If it’s 9:15 pm on July 4th anywhere in the United States you can pretty much guess that every warm body is going to be looking upwards. They’ll be saying “ooh” and “aah” and hoping that the couple of big explosions in a row don’t signal that the grand finale is coming, because they’ve been waiting a full year for this event.
This Independence Day, we had planned to climb up a ladder and watch fireworks from the roof of our patio because I knew my husband Tom would be pooped out and tired of crowds. Instead, I ditched him (and I am truly not kidding – he was very happy to have the house to himself) and joined some friends at the redundantly named Moorpark Park to watch fireworks.
Moorpark Park does not have a fireworks display, but it’s only a few blocks away from CBS Studio Center (AKA CBS Radford), which is home to NBC’s Parks and Recreation, CBS’s CSI New York and the syndicated television show Entertainment Tonight. Besides making tv shows, the studio also hosts an annual 4th of July event which includes food, a kids fun zone, and culminates in a huge fireworks display. The downside is, it costs 20 bucks and frequently sells out.
Most people like a good deal, but quite a few want it completely gratis. Think of Napster, residents leeching off their neighbor’s Internet service, or when the LA basin diverts Northern California’s water southward. Like these notable freebies, hundreds or perhaps thousands of people annually flock to the streets adjacent to CBS Radford to watch the fireworks for absolutely no cost. Because the studio will probably not build an incredibly tall Great Wall of China-like barrier to protect the sky above its head, the fireworks show is visible to everyone within an eight mile radius whether or not they fork over an Andrew Jackson greenback to watch. The studios are spending much more effort trying to re-build that Great Wall of China to try and keep the formerly Communist country from bootlegging all their DVDs. An unpaid sneak peek at a local pyrotechnics display is small potatoes in comparison to the billions lost in the entertainment black market.
Usually I’ll secretly embezzle a fireworks show from the privacy of my own backyard ladder (that is until we got our new roof that wouldn’t cave in), but this was my first time stealing the show with a crowd of other like-minded thieves. No one else seemed to have a guilty conscience. They weren’t discussing whether or not they should go back another day and tip the Studio City Chamber of Commerce (the organization that puts on the fireworks show), or that someone with a hint of integrity would deliberately close her eyes rather than watch without paying a fee. So like the sheep that I am, I followed. I watched. I oohed and I aawed.
My friends have been doing this for years, so they knew the best place to park the car, the spots in the park that are not blocked by building or trees, and the perfect time to arrive without being caught in a traffic jam. We spread out our blankets and waited for the show to begin. Then one of my friends turned to me and laughed.
“Wait till the cars start parking in the middle of the street.”
I had no idea what she was talking about, but she explained that because all the parking spots within a half mile were taken, that people would start creating their own parking spots in the median.
I thought she was kidding. But she wasn’t.
At 9:15, the CBS Radford fireworks show began. And so did the new parking lot.
I’m not sure exactly what was going through the drivers’ heads. Most likely they were driving their merry way when a big bright flying thing shot into their peripheral vision.
“Ooh… something shiny.”
So they slammed on their brakes. And finding no available parking spots, they stopped in the middle of the street and watched the pretty lights.
The car behind them did the same thing. And the next. And so by 9:16 pm, the entire middle lane of Moorpark Avenue was instantly transformed into a parking lot.
You would have thought that there would be a lot of angry drivers trying to turn left and were physically impossible to do so. But there weren’t. A few cars drove east or west, but one single stationary line of cars was suddenly stretched end to end for a half mile in both directions.
By 9:30, the show was over, and the cars started to move, as if the colorless, smoky sky awoke them from their trance. The vehicles slowly pulled out from the median and joined the flow of traffic… which immediately stopped again. Apparently the thousands of onlookers from CBS Radford and its nearby streets all flowed onto Moorpark Avenue simultaneously and were transformed into a gridlock of monumental proportions. At that moment, a police car, fire truck and paramedic approached the nearby intersection of Moorpark and Laurel Canyon with lights and sirens blazing. I don’t know if it was a serious accident or just a fender bender, but if the line of cars was moving slowly before, it was definitely stopped now.
My friends and I strolled a couple of blocks back to our parking spots and were probably home before the gridlock moved a yard – most likely because the onlookers passed by the flashing lights of the emergency vehicles, stopped, transfixed and uttered:
“Ooh… something shiny.”