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Exceptional fireworks event, almost

POSTED July 6, 2012 9:56 p.m.

If you weren’t at the Stanislaus County Fairgrounds on the Fourth of July, you missed one heck of a show.

The music was great. The food booths were plentiful. And the fireworks, oh the fireworks.

The firework show was, arguably, one of the best I’ve ever seen in person. If I had any complaint it would be that the show actually lasted too long, and that seems like a rather silly thing to complain about.

Best of all, the whole shindig was free. And it came without the fear that you’ll accidentally burn your house down or set your dog on fire, which is sadly how most of my Independence Days end up.

With little more than a blanket and an apple pie my friends and I were able to celebrate America in style, thanks to the “Red, White, and Bang” extravaganza.

The event felt a bit like one of Modesto’s famed Concerts in the Park, but with fewer belligerently drunk people and enough room for each family to spread out an entire blanket. In short, it was near perfect.

But, perhaps because the rest of the event was so ideal, the celebration’s one major shortcoming sticks out like a linebacker in a ballet recital.

After a splendid evening, poor traffic management saw attendees spend more than 40 minutes stuck in traffic, just waiting to exit the fairgrounds’ parking lot. I’d estimate some poor souls who parked near the entrance spent as long as an hour – possibly longer.

Unfortunately, the traffic issue’s roots lie in the event’s planning.

Once fireworks concluded the event was, essentially, over. With no more music and booths shutting down, it was a wild stampede for the gates.

The rush to the parking lot was amplified by the actions of the Turlock Police Department.

Anticipating a traffic jam, my friends and I decided to wait out the traffic and enjoy the evening air from within the fairgrounds for a few minutes. But two Turlock police officers quickly came by to shoo us out, telling us that we had to pack up and vacate the fairgrounds. By their actions, these officers made the traffic even worse, forcing hundreds of additional vehicles into the mess.

I could write more about how the officers were, in my opinion, rude and unwilling to have a discussion about avoiding the traffic jam, but I’m sure they were unhappy to be working on Independence Day so I’ll cut them a tiny bit of slack.

The most inexcusable issue, though, came from the utter lack of traffic management at the fairgrounds’ exit.

At fair time, a police officer directs traffic to allow the steady stream of vehicles to exit onto Fulkerth Road. Other fair employees direct traffic within the parking lot.

But there was none of that for the Fourth of July. Cars were forced to wait for street traffic to clear before turning right on Fulkerth, and even getting that far was a nightmare with no one guiding the multiple streams of traffic

I don’t write this to find fault, or to bash planners for what was otherwise an indisputably successful event. It’s just a shame that such an otherwise enjoyable event ended on such a sour note.

I’ll undoubtedly enjoy the fireworks at the fairgrounds once again next year. I just hope I can enjoy my drive home as well.

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