It is mid-August, the best time to think about back-to-school shopping, complain about the sweltering summer heat, or dream of what event you may have excelled as an Olympian. But it’s also a good time to share What You Did Last Summer, specifically during 4th of July Weekend. Every day in California is filled with warm sunshine, so all of the days kinda blend together and pass by in a blur. It feels like we just celebrated the beginning of baseball season, and now we are preparing to count down Magic Numbers. My week back home around Chicago stood out, and these are some of the highlights.
You know the best way to shake off a red-eye flight? A big breakfast and a nap usually cures zombie status after being cramped into an aluminum tube overnight. Thursday was the first day of an ambitious at-home itinerary. I energized with a beet juice smoothie and headed north to Milwaukee. If Chicago wasn’t a world-class city, and if Los Angeles didn’t boast of all this sunshine, and if Denver didn’t offer all the fresh air and craft beer I could drink, I would totally live in Milwaukee.
First stop was the Lakefront Brewery where we sipped our beers and wondered if the kids canoeing up and back along the Milwaukee River were at summer camp or serving time in juvenile prison. We drank our lunch before heading across town to Miller Park for Brewers and Dodgers. It was coincidental to see my adopted West Coast baseball franchise in the Cream City where we enjoyed encased meats and Leinenkugel’s before leaving in the sixth inning. We weren’t trying to avoid Roll Out The Barrel polka, he just had to be back home for a very important date, and I was ready to fall asleep standing up.
Because there wasn’t enough beer in Milwaukee, we left our responsibility at home Friday for a #BEERVENTURE in Chicago. We took the choo-choo from Arlington somewhere into the Big City. We stopped at a vacant golf store looking for a bathroom and a sketchy 7-11 where we scored a smiley face cookie that instantly improved our demeanor. But that’s not why you called. Our long walk was finally rewarded at Half Acre Brewing. I was familiar with their product and knew it was a local specialty with regional distribution. I did not know of the vast assortment of beers, delicious food menu, and inviting tasting room. Half Acre moved somewhere onto my rankings for “must visit” status any time I return home.
The long walk behind us, we connected to the next brewery called Begyle… A simple room inside a re-purposed garage with a short but impressive variety of beer flavors and skee-ball. The brew out-shined our skee-ball acumen, with the loser (ahem) picking up the tab. Two for two discovering worthy destinations on this #BEERVENTURE with one stop left around the corner.
Dovetail Brewing was the last stop, but was the genesis for the Chicago day-trip adventure idea. The quaint operation was featured in the Chicago Tribune as an up-and-coming star in the craft brewery game, but we left unimpressed. We mixed awkward conversation with mediocre beer and left within 30 minutes in a rush to catch the next train home. It was an underwhelming conclusion to the trip, but a successful #BEERVENTURE nonetheless.
The whole trip wasn’t just for sampling all of the best breweries in the greater Chicagoland area. There was also quality time to be spent with family and friends, attempting to maximize everyone I would be able to see around golfing or dining or spectating. We played three rounds of golf while I was home, more than I anticipated but was grateful to have crammed in during a short stint home. And thankful the heavyset Uber driver in Long Beach was able to stuff my carry case into his Saturn. I think he caught his breath from exerting maximum physical effort just as we exited the 405.
I saw many of the Parkside crew who ventured across the border for golf at my favorite course at home. We sneaked back onto my Grandpa’s country club with permission from the extremely welcoming staff at Boulder Ridge, a place I will always cherish and think fondly of the many rounds played with Boompa growing up. And we partied in the oppressive heat down the right field line at Wrigley. It was rewarding to watch our first place Cubs dispose of the Reds after a suburban adventure along public transportation getting to the ballpark.
It is somewhat confusing to explain when I am going or coming home, whether that means traveling to Chicago or returning to Long Beach. California still feels like a permanent vacation, while Arlington Heights remains a place with many memories and strong relationships. I’ve now been back for two Christmases and two Independence Day weekends, and am fortunate to be welcomed home so warmly upon each visit.
Fireworks’ Vibrant History
For many Americans, the Fourth of July wouldn’t be the same without a dazzling display of fireworks. Find out more about the history of these celebratory explosives and how they evolved from bamboo thrown into a fire into the elaborate shows that will light up the skies on Independence Day.
Many historians believe that Independence Day’s most explosive form of entertainment originated in China, which continues to produce and export more fireworks than any other country in the world. (Others trace their roots to the Middle East or India.) It is thought that, as early as 200 B.C., the Chinese had already stumbled upon a sort of natural firecracker: They would roast bamboo, which explodes with a bang when heated due to its hollow air pockets, in order to ward off evil spirits.
At some point between 600 and 900 A.D., Chinese alchemists—perhaps hoping to discover an elixir for immortality—mixed together saltpeter (potassium nitrate, then a common kitchen seasoning), charcoal, sulfur and other ingredients, unwittingly yielding an early form of gunpowder. The Chinese began stuffing the volatile substance into bamboo shoots that were then thrown into the fire to produce a loud blast. The first fireworks were born.
Soon, paper tubes came to replace the bamboo stalks, and the Chinese discovered that their fiery sticks could be used for more than just scaring away ghosts and celebrating special events. By the 10th century, they had developed crude bombs and begun attaching firecrackers to arrows that rained down on their adversaries during military engagements. Two hundred years later, they learned how to fire explosives into the air and guide them toward enemy targets, essentially building the first rockets. Used outside the field of battle, the same technology allowed fireworks masters to put on the first aerial displays.
In the 13th century, gunpowder samples and formulas began trickling into Europe and Arabia, transmitted by diplomats, explorers and Franciscan missionaries. Western scientists, metallurgists and military leaders threw themselves into making the substance even more potent and building powerful weapons such as cannons and muskets.
Meanwhile, the softer side of gunpowder—fireworks—became increasingly popular first to commemorate military victories and later to enhance public celebrations and religious ceremonies. In medieval England, fireworks experts were known as firemasters. Their assistants, called “green men” because they wore caps of leaves to protect their heads from sparks, doubled as jesters, entertaining the crowd with jokes as they prepared the displays. It was a dangerous profession at the time, with many green men dying or suffering injuries when detonations went awry.
By the time of the Renaissance, pyrotechnic schools were training fireworks artists across Europe, particularly in Italy, which became famous for its elaborate and colorful displays. It was the Italians who in the 1830s became the first to incorporate trace amounts of metals and other additives, creating the bright, multihued sparks and sunburst seen in contemporary fireworks shows. Earlier displays only featured booming sounds, orange flashes and faint golden traces of light.
Fireworks gained an especially strong following among European rulers, who used them to enchant their subjects and illuminate their castles on important occasions. In England, the earliest recorded display took place on Henry VII’s wedding day in 1486. In 1685, James II’s royal firemaster achieved such a dazzling presentation for the king’s coronation that he received a knighthood. French kings regularly put on spectacular displays at Versailles and other palaces, while Czar Peter the Great of Russia arranged a five-hour pyrotechnic extravaganza to mark the birth of his son.
Europeans brought their knowledge and appreciation of fireworks to the New World. According to legend, Captain John Smith set off the first display in Jamestown in 1608. Records show that some American colonists may have gotten a little carried away: A spate of firecracker-related pranks in Rhode Island became such a public nuisance that officials banned the “mischievous use of pyrotechnics” in 1731.
On July 3, 1776, the day before the Continental Congress adopted the Declaration of Independence, John Adams wrote a letter to his wife in which he presaged the role of fireworks in Fourth of July celebrations. “The day will be most memorable in the history of America,” he predicted. “I am apt to believe that it will be celebrated by succeeding generations as the great anniversary festival. It ought to be solemnized with pomp and parade…bonfires and illuminations [a term for fireworks]…from one end of this continent to the other, from this time forward forevermore.”
The following year, fireworks displays commemorated the fledgling country’s first anniversary, just as they have each subsequent one. They also light up the skies to mark other events of national importance, including presidential inaugurations going all the way back to George Washington’s, and holidays such as New Year’s Eve.
In the 1890s, rampant detonation of fireworks, particularly by unskilled ruffians, drove concerned citizens to form the Society for the Suppression of Unnecessary Noise, which lobbied for restrictions. Today, most states regulate how and where fireworks may be used, as well as the types of explosives consumers may buy. These laws notwithstanding, nearly 9,000 Americans were hurt by fireworks in 2009, according to the Consumer Product Safety Commission, with a disproportionate number of injuries occurring in July. Experts recommend precautions such as only detonating fireworks outside, obeying local ordinances, keeping water handy in case of a fire, preventing children from handling explosives and, most of all, using common sense. Visit the website of the National Council on Fireworks Safety for more tips.