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Fireworks at the Gasworks

Started: 2019-07-27 11:27:21

Submitted: 2019-07-27 13:35:32

Visibility: World-readable

4 July 2019: In which the intrepid narrator celebrates his country watching the fireworks from Gasworks Park

When we bought our house in Wallingford everyone we talked to remarked how we must be able to see the Fourth of July fireworks on Lake Union from the rooftop deck. Eight months after buying the house we finally had the chance to test this hypothesis.

As the Fourth of July approached, it seemed like the entire city of Seattle was planning on descending on Wallingford to watch the fireworks show over Lake Union. Barricades appeared next to the streets leading into the neighborhood, ready to be deployed to block access to the streets when all of the street parking was full, which the local Wallyhood blog suggested might happen by mid-afternoon.

Kiesa worked during the day because it was a holiday, taking advantage of the library's closure to do a server move. I spent a leisurely morning at the house, working on some not-yet-released features for this very website, watching the cars begin to infiltrate my street, a half-mile from Gasworks Park, in search of street parking (though at no point did my street really fill up as far as I could see).

When Kiesa was finished working late in the afternoon, we set out to Gasworks Park, finding it comfortably crowded. There was a temporary perimeter fence, and a security check looking for contraband like glass and weapons. We made our way through the crowd to Kite Hill, which had more people sitting on the slope, staking out their spot of ground, than I'd seen before.

People wait for fireworks at Gasworks Park
People wait for fireworks at Gasworks Park

(I am amused that grass-covered Kite Hill is really a slag pile from when the site was an operating gas works.)

We found a spot most of the way around the hill, on the south-west slope of the hill, ten meters up the hill from the path running around the hill. It was a little after 17:00, and at this point groups of people had spread out blankets on the hill with enough space between them to walk. From our perch we could see Lake Union, and the downtown skyline behind, with a large barge where I assumed the fireworks would be launched. It was still five hours until the show was scheduled to start.

Fireworks barge in Lake Union
Fireworks barge in Lake Union

Kiesa and I took turns getting food at the food stands, which involved picking our way through the crowds and then waiting in line. (Kiesa reported seeing a couple of people in MAGA hats who had come spoiling for a fight.) When Kiesa and Julian returned, I took Calvin for food and ended up at a stand selling grilled cheese. I was feeling ambitious and went for the red, white, and blue grilled cheese; Calvin settled for traditional yellow cheese.

The slope of the hill where we were sitting meant it was difficult to set our drinks without them rolling down the hill or falling over and spilling. Now I want adjustable cup holders that tilt to conform to the slope of the hill while providing a flat surface on which to rest the drink without spilling.

Kite Hill crowded with people ahead of fireworks
Kite Hill crowded with people ahead of fireworks

At the top of Kite Hill was an inflatable replica of the Statue of Liberty's torch, kept inflated by a power cable running from the bottom of the hill.

UW ferry cruises past the fireworks barge in Lake Union
UW ferry cruises past the fireworks barge in Lake Union

After eating, Kiesa took Julian back to the house while Calvin and I stayed to wait for fireworks. (Julian went to bed; Kiesa stayed up and went to the rooftop deck to watch the fireworks from the house.) As we watched and waited boats of all shapes and sizes cruised around the lake. By the time I saw Emerald City Pirates cruise past in their pirate boat for tourists I knew everyone was there in the lake. A constant stream of people walked past the path at the base of the hill and infiltrated the hill via the patchwork of paths left between blankets.

Sun sets over the Aurora Bridge while people wait for fireworks at Gasworks Park
Sun sets over the Aurora Bridge while people wait for fireworks at Gasworks Park

Eventually the sun began to set and the sky grew darker, portending the beginning of the show sometime after 22:00. Once darkness fell the crowd grew noticeably thicker, with people crowding into the gaps left between blankets and encroaching onto the edges of the blankets themselves. I had set out our large wool blanket on the hill, and it was oversized for just Calvin and I, so I was content to let the encroachments proceed.

Fireworks barge in Lake Union after dark
Fireworks barge in Lake Union after dark

Then, at length, once the sky was good and dark, the fireworks show began.

Fireworks over Lake Union
Fireworks over Lake Union

I brought my DSLR with my fixed-focal-length 35mm lens, intending to take advantage of the lens' wider aperture to better capture images of the fireworks in low light. What I didn't expect was that the lens' modest field of view (especially with my camera's DX format crop sensor) would prevent me from photographing the entire fireworks display at once. At full height the show occupied about 45 degrees of my field of view; with my camera I could only capture about a third of that at once.

Compare the photo above (taken with my DSLR) to the photo below (taken with my Pixel 2 in "Night Sight" mode, with significant software post-processing to improve the light in the picture).

Fireworks on Lake Union
Fireworks on Lake Union

When I trained my DSLR on the sky I could only capture a small fragment of the show.

Fireworks over Lake Union
Fireworks over Lake Union

But when the conditions in the sky were right I could capture in my camera a representation of what it was like to be there, on Kite Hill, packed tight with thousands of strangers, watching the celebration for our national holiday.

People watch fireworks over Lake Union
People watch fireworks over Lake Union

It felt strange to be celebrating American nationalism at a time when that very nationalism has been weaponized by a president whose political views I find so utterly reprehensible, who stokes racism and xenophobia to score political points (and, as far as I can tell, just because he enjoys it). Sitting on Kite Hill, sitting side-by-side with people of all colors, I chose to interpret the celebration as a celebration of the country I love, the country embodied by the spirit of the Statue of Liberty whose torch was replicated on the top of the hill, the one welcoming to the huddled masses yearning to breathe free, not the current racist administration and its jackbooted thugs throwing children in cages on the southern border.

People watch fireworks erupting from the barge in Lake Union
People watch fireworks erupting from the barge in Lake Union

And then, with a spectacular finale, the show ended.

Sparklers on the fireworks barge in Lake Union
Sparklers on the fireworks barge in Lake Union

Calvin and I joined the crowd of people making our way to the exits and spilling onto the streets of Wallingford. By the time we made it to our house on 37th Street, people were still streaming northwards.

Unlike most of you, I get to bed at a reasonable hour.
- Dr. Show, to physics class, 20 August 1999