Part 2 of 2
(Part 1: Hell’s Belles)
Rocking all the way through Denise Anne’s September birthday month, it made perfect sense to head to the Santa Monica Pier’s 100th anniversary party the night after that wicked AC-DC concert in Anaheim covered in “Hell’s Belles.”
Had I known that this ‘green’ city’s limp centennial display, with thousands of fireworks going off no less, would not only fail to thrill but gas unsuspecting Santa Monicans with perchlorate and heavy metals, I would have stayed home and sung AC-DC’s songs like “Love at First Feel” and “Kissin’ Dynamite” to my heavy metal babe. Instead, we ended up hacking our way through the coastal city to get home as thousands wandered about looking like yuppie stragglers on a World War I battlefield.
Yet there we were, trundling down to the seaside to see the first fireworks show off the Santa Monica Pier in nearly two decades. We went down the Santa Monica Incline and crossed the Pacific Coast Highway. Walking over the 26-mile long Strand bike path seemed strange without our inline skates on.
‘Derby’ and I roll up and down the path which stretches from Pacific Palisades all the way down to Palos Verdes. My skate girl’s red and black racing outfit includes a tight black vintage 1980 AC-DC shirt which freezes bogies errantly walking on the path, making it easier to zip around them.
But for this occasion we walked across the beach and parked ourselves by the seashore half a mile north of the pier in order to avoid the thousands of yuppies dancing to drek like Irene Carr’s “Flashdance…What A Feeling” and Ricky Martin’s “Livin’ la Vida Loca.”
“Get off me!” exclaimed Denise Anne as I threw her down on the sand by the waves. “What are you doing?!”
“It’s like that beach scene in From Here to Eternity where Burt Lancaster goes body surfing on Deborah Kerr.”
“Oh yeah…,” she said, “Only my Sarge isn’t going to wimp out like Lancaster did in the movie.” (“Sarge” is what Denise Anne’s soldier girl alter-ego Darcy calls me, but that’s another story…)
From Here to Eternity star Burt Lancaster is a familiar and friendly face to Denise Anne because her organization, the Nobel Peace Prize-winning Physicians for Social Responsibility, Los Angeles, produced the 1982 documentary Race to Oblivion which stars Lancaster. The Hollywood legend explores the horror of nuclear weapons in the film, which features physicians who address the health consequences of nukes. PSR-LA, where Denise Anne is Associate Director, will make this moving and compelling film available on its new website soon.
War gave birth to skyrockets that are the most common feature of fireworks displays. Invented in China in the 12th Century, they became a feature of battlefield bombardments two hundred years later. Fireworks have been common in the United States since the 1700s and were even shot off at George Washington’s inauguration.
In 2004, Disneyland in Anaheim first used pyrotechnics launched with compressed air rather than gunpowder which exploded in the air using an electronic timer. This reduced fumes and made for a better show.
The night before the Santa Monica show, we had been in Anaheim at a raucous AC-DC concert. Yet even though the concert had been indoors, nobody was smoked out by the awesome display of explosions, cannons and pyrotechnic detonations.
That certainly wasn’t the case in Santa Monica.
When the show started at about 8:45pm, our attention turned to the three barges parked off of the pier that were set to launch 6,400 outdoor display fireworks over a 25-minute period. I had learned about the event from a Santa Monica Daily Press article that addressed a semi-controversy that the fireworks weren’t ‘green’ enough. The piece said the ‘safer’ fireworks cost eight times as much and the city really didn’t think it mattered.
“Ideally they are designed so that all the propellants and all of the metals that produce the colors will burn up so that the only thing you really are going to have is the paper residue from the fireworks,” Dean Kubani, the director of the Office of Sustainability and the Environment, told the paper. “But obviously you do get some remains that are on the paper and some duds that don’t go off.”
I thought the dude might be high from fireworks fumes because fireworks leave huge amounts of toxic smoke. That smoke, I correctly figured, would fallout on the folks unfortunate enough to be on the pier during the show. Kubani also didn’t take into account all the plastic crap that would fall from the fireworks into the ocean impacting marine life.
Kubani’s next statement made me sit up straight and make a mental note to make sure that Denise Anne and I were well upwind of the smoke. (Unfortunately, it turned out that we weren’t able to avoid it, especially as we navigated our way through the Third Street Promenade that was so covered in smoke, it was hard to see very far.)
“Based on the fact that fireworks are being launched daily around the world and thousands of times a year, we’re not really seeing any acute impacts,” Kubani told the Press. “This isn’t going to create any more significant problems than just a regular fireworks show we have on the Fourth of July.”
What does that mean? What it means is the city of Santa Monica added it up and when it came to blowing $120,000, it wouldn’t matter if the citizenry got a little hammered by heavy metals and perchlorate, a toxin that plagues the state’s water supply and effects the thyroid which is especially dangerous to children.
“Look, they’ve started!” Denise Anne said, face turned skyward and illuminated by a pyrotechnic burst. “Wow, they’re shooting them kind of low.”
For some reason, the thousands of explosions, blasts, flames and sparks weren’t shot to what normally seems full elevation. Perhaps the pyrotechnicians wanted to make sure that if there was a marine layer, the bursts would be underneath them. Whatever the reason, thousands of shells and thousands of dollars of fireworks were soon ensconced in their own impenetrable cloud of smoke.
It was more fun watching the huge billowing clouds of toxic mist descend on the multitudes. But even that ironic amusement slowly turned to toxic trepidation as we saw the immense fogbank of fumes spread out over Santa Monica’s bluffs, blocking our way back.
“This sucks, Mike,” Denise Anne said slipping back into her Dawn Wilde persona as we made our way through my hometown now gone up in smoke. “If it were AC/DC I might not mind getting poisoned, but that show flat out stunk.”