Political Fireworks

It has probably been 10 or 15 years since I’ve been to the WEBN fireworks, one of the most spectacular annual fireworks shows in the country, sponsored by a Cincinnati radio station. So, when a contact in the Kerry campaign offered access to a prime riverfront viewing location, in exchange for a couple of hours working the crowd and registering voters, it was an offer I couldn’t refuse, in spite of the fact that northern Kentucky is far from being Kerry-friendly territory. In fact, when I told my parents I was going to Covington to talk a bunch of drunks into voting for Kerry, they seemed genuinely concerned about my safety. But it actually turned out to be a very pleasant, although only mildly successful, evening.

Although our stated mission was simply voter registration, and not campaigning, we were issued Kerry/Edwards tshirts which made our affiliation very clear. The tshirts did make us the target of some mild heckling, but nothing threatening. They also attracted the attention of several people who asked where they could get bumper stickers, yard signs, etc. Per instructions, they were given the name and phone number of a local Kerry coordinator for followup on their requests. (Interestingly, this individual, who awarded himself the title of Northern Kentucky Kerry-Edwards 2004 Special Events Coordinator, was a Republican who was fed up with Bush and joined the Kerry campaign because he admired Edwards. Politics does make strange bedfellows).

In a crowd like that, I didn’t really expect to find a large number of people who were not already registered and would be interested in registering. So I wasn’t terribly surprised when I only registered three voters in two hours. At least I got quality; two of them indicated a strong preference for Kerry and one chose no party affiliation. So at least I didn’t swell the ranks of the enemy. Altogether, our group managed to register about 20 voters.

In a party crowd like that, it’s not surprising that a large number of people would be below voting age. Working on a college campus, in warm weather, I’m treated to a constant visual smorgasbord of barely-legal beauties who dress to best display their natural assets. It really made me feel like an old fogey to mingle in a crowd displaying themselves even more enticingly than the student bodies, and find that many of them were not even of legal voting age.

After a couple of hours of politicking, it was time for fun. We headed over to Newport, where one of the local Kerryites works in the US headquarters of Shire Pharmaceuticals. Shire occupies three floors in a riverfront office building, with nice large outdoor balconies. The fireworks are mostly launched from two sets of barges anchored in the river. For additional special effects, two of the bridges between Ohio and Kentucky are shut down and heavily rigged with pyrotechnics. Sitting on Shire’s seventh-floor balcony, we were directly overlooking one set of three barges, with a very good view of the bridges and other set of barges.

A show like this typically tries to improve itself ever year. So it’s not surprising that it was far better than I remembered from way back when, and even that had been the most amazing display I had ever seen. The show lasted about 30 minutes, and it was non-stop breathtaking brilliance. At times, we even felt the shock waves from some of the blasts. There was just one point where I had to be soothed by my companions. When the air was suddenly filled with a bright red “W”, I started sputtering until a kind soul calmed me by pointing out they were spelling “WEBN”.

As with any major public event of this magnitude, the exit is always challenging, as hundreds of thousands of people hit the streets at the same time. We waited over an hour for traffic to improve. Finally, three Democrats accused our Republican driver of having no clear exit strategy, and abandoned him to walk back to Covington where my car was parked next to Kerry HQ. By that time, traffic was starting to improve a little, but we still had slow going until we hit I-75 around midnight, about 2.5 hours after the fireworks ended.

In spite of all the warnings about aggressive traffic enforcement all weekend, the trip home was as uneventful as the trip up. Traffic was light, and having seen no law-enforcement vehicles on the trip up, I guessed they were all working sobriety checkpoints in busier areas. So, for probably the first time in a couple of years, I managed to push my Celica’s speedometer into triple digits for part of the trek. Unlike a crazed Japanese individual I once had the pleasure of working with, I don’t have a picture of the speedometer to document the achievement.

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