Wednesday, July 05, 2006

July 4th block party

One of the first things we learned, when we moved into our house eight years ago, was that our neighbors hold an annual Fourth of July block party. With barricades on one end of the block and Ballona Creek on the other, it’s easy to create our own private street. It’s all very illegal, of course, but since we’re part of a tiny portion of LA that juts into Culver City, the Culver City police don’t pay us any attention and the LAPD are just too busy handling other bigger problems.

The party, which is organized by a pair of families who live down the block, is usually announced a week in advance via a photocopied invitation that is hand-delivered to each house. Tim, who grew-up in a very tightknit neighborhood filled with kids his own age, waits anxiously every year for our invitation. We have missed the party a couple of times, but this is pretty much a highlight of his summer.

Although the festivities don’t usually begin until 3PMish, the barricades go up first thing in the morning so the families can start assembling their pop-up shade tents on the street. We assume the cooking starts hours before as there are always massive amounts of meat and other tasty delights. Guests are asked to bring a side-dish; our hosts provide everything else. In the past, I’ve baked cookies, made salads, etc. This year we took gourmet olives and shared some of my sister’s homemade pickles. Tim also contributed a bunch of fresh sausage he bought at the market. We can tell it’s time to mosey on over when we smell meat (ribs, tri-tip, pork roast, chicken, and sausage!) barbecuing on four separate grills.

When they were younger, the neighborhood kids spent a big part of the day decorating their bikes and Big Wheels with balloons and bunting before parading them up and down (and up and down!) the block to much applause and cheering. Now they entertain themselves by playing street football and basketball (the boys) or visiting with their friends (the girls). One of those ubiquitous “Johnny jump-ups” is inflated on the Ballona end of the block for the new generation of little ones.

The adults congregate around the food and drinks, staying cool under the tents and neighborhood trees. Music (U2, Clapton, Motown, etc.) blasts from two speakers strategically placed on one family’s roof. People chat, sing, and just basically bask in the casual atmosphere of the day. We sat with a young Australian man who was traveling around the world, staying with friends whenever possible. He said he loved Los Angeles but would soon be moving on to Canada, England, Israel, Egypt, Europe, and then finally Asia.

Neighbors drift in and out of the party, sometimes going back to their own family gatherings at home. We managed to grab a nap after sampling most of the food.

The climax of the day is always the Culver City fireworks, which are launched from the high school stadium just three blocks away. In anticipation, the local kids start setting off their own pyrotechnics as soon as twilight descends. There’s always a lively display of Roman candles, sparklers and Piccolo Petes, which strangely go quiet as soon as the real fireworks begin. This year we were also treated to a fabulous display of aerials launched above Ballona Creek by, of all people, our plumber, who lives two blocks away. It was a veritable embarrassment of riches as our heads spun around trying to catch all the pre-show magic.

Things finally settled down at 9:15PM, when the first fiery chrysanthemum exploded over the high school. As we do every year, we quickly caught-up with our neighbors across the street while waiting for the next array to appear. One neighbor was diagnosed with cancer and is undergoing chemotherapy; the others had to put their elderly dog to sleep. Too much news to share just once a year.

The fireworks were spectacular. Certainly not the caliber of Disneyland’s nightly show, but nonetheless outstanding by Culver City standards. The recent renaissance of the downtown area has apparently led to a new and improved Fourth of July fireworks show! Hooray for redevelopment!

As soon as the fireworks ended, we sadly wished everyone a good night and went our separate ways. My best friend Karen, who had joined us for the show, zoomed off as we retreated home to our terrified cats. Without a minute’s delay, the neighborhood kids resumed their own show, launching their remaining firecrackers, etc. Exhausted, we fell right to sleep despite the constant sound of Piccolo Pete playing outside our living room window...


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