When we arrived at Riverside Park in Sebastian, the first thing I saw was a pony ride. I knew then that this Independence Day celebration was the quintessential family-oriented small-town event, with folks of all ages enjoying themselves.
Armed with a small picnic and a couple of camp stools, we plunged into the crowd, our heads swiveling from side to side. There were booths selling everything from airbrushed art to temporary tattoos to cheap imported windchimes.
Over by the Indian River, folks had set up their blankets and folding chairs for many blocks along the shore. The orientation was puzzling; they seemed to be aimed based on which way the walkway pointed, rather than all looking at a single point out in the water. Unlike Seattle, there was no barge where they set the fireworks off — probably too shallow for that.
As we walked along the path, we came across a couple of ladies whose chairs were pointing in the wrong direction. “You must know something nobody else does!” I said. “Are they going to shoot the fireworks off over there?” I gestured back towards the throng in the park and the associated row of sani-cans. Laughing, they admitted their chairs were turned around for conversational purposes. One of them pointed south. “They shoot the fireworks from that island, at the end of the pier.”
Armed with this information and noticing there were still plenty of good spots, we took a quick circuit through the food booths, where french fries and greasy hot dogs reigned supreme. Large bags of Kettle Korn were selling so well, the fellow didn’t have to resort to free samples, unlike the beef jerky lady. In a thick New Yawk accent, a man from the Italian-American club was announcing “Hot Italian sausage! With peppers and onions!” Seeing us walk by carrying a cooler, he shouted, “Next time, come hungry!”
Since soft-serve ice cream wasn’t available for our appetizer, we took our pasta salad back to the waterfront, looking for the ideal spot. We found it, right on the river bank smack dab between the two long fishing piers.
A few minutes after we arrived, I noticed a family walking by, wearing all red, white, and blue. The kids were carrying flags and one of them wore a headband with red, white, and blue streamers. It was so cute, I wished I’d had the camera ready.
I had it ready a few minutes later, when a couple walked by, wearing matching patriotic t-shirts. I stopped them and asked if I could take a photo, and they posed willingly. It turned out they’d set their chairs up almost next to ours, with only one couple between us.
One thing led to the next, and we started chatting away with Ron and Carol, exchanging important information, like the fact that they are from New Jersey, near Atlantic City, retired (they looked too young, but who are we to talk?), and have been in Sebastian since February. They were enjoying themselves so much, they extended their stay until September. For all its flaws, Florida in the summer beats New Jersey in the summer!
You might be wondering, were we just talking over the heads of the folks sitting between us? No, we drew Al and Lynn into the conversation, too. They were from Micco, a town north of Sebastian and even smaller. The fireworks in Sebastian had become a tradition of theirs, and this was their seventh year. They’d been at the park since 4:30, and Lynn said she’d been eating too much junk food all day. About this time, Al came back carrying a bag of Kettle Korn, which she opened and shared around. Ron then got up and shortly reappeared with his own bag of the addictive stuff.
As nine o’clock approached, the sky grew black with thunderclouds, as if to set the stage. To the west, cloud-to-cloud lightning rivaled any of the small Roman Candles and bottle rockets that were being set off by kids up the beach. On cue (Lynn had told us they wuld do this), they turned off the lights on the piers, provoking a huge “ooooooooh” from the waiting crowd.
When the fireworks started, we truly had front row, center seats. Not only were the fireworks perfectly centered in front of us, but we had the Indian River reflections, giving us a double display. Behind us, hundreds of people had set up their blankets and chairs, but no one was in front of us. You simply couldn’t get any closer to the show. Unbelievable!
But to be honest, one fireworks display is a lot like another. This day will stay with me for other reasons, not just because of the front row seats. This one, I’ll remember because of all the cheerful people having a good time and especially the two charming couples we shared the experience with, like family members we adopted for the evening.