convinced - before many people in their cars had even got on the feeder roads out of the area.

The night had been very enjoyable and a tribute to the organizers of the event.

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