MARCO ISLAND — As the rockets rose into the sky and exploded, the echoes of the detonations reverberated off the beachside condos. The thousands of people on Residents Beach, and in the spectator fleet offshore, were washed in sound as well as the glow of the fireworks.
Marco Island threw a beach party for the Fourth of July, and it seemed as though the whole island came. Rows of colorful canopies lined the beach, as many families made a day of it, enjoying picnics, games, and splashing in the Gulf, and staying or returning for the pyrotechnical grand finale.
Visitors and vacation homeowners from other states and other countries swelled the throng, many wearing the American flag in endless variations.
“We’re not even Americans,” said Nadine Spritch of Switzerland, sporting a stars and stripes bikini and red, white and blue sunglasses as she strolled the beach with her husband Adrian, who wore Old Glory on his shorts and his t-shirt. “My heart’s American, though. We’ve never been able to be here for the Fourth, and we’re so thrilled. We love it here.”
Among the many activities and contests sponsored by MICA, the Marco Island Civic Association, one was the patriotic swimsuit competition. Mother and daughter Amy and Olivia Tarchick of Cummings, Ga., each won her respective divisions, Olivia in the 9-12 division and Amy in the 30 and over category. Their sandcastle took a second place prize, as well.
Some of the sandcastles had elaborate themes, including the “Card Shark” with teeth made from playing cards, and the flag made from red, white and blue seashells. In one contest that drew a lot of spectators, “athletes” competed to see who could stuff themselves with the most hotdogs in seven minutes. Deejay Dominick Buonantuono emceed the proceedings.
“If you don’t eat at least five hotdogs, you have to pay for them. It’s in the waiver you signed,” he warned the contestants. A moment later, he announced “we’ve got a puker,” as someone tried too hard.
John Atamian came out on top, scarfing down 9.5 dogs and doing his best to turn his sixpack into a keg, although none of the contestants came close to the tallies recorded by the professionals at venues like Nathan’s on Coney Island. Additional contests featured hula hoops, the limbo, a tug of war, and sack races.
Many just took it easy, leaving the competing to the more competitive. City parks and recreation director Bryan Milk relaxed with his family, happy in the knowledge the city went over in its fundraising for the fireworks. “The scooter (raffled off over months) was won by a Mark Brownley, and I put a call into him,” he said from his beach chair in the shade. “We’ll have a couple of thousand dollars toward next year’s fireworks” left over, he said.
Eric Phillips, owner of Nacho Mama’s, was spotted buying hotdogs at the Paradise concession stand, despite having brought an enormous amount of food to the beach himself.
“We must have had 90 people at our picnic,” he said. “If I were doing this, I’d be selling ice cream.”
As the sky darkened, private fireworks came out, and canopies were struck to clear the view of the fireworks overhead. Despite a threatening weather forecast and wall of gray clouds in the distance, the day was perfect, with enough cloud cover to keep the acres of oiled-up skin from frying, and perhaps a dozen droplets of rain as the show commenced.
Johnson Brothers, the contractor working on the newly-opened Jolley Bridge, provided the barge from which the rockets were launched, and the crowd settled in to enjoy the show. After the climactic barrage of the finale, the spectators gave a round of applause, and headed out to get a place in the traffic jam. Glow sticks swirled, and sparklers and “volcanoes” lit up sections of beach.
As the crowd dwindled, MICA executive director Ruth McCann was still at it, carrying bags of trash with her leg in a brace, 13 hours after starting her day.
“Everyone comes early, hangs out, and enjoys the beach,” she said. “This was a great day.”