It was elementary school, late ’70s, and Todd Yeargan and I walked the same route home every day. One of the side streets didn’t have sidewalks, so we walked in the gutter until a car approached and we moved into the grass.
We once stepped into someone’s yard, and for reasons known only to 11-year-olds, we didn’t move back to the gutter after the car passed. We trudged through an entire front yard, a few feet from the street, when a man scurried out his front door to yell, I swear, “You kids get out of my yard!”
Forty years later, I’m that guy – especially with the news that Wichita’s City Council is considering relaxing rules on fireworks.
Get those bottle rockets away from my house! Stop shooting them after 10 o’clock!
Being an adult stinks sometimes. Believe me, I get the enthusiasm about big, loud or big-’n’-loud fireworks. One of the highlights of every summer growing up was traveling to Grandma’s and spending hours trying to blow up an old tree one firecracker at a time.
(Google Maps shows the tree is alive and, well, I failed.)
But since 1979, Wichita has gone smalltime with fireworks. We aren’t supposed to set off anything that goes more than 6 feet in the air.
Kids are excited about smoke bombs, sparklers and toy tanks for only so long. They want big and booming.
Many times their parents want the big booms, too, to the point where nights around July 4 look and sound like Wichita doesn’t have a fireworks ordinance at all.
“Every time fireworks season rolls around, my inbox fills up” with complaints, Council member Janet Miller said at Tuesday’s meeting.
There have been enough complaints in Wichita year to year that total bans on fireworks, except for public displays, were occasionally considered but never enacted.
Now the Council may go the other way. I get Mayor Jeff Longwell’s reason for softening fireworks limitations. Wichita is the only city in the area with such a confining law, and it’s nearly impossible to enforce anyway.
But there are many reasons not to allow the big bangs. Fire and safety concerns are real, especially in a large city with homes close together and at the mercy of dry conditions, wind and a spark.
A 1985 Eagle-Beacon story notes that in 1978, the year before fireworks restrictions, there were 82 fireworks-related fires on or around July 4 in Wichita. A year later with restrictions, there were eight.
That’s nothing to shoot a bottle rocket at.
Combat veterans with post-traumatic stress disorder should also be considered. More and more soldiers returning from Afghanistan and other countries shouldn’t have to hear loud explosions down the street.
The City Council will discuss it more this month before voting. Two members seem in favor, two seem opposed, and three didn’t make their preferences known at Tuesday’s meeting.
If the relaxed rules happen, I’ll be ready. Visit me anytime from sunset to midnight July 1-5. I’ll be the guy in a lawn chair holding a garden hose, yelling at the random booms and pops in the neighborhood.