Our community service club, the Kiwanis Club of Tempe, pulled off its 59th annual 4th of July Fireworks Show Sunday night at Tempe Town Lake.  For about the fifth year in a row, I was the Kiwanis’ captain for the main gate to Tempe Beach Park, the entrance just across the street from Monti’s La Casa Vieja where the largest number of people enter the park.

The weather moderated Sunday, so it was not as blazing and insufferable as some 4th of July’s have been.   The worst that I recall was about 120 degrees at Tempe Diablo Stadium in the mid-1990s.   Once the sun began to go down, it was quite tolerable Sunday night.  People came prepared with lots of water, though security confiscated and tossed hundreds of soft-drinks, beer and other banned beverages and food — telling customers that they overlooked what it said on their tickets about what they could bring.  Some tried to come in with dogs, cats and bicycles, which are also verboten.

I  oversaw two shifts of volunteers who were mostly from clubs of  McClintock High School and Tempe High School, as well as the Arizona Dragon Boat Association.  They were students and parents and well-managed by their own leaders and advisors.  The gate opened at 4 p.m. , and the volunteers led the TEAM Security check handbags, purses, strollers and other  conveyances  for weapons or contraband.  Next a volunteer put a pink tag on bags to indicate they had been checked. Another volunteer took tickets and tore them in two and another volunteer handed out promotional hand fans and the slick 52-page “4th of July Official 2010 Program  CBS 5 Tempe Town Lake Festival Produced by The Kiwanis Club of Tempe.” I had supplied photos and text for two pages that showcased what our Kiwanis Club does.  It was produced by College Times and AZ Integrated Media.  We had about eight lines of incoming patrons going at once.

Part-way through the evening, the hand fans were all given out.  Later, the official programs were all gone.    We typically get about 50,000 people coming through the gates, with far more than that lining out in the perimeter of Town Lake to what the spectacular light show free.

Watching the crowd pour in through the gates is a feast for the eyes.  Patriotic clothes, tattoos galore, double- and triple-seat baby strollers, lots of cleavage, muscles, fashion purses,  original hair styles of men and women, the cutest kids,  perspiration, jewelry and both very friendly and surly patrons.  Most are happy to have negotiated the lines and are then free to find a place closest to  the impending fireworks.

For large families, it is almost herding folks to hurry up: “Let’s find a place to lay out the blanket, and then you can check things out” is the mantra.   Vendors with products, causes and food have their tables and tents lining the sidewalks of the park.   Children delight in the water park inside Tempe Beach where swirls of water shoot up from the concrete and cool kids off.

I am always amazed at the rush into the park in the hour before the fireworks are set to go off. The time from 8 to 9 p.m. is a period when some people act like it is finally time to go into the water, take the plunge and join the human mass inside the park.  Many of them plan to just stand up for 45 minutes and watch the sky show.

Alas, hundreds start strolling out of the park with the start of the fireworks so they can avoid the traffic jam of people leaving downtown Tempe.  Some will take occasionally glimpses backwards to catch some of each successive burst in the sky.  Some are leaving because their kids have reacted negatively to the blasts and others have been at the park  for too many hours and are sweaty, tired and anxious to get out of there.

The bad economy cut way down on our business sponsorships this year, so we were more dependent on ticket sales and vendor fees to cover the other many costs of the night, including fireworks, fencing around the park, security, signage, payments to volunteer organizations that supply labor, professionals’ fees  and other costs.   Whatever is left over is put into Kiwanis’ Project Fund to be given out as free grants to organizations in Tempe that serve kids. The largest of those are the Tempe Boys and Girls Club and Tempe Family YMCA’s swimming instruction programs.

We breathe a sigh of relief when it is over. No firework accidents, no crowd issues, no unintended consequences, no worker and patron blowups, no lost child incidents of note.    The park is always trashed in a bewildering way and the clean-up is an enormous task.

It  is Arizona greatest fireworks show, and we are proud to be its producers. It was another great evening for the Kiwanis Club of  Tempe.

Hats off to our professional events organizer, Judi Yates and her team; to Mike Cryer, the past president of Kiwanis Club of Tempe and the chairman of this year’s show again; to Lance Gray and his team working with the hundreds of volunteers; and to Tempe City Councilman and Kiwanis Club  President Corey Woods.  It was a bang-up job all around.