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Unofficial fireworks at the Gasworks

Started: 2020-07-06 20:41:24

Submitted: 2020-07-06 22:46:12

Visibility: World-readable

In which the intrepid narrator visits Gasworks Park in the middle of a global pandemic to watch an unofficial fireworks display

Four months into the COVID-19 pandemic, time has lost most of its meaning. I stay in my house all day every day; weekdays blend into weekends; work blends into personal time; weeks blend into each other; and months pass without noticing them even as each day feels interminable. Even major national holidays are barely enough to break the monotony.

Last year we joined the rest of Seattle at Gasworks Park for the city's major fireworks display, set off from a barge anchored in the middle of Lake Union. This year, with the COVID-19 wave overtaking the rest of the country (to the point where governors from across the political spectrum felt compelled to impose mandatory orders for everyone to wear masks), there was no way the city was going to stage an event where that many people gathered in one place. I never even bothered looking for evidence of an official cancellation; I just took it as given.

But nature abhors a vacuum, and Americans love blowing things up to celebrate our national holiday, so in the absence of a government-sponsored fireworks display people took matters in their own hands. (In western Washington tribal land provides an ample supply of fireworks. These are technically only legal to possess and use on tribal land. Different parts of Washington have different fireworks laws; in Seattle they're totally illegal, though no one seemed to be attempting to enforce that, possibly because the cops don't want to provoke another confrontation after invading CHOP.) On the nights leading up to the Fourth of July we heard distant pops and bangs of fireworks; then, on the night of the Fourth the fireworks were loud enough and sustained enough (and I couldn't see much above the trees from our roof) that I took a walk to Gasworks Park at 22:00 to get a better view.

On my walk down Meridian Ave N I could hear the fireworks, and I could tell I was going in the right direction, but the trees clinging to the sidewalks obscured my view of the sky; only occasionally could I see a flash of light through the branches. When I reached Gasworks Park I saw people walking about, and driving around looking for parking.

Gasworks Park at night
Gasworks Park at night

I made my way through the lines of trees at the edge of the park and I could see the stark industrial equipment silhouetted against the night sky, with the full moon rising over Lake Union to the east. The lawn was comfortably full of physically-distant people, many of them wearing masks, watching the unofficial fireworks.

Fireworks over Gasworks Park
Fireworks over Gasworks Park

There were several obvious groups setting off fireworks of varying levels of quality. I gravitated towards one of the groups setting off higher-quality fireworks on a concrete pad next to the gas generator towers. They'd fire off a couple of shells at a time, climbing high above the derelict industrial equipment, exploding far above our heads.

Fireworks over Gasworks Park
Fireworks over Gasworks Park

Then one of the shells misfired and, instead of climbing hundreds of feet above our heads, exploded on the pad. I was mostly protected from the blast by a group of three people standing between me and the pad, but I could see the brightly-colored explosive debris whizzing past me in every direction, placing me very much inside the blast radius. The three people standing closer to the pad exclaimed and shook it off, until a few minutes later the same thing happened again; at this point we moved further from the pad to enjoy the fireworks from a safer distance.

Pyrotechnics at Gasworks Park
Pyrotechnics at Gasworks Park

I wandered around the lawn, between the broadly-spaced people. Most people were just sitting or standing and watching; some had an occasional sparkler or Roman candle; only the most devoted groups brought their own fireworks. The overall effect was an ad-hoc, decentralized show.

Fireworks and full moon over Lake Union
Fireworks and full moon over Lake Union

I looped around the gasification towers, bringing me close to Lake Union. There were boats cruising about the darkened waters, some of which seemed to be setting off their own fireworks. (One seemed to be setting off signal flares, or fireworks that looked a lot like signal flares.)

Lake Union and the South Lake Union skyline at night
Lake Union and the South Lake Union skyline at night

After an hour at Gasworks Park I began walking back to my house in Wallingford, but lingered behind the gasification tower to capture a shell exploding immediately behind it, capturing the essence of the fireworks behind the now-silent industrial equipment.

Fireworks over the gasworks
Fireworks over the gasworks

For more pictures from the night at Gasworks Park, see Photos on 2020-07-04.

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