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Discovery Meadow

Started: 2023-07-19 19:58:58

Submitted: 2023-07-19 21:17:11

Visibility: World-readable

Watching fireworks in San Jose

On the Fourth of July, we packed up our campsite at San Simeon State Park and drove two-and-a-half hours back home to Santa Cruz, driving north along the length of the Salinas Valley on US 101.

Because it was the Fourth of July, it seemed culturally significant to watch fireworks, because however complicated I feel about American nationalism on America's national holiday, it's always fun to watch controlled professional pyrotechnics.

Scotts Valley decided not to host fireworks this year, and no other cities in Santa Cruz County were setting off fireworks, so I had to head over the mountain to Santa Clara County. They had two shows in San Jose, plus shows in Cupertino, Gilroy, Mountain View, Santa Clara, and probably several other cities I don't remember off-hand. After some quick consideration I decided the downtown San Jose show looked like our best bet: it was held in a downtown-adjacent park named Discovery Meadow, across the street from the convention center's massive parking garage, with easy access from the highways.

Calvin and Julian decided to join me to watch fireworks. Kiesa stayed at home and found some non-holiday-related way to amuse herself, without having to leave the house or experience any crowds or bright lights.

Driving across highway 17 feels like a major barrier, but from my house (in good traffic, which one often can't count on), downtown San Jose is only 35 minutes away. San Jose's population only recently dropped below a million people, making it the biggest city I've lived near (though FiveThirtyEight rated San Jose as the most forgettable major American city). But I spend very little time in San Jose; it's mostly a city of suburban neighborhoods and tech company office parks.

The last time I was at downtown San Jose's convention center was for Worldcon in 2018. This time I parked in the garage behind the convention center and immediately recognized the main concourse on my way between the parking garage and the street. We followed the crowd across the street and into Discovery Meadow, which was filled with people but still had enough space for us to find a place to sit and set up our camp chairs while we waited for the fireworks show to start.

Jaeger, Calvin, and Julian wait for fireworks in San Jose
Jaeger, Calvin, and Julian wait for fireworks in San Jose

On the other side of the meadow was a local band playing songs I didn't recognize. While we ignored the band and waited for the official fireworks, a series of unofficial fireworks appeared in the sky on the far side of the stage, some of them large enough and loud enough that they looked almost professional.

Pre-fireworks band in Discovery Meadow
Pre-fireworks band in Discovery Meadow

I watched planes overhead on close final approach to SJC airport two miles to the north. At this point in the approach the planes were quite low, and I wondered how high they were relative to the expected height of the fireworks and whether the arrivals would be paused during the fireworks show.

The band wrapped up their set and a local San Jose politician (a city council member, I think?) said a few things to the crowd. Right on schedule at 21:28 the national anthem began, and just as it was wrapping up at 21:30 the firework show began.

Fireworks in Discovery Meadow
Fireworks in Discovery Meadow

The first thing I noticed when the show began was how much bigger, brighter, and louder the real professional fireworks were compared to the unofficial pre-show fireworks were. The second thing I noticed was that the large redwood tree right in front of us partially obstructed our view of the show, though it was far enough off to the side that I could plausibly claim that it merely framed the fireworks. The third thing was that a big group of people whose view was fully blocked by the tree got up and moved noisily into the space to my right, and then proceeded to take pictures and video of each other watching the fireworks show with their phones, using the LED flashes to fail to illuminate the fireworks in the sky. Eventually they put their phones down to watch the show (at which point I snapped a couple of quick pictures to try to approximate the fireworks, and hoped that I didn't have my LED flash on).

Fireworks in San Jose
Fireworks in San Jose

At times it seemed like the fireworks were occupying the entire arc in front of me, from just above ground level where the fireworks were fired (obscured from my view by some low buildings on the other side of a fenced-off field) to directly above me. They accomplished this by setting off multiple fireworks at multiple heights, with huge bursts high above the ground and smaller bursts filling in the space below. The whole show was impressive.

After a suitable length the show hit its grand finale and ended. We packed up our camp chairs and made our way to the narrow exit. By the time we made it back to the car the aisles of the parking garage were crowded with cars. We sat in the car for what seemed like a long time (but might only have been ten minutes, according to our progress on the music I put on the car stereo) until cars started moving and there was enough space that I could actually back out of my parking space. We drove back home across the mountain, having fulfilled our cultural observance for the national holiday.