A festive Fourth: Lightning adds to the show for Independence Day
Once again, the force field held. Marco Island’s Fourth of July fireworks celebration went off – literally – at 9 p.m. as advertised, although less than an hour before, the MIPD and the amplified voice of the DJ were “strongly urging” everyone to get off the beach, with the lightning alarm blinking and strong rainstorms moving in.
Residents streamed off Residents’ Beach, including many who had been there earlier for the activities and beach time of “Uncle Sam’s Sand Jam,” and then gone home to cool off and freshen up for the fireworks. The spectator fleet offshore mostly stayed put at anchor. Somehow, the major downpour was deflected away from southern tip of the island, although radar showed heavy rain surrounding Marco on all sides.
The Sand Jam, the traditional game-a-thon put on by Marco Island’s Parks and Recreation Department during the heat of the afternoon, got hordes of children and teenagers burning off some energy, and vying for prizes in a variety of categories. These included the limbo, a massive tug of war, the hula hoop snake – which sort of combines musical chairs and Twister, the Most Patriotic Outfit contest, and a round-robin four-on-four soccer tournament.
New to the Sand Jam this year was the egg toss, replacing the hot dog eating contest, with all but one of the two dozen pairs of contestants eventually having an egg splat in the hands of one partner – unless they “chickened out” and missed it entirely.
Tora Falt, 11, whose family lives in Sweden but also has a place on Marco, showed her flexibility and balance by winning the limbo contest. In the patriotic outfit event, the judging seemed to follow the “everybody’s a winner” approach, at least as concerned the cute kids with single-digit ages.
JoAnn Leonardi and her friend Anna Carey did not have single-digit ages, and were not awarded a prize, but probably sported the most red, white and blue of anyone on the beach. They even brought along “Bernie,” a male escort/mannequin, who completed their star-spangled presentation.
But American flags were everywhere. Those who did not bring their own were able to purchase one from Lee Rubenstein of the American Legion, who made the rounds and also had a booth next to the Residents’ Beach pavilion on the way to the beach.
The water’s edge was a sea of hundreds of beach umbrellas, canopies and pavilions, in the beachfront equivalent of tailgating, with families splashing in the gentle surf or just relaxing in the shade. Stella Bulla, 6, found a quarter-sized sand dollar, and called breathlessly to her dad for help when she accidentally dropped the cup of seawater that held it.
The cool breeze that swept across the beach at 7:30 was welcome, but the rumblings of thunder heard shortly thereafter were not. Many opted to watch the fireworks from less exposed spots, and there was considerable foot traffic in both directions.
The $52,000-worth of fireworks, once again paid for by a split between city tax dollars and private contributions, were spectacular, with the boom of the detonations echoing off the beachside condo buildings, but the display had competition from the natural lightshow of the lightning storm, which by that time had moved offshore.
Seemingly, the crew on the barge shooting off the pyrotechnics kept finding a few more rockets they hadn’t touched off yet, as the show had an indeterminate finale, and then additional rockets going up well after the great majority of spectators had streamed off the beach.
But no one got hurt, flags were waved, and everyone enjoyed the show.