One of the first things you will notice moving here from a metro area is the refreshing and somewhat disorienting lack of governmental regulation and oversight.

For example, say you wake up one day and have a fixin’ to go kill some squirrels.  You can waltz into your local Walmart Super Center, buy yourself a nice bolt action rifle, walk out and go shoot some squirrels.  All within about 10-20 minutes.  Yes, you need an Arkansas drivers’ license and there are hunting seasons, but they are pretty liberal…especially for squirrels.

For me, nothing quite captures this governmental laissez-faire as much as the 4th of July in NWA.

My first 4th here I marveled at the large firework tents that sprouted as if a circus convention arrived in town.

Firework City, photo courtesy of Jason Mitchell

Walking into one of the large tents on Rainbow Road (past the family of gophers that inexplicable lived in the hedges right next to the road) I pulled into the lot not sure what to expect. When I walked in I couldn’t believe the vast quantity and quality of fireworks whose use would result in misdemeanor charges back in Southern California.

The young store keeper (ring master?) was not the distant and indifferent adolescent I had become accustom to elsewhere; he was an enthusiastic firework aficionado. He provided an expert and personal overview of his curated pyrotechnical wares.

“Would you like to see some?” the young man asked.

“What now?  It’s 3 o’clock on Saturday?  Can you do that?”

With a hesitation he withdrew to a dirt clearing about 20 feet away from the tent and started setting off fireworks.  He lit one after another…giggling after each one burst into the air. I grew a bit uncomfortable,  Was this normal?

I made my modest purchase of firecrackers and rocket type things he demonstrated and made my way home.

Later that night, at around sunset I slinked out to my back lawn to test my new toys out.  It was very quiet and lightning bugs strobed in the early evening air.  Being that is was July 3rd I surmised it might be permissable to test one or two of these out.  I ignited the fuse of one rocket and I ran back and watched. It it flew into the air with a “fffflllllffffttt!” and then exploded with a bang that echoed off the surrounding houses and hills.

“Oh sh*t that was loud” I thought to myself.  I was fairly sure I was going to see security or the police show up soon. I went inside thinking it was too risky to light another.

Little did I know.

July 4th started pretty tame.  By early afternoon you would here some local pops here and there and the occasional report of machine gun fire from lady fingers. Later that day I began hearing what seemed like the “KAAA – BOOM” of mortar fire behind my neighbor’s house

Curious I walked down to street to see what was going on.  There stood my middle aged neighbor in flip flops and golf shirt with a small group around him flinging M-80s into the storm drain one after another.  I watched for a while then walked back to my house and waited for security to show up to harsh everyone’s mellow.  Security never came.

Once night came, all hell broke loose.  It was like the Do Lung Bridge scene from Apocalypse Now. There was nearly non-stop explosions and lights in all directions for a solid 3 hours.

Later in the night I saw in the near distance what seemed like 9/10th scale version of Disneyland’s Forever firework display.  I would later learn it was just a neighbor with a keen interest and budget for pyrotechnics.  Truly awe inspiring.

I am sure there were some injuries.  I am sure there was some drunkenness.  I am also sure those states were highly correlated.  But the spirit in the air was very light hearted and carefree, but respectful.  There were no fights or loud arguments.  There was no vandalism.

Later, I saw my M-80 wielding neighbor stumbling up and down the street picking of the paper remnants of his expended arsenal.  Others did the same, picking up discarded cups and cans. The mayhem stopped around 11pm and all was quiet again.  In short, people by and large respect and take care of their own community here.

So while the regulation is light, the civic mindedness of the people who live here makes such regulation largely superflous.  By and large, people do the right thing because they know it is the right thing to do…not because they are compelled to do so by the rules.  I hope that spirit perseveres.

That night, I marveled at this new found freedom as I pondered the acquisition of some squirrel eradication weaponry myself.  My kids fell asleep exhausted from all the commotion and the next day we were back to the normal rhythm of the summer.  It was all-in-all a pretty incredible 4th.

I look forward to this 4th of July here in NWA. Please take some time have some cold ones, a hot dog or two, and apple pie.  I would also encourage you take a moment to think about the gift of freedom we enjoy everyday and the responsibility that imbues upon each of us.  Thanks for reading. I wish you a safe and happy one.


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