We are so lucky living in Bay City, MI because we get to enjoy not just one night of fireworks celebrating America’s birthday, not two even, but three nights!
Bay City has been celebrating the three nights of fireworks, fun, and fabulous festivities for 54 years. (How’s that for alliteration!) But just like the weird way that Bay City celebrates St. Patrick’s Day – rarely right on March 17, the traditional holiday, but on the Sunday closest to that date – Bay City celebrates Independence Day on the Thursday, Friday and Saturday that is the closest to the traditional July 4th holiday. This year our 3-day celebration began on Thursday, June 30, 2016.
Since I moved a few years ago into my apartment on the 6th floor with a balcony that has a great view of all of the fireworks except for the ground displays, Tara and Justin have brought the girls over to watch them here.
But this year Tara told me about a great spot to view all of the fireworks that only the locals know about. Which is an important detail because Bay City gets close to 300,000 visitors over the entire three day fireworks festival, with over 100,000 visitors alone for the annual Saturday grand finale display. And considering that Bay City’s population is only around 30,000 residents, that’s a heckuva lot of extra people and cars and campers and even boats on the Saginaw river to get through and around.
There are celebrations in both of the large parks on either side of the Saginaw River: Veteran’s Park on the west side and Wenonah Park on the east. Both sides have concerts going on all three days and Vet’s Park is where the large carnival with booths and amusement rides are set up, as well as a classic car show.
The annual fireworks displays are paid for primarily from the entrance fees to those parks and through the carnival and concession stands rentals, etc. And those entrance fees, carnival rides, souvenirs, drinks and eats can get a bit exorbitant for just one day, let alone the three days total.
So most of the locals just come out to watch the fireworks if not for all three nights then at least for the longer and more spectacular last night’s grand finale. So having great viewing spots that only the locals know about is quite the find.
So on Thursday night Tara loaded up her van with me and her and the two youngest of my granddaughters, Evvie and Charlotte, along with two folding chairs, blankets and my “wheelie”, which is what I call my walker with wheels, parking brakes, a padded seat and a waterproof compartment under the seat. I can walk. but not that far, but Tara knew that she could push me on the paved paths around this local park until we found the best spot for viewing the fireworks.
Bay City always has just 10 minutes of fireworks and ground displays at the Thursday and Friday night events but they are always great shows to ooh and aah over. And this spot, which I don’t think I will divulge because we would like to keep it a secret, is just a hop, skip and a jump from both our apartments and so the fact that we didn’t have to drive that far was a bonus for that location.
When we got the folding chairs up and the blankets down, I looked around and I was amazed at what a great view of both of the parks and the river we had. I’ve lived up here for almost six years and Tara has lived up here for almost seven but neither of us had ever known about this spot in all of that time until Justin and Tara and the girls found it by accident last year just by driving around.
Then when they had asked around about that spot, they were told, shhhhh! Yeah, the locals have used that spot for fireworks watching for decades but not to tell anyone about it. Let the tourists pay out through the nose for the park entrance fees, etc., but honestly, that spot was the sweetest!
We were able to park fairly close to where we wanted to sit and so I carried the 2 lawn chairs and the blankets on the top of my “wheelie” while Tara held Evvie and Charlotte’s hands. And then we tried to prepare 2 1/2 year old Charlotte for what was about to happen: that there would be big booms but there would also be lots and lots of pretty flowers and shooting stars of all sizes and colors high in the sky. This would be a lot more noisy than watching them from my balcony and we didn’t want her to get too scared.
Charlotte kept cracking us all up by constantly saying “goose poop, goose poop” over and over again because we had been cautioning the kids not to step in the fragrant piles of dung on the paved paths. And then the booms began as the first of the fireworks lit up the sky. Charlotte kept slapping her hands over her ears as she yelled, “Big booms, big booms, I don’t like them!” but as the pretty flowers and shooting stars shot up higher and higher into the night, she then started yelling, “I love it, I love it! Grandma Jeneane, do you love it too?” And I reassured her, with a big grin, that I loved them too.
When the last flower faded into sparklies that fell into the river and the last boom’s echo faded too, everybody, including Evvie and Charlotte, clapped and cheered enthusiastically. Then as we began gathering up our stuff to go home, Evvie and Charlotte both mourned that it was over with but then they became quite happy when Tara and I told them that most cities have just one night for fireworks, but in Bay City we were all lucky that we get to enjoy them for three nights and that we would be doing this again for the next night and the night after that.
On Friday night Justin, Tara’s boyfriend, was able to join us, along with Ava, my eldest granddaughter, but we left a little bit later than we had the previous night. We were still able to find a parking spot and a good viewing location but I told Tara and Justin that I had just read in the paper that Bay City was expecting over 100,000 people to jam into it for the big Saturday night grand finale and that if we were hoping to be able to view the large fireworks show then, even at this treasured secret spot, we would have to leave by at least 8 pm for the 10:12 pm beginning time.
The Friday night show had an exciting preamble before the fireworks began when one of the huge freighter ships that go up and down the Saginaw River decided to come in from Saginaw Bay through the four drawbridges that cross the western and eastern sides of the city. I see them go through the Liberty bridge from my apartment all of the time but I had never seen one of them so close up before and it was wonderful!
Here are some pictures of that huge freighter ship, the Calumet, taken by my daughter, Tara:
As usual during the three fireworks nights, there were many sailboats, pontoon boats, power boats, kayaks, etc., on the Saginaw River and it was funny to watch all of them scuttle like little bugs out of the way of that huge freighter ship. The girls waved and waved to all of the crew on the ship and they were so excited when the crew waved back to them.
Then just before the fireworks began, I opened up a special bag I had brought with me full of surprises for the girls. I had brought glow necklaces for each of them, as well as glow wands with American flags on their ends for them. They had been sadly watching other kids wear glow bracelets and glow necklaces that their parents had bought for them there while Tara, Justin and I exchanged twinkle-eyed looks because of the surprises I was keeping hidden in that bag under the seat of my “wheelie”.
They were so happy when I brought them out for them and they all helped me crack the necklaces and the wands to activate the glow-fluid and attach the plastic connectors and the flags. So when I explained to Charlotte that we were helping to celebrate America’s birthday and that the flag wands represented America, she then began to wave her wand around as she chanted, “Happy Burtday ‘Merica, Happy Burtday!”
Ava and Evvie were happy to see that they were the only kids with glow wands that had flags on them as the other kids looked as enviously at them as Ava and Evvie had been of their glow things just a few moments earlier.
Then the Friday night fireworks began and there were a few new ones: red spirals and happy faces (even though most of the faces were either upside down or sideways, which made us all laugh). The 10 minute show was just about to wind down when there was an extra-large boom from where the fireworks had been staged on the Vet’s Park side of the river and a large mushroom cloud fireball shot up into the air!
Justin, Tara and I all gaped at each other with our mouths open with surprise because we were pretty sure that that was not meant to happen, and if it had been planned, that had been a very weird way to end the show. But then a few more fireworks shot up as an anti-climatic finish and everybody waited, unsure if that had been the end or not. So after a few more minutes of waiting, a tentative applause began while the surprised murmurs of the crowds all around the river seemed much louder.
Everybody was discussing the weird fireball as kids, blankets and lawn chairs were packed up and the crowds moved back to all of the parked cars. We were all hoping that nobody had been hurt if that had been an accident, and if that had been planned, we also all hoped that that was never repeated again because it was just too strange and horrific looking.
Tara said she later heard on the Facebook grapevine that that fireball had been planned and perhaps it was because I never saw anything on the news or in the newspaper that an accident had occurred at the Friday night show. That was really bizarre!
For the Saturday night grand finale event, Tara and Justin agreed to come down a mile to pick me up and I had texted her earlier in the day that we really needed to be at the secret spot no later than 8pm, and preferably much earlier than that because of the large crowds expected all over. There would be no problem entertaining the kids during that lengthy wait because there was a really neat playground close by that the girls all love.
Well for various reasons they didn’t pick me up until after 8:30 pm and as we got closer and closer to that secret spot, we saw the parking lot and the entrance road jammed full of cars and campers and that the secret spot was completely filled with people, blankets, lawn chairs and kids.
In a vain hope that perhaps we could find an open handicapped parking spot because I had brought my hanging placard with me (and of course that would be also dependent upon unscrupulous people actually obeying those law and fine enforced spots by not parking there illegally), we drove through the area but nope, there wasn’t one open parking spot, even though there were several illegally parked cars in the handicapped spots.
So we drove around Bay City in indecision because I cannot walk that far, and even if Tara pushed me in my wheelie, the city sidewalks are so badly cracked, and in some places non-existent, it would have been a major pain to try and find any good place at this ever-increasing later and later time before the fireworks began that I could get to.
So we finally decided heck, may as well just go back to my apartment building and view the fireworks from my balcony. Tara finally agreed that that was the better decision that night because that way we wouldn’t have to fight and wade through traffic afterwards, both pedestrian and vehicular. And she laughed and laughed when I pointed out that at least we wouldn’t lose the kids in my wee apartment and we also had a nice and clean bathroom conveniently located just for our use alone!
So we ate leftover pizza and the girls had more fun playing chase with my kitty, Willow, than sitting down and watching the fireworks with us. I can never tell who has more fun: when the girls chase Willow or when she chases them in return but it is so cute to watch how sweet they all are with each other.
So Tara and Justin and I sat on my balcony telling stories and chatting in between oohing and aahing over a lot of new fireworks we had never seen before. There were much bigger and more multi-colored flowers, triangles and hearts inside of circles, more of the new spirals, and rightside-up happy faces and then the grand finale had a bunch of very brightly lit and colorful new fireworks set off all at once that made the most wonderful noises we had ever heard before! I had read in the paper that the grand finale would feature new fireworks imported from Spain that were going to be spectacular and boy, was it!
It is always so much fun to hear over 100,000+ people all over Bay City, clapping and cheering at once for many minutes because once again, the fireworks managed to be better than the year before. And then we watched as multitudes of private fireworks, all along the river on both sides were lit off, like always, and so we got another fireworks show that we have a great view of from my balcony.
But all good things must end and the girls were so disappointed that they had to go home and, just like all of the previous years, they were only slightly mollified when we told them that we would get to have another three nights of wonderful fireworks to see next year. A year away is like forever to a kid.
Happy Birthday America and may your traditional July 4th festivities be as much fun as what we all enjoyed this weekend!
Here are some photographs of this year’s Bay City fireworks, courtesy of the great photographers from the Bay City Times newspaper.
Picture taken by Michelle Thompson of the Saturday night Grand Finale of the Bay City Fireworks, July 2, 2016