No one could remember 1776, of course, but the East Valley residents who gathered at Tempe Town Lake for fireworks Wednesday night had their share of Independence Day memories.
Awaiting the 9:20 p.m. fireworks show, Matthew and Amy Torrance of Mesa sat on a curb along Rio Salado Parkway with their four-year-old daughter, Anna Cate. They thought back to their years in Milledgeville, Ga., where they’d motor out to the middle of a nearby lake and watch fireworks from their boat.
A generation earlier, Amy’s mother Cathy Bellah was growing up among the watermelon fields of northern Georgia. For her, the Fourth of July was always the first day of the year for watermelon-eating, which was always followed by seed-spitting contests.
Some 100,000 people braved the record heat and swarmed the waterfront in Tempe Wednesday night for the carnival-like affair, where moms with strollers barely evaded gaggles of roving teens. Tempe police spokesman Brandon Banks said there were no major incidents — only a few unruly folks. Earlier in the day, a man had waved a gun out his car window, Banks said, but no one was hurt.
From the event stage, a rock 'n roll cover band crooned classic hits like Lynyrd Skynyrd’s “Sweet Home Alabama” — substituting “Arizona” — to the hundreds of families bunched up on blankets along the lakeside lawn.
Along the lawn’s edge, Tresco Boutard lounged with his family, thinking of old fireworks tomfoolery.
At the tender age of five, the now 26-year-old Gilbert resident had stolen Ladyfinger fireworks from his dad’s drunk friend.
“I had no idea what they were going to do,” Boutard said. After their initial fizzling, he thought that was it.
“Then they exploded in my hand!” he remembered.
Then, like bombs bursting through air, the fireworks began.