Even an occasion as grand as the 4th of July in Huntington Beach, was not immune to the fallout from the COVID virus in 2020. Not only would there be no parade or fireworks show, they were closing down the beach and even trying to keep people out of the water. I went down to the pier in the morning and there were four emergency vehicles with their lights flashing, trying to command a lone surfer back to shore.
When my Dad was still alive, the 4th of July might have been his favorite day of the year. We’d start the day with the pancake breakfast at Lake Park, and then it would only be an hour or so until the parade got started.
The parade was always a fairly humble outing, strong on patriotism and community participation, short on monster floats and celebrity guests. Some people would stake out their spots beside Main Street the night before, but you could usually find somewhere to get a decent view, even if you arrived half way into it. Later at night, we’d walk down their street to PCH and watch the fireworks being launched from the pier.
My parents were always grateful just to live in Huntington Beach. Considering we’d moved out from North Dakota in 1984, in a station wagon pulling a small fishing boat, with all our belongings stuffed into it, and that my Dad had been periodically unemployed since then, it was a real accomplishment. They’d gotten into their cottage on a wing and a prayer, at a time when real estate prices were at an all-time low. This was before Huntington Beach became Surf City, before the Pier Plaza, before Pacific City, before the Strand.
When we moved out to California and were living in Costa Mesa, I’d often get on my orange Schwinn ten-speed and ride to the beach on the bike path that runs along the Santa Ana River. If you turn left when you reach the ocean, you go to Newport Beach. If you turn right, you end up at Huntington.
The popular kids from El Rancho High School always had their parties at Newport Beach. Since I hated everyone at El Rancho, I always went the other way. There was an arcade under the Huntington Pier back then, with skee-ball, and vans with hippie surfers, hanging out in the parking lot, smoke billowing from the windows. I didn’t surf or know anyone, but it felt cool to walk around Huntington Beach. Sometimes I’d have a backpack with a few warm beers in it, and I’d drink those, then hack a dip of Copenhagen, and charge out into the freezing waves to bodysurf.
That night there wasn’t an official firework show on the pier, but there were fireworks exploding everywhere, loud, illegal bomb blasts from every street in the neighborhood. Car alarms were going off. Windows were rattling. The dogs on the block were losing their minds.
At one point I went for a walk and passed a house where some guy had started a big fire in the street and was dancing through it. Walking back twenty minutes later, there were a few cop cars parked at the scene and the reveler was now staring down at the pavement, with his hands behind his back. Was he being a patriot or being an idiot? In 2020, it would often be hard to tell the difference.