We went last night down to Penn’s Landing, on the Delaware River waterfront, to attend the Ice Cream Festival, and to watch the fireworks. The fireworks display was fantastic, one of the best I’ve ever seen. But it’s the last one I’m going to with the kids, or ever. I don’t enjoy crowds as a general rule, but last night’s was way more than I can take. Matthew, our sensory kid who sometimes struggles with intense crowd situations, was pretty close to meltdown by the time it was over.It wasn’t that the crowd was unruly, at least for me. It’s just that it … was. It took a long time to find a place to park, a long time to get onto the site, and a really long time to get out, and to drive free of downtown Philadelphia. We got home very late, and slept right through the alarm this morning, missing church. Maybe it’s an age thing, but I find that I don’t have much tolerance for those sorts of experiences anymore. It’s something you do for the sake of the kids having a good time, so you suck it up. But there’s something else going on, I think. Depending on the crowd, I guess, a certain number of people just don’t know how to behave. About 10 minutes before the fireworks began last night, a group of about eight older teenagers, the guys covered with tattoos, pushed to the front of the section where we were so they could see. People — some elderly, many with kids, had arrived two hours early or more and held that spot, but these teenagers just did what they damn well pleased, and everybody else just had to deal with it. The frustrating thing about it was everybody simply had to accomodate them. I don’t think it occurred to any of the rest of us to tell them to back off, that they were being unconsiderate and unfair to everybody else. Why borrow trouble — especially if you have kids with you? That group of teenagers — boys, mostly — made it perfectly clear by their manner that they were going to do what they wanted to do, and if you had a problem with that, you’d have the whole lot to deal with.Half an hour before that, a clearly angry security guard stormed up and told a group of people who were sitting in a dangerous place on a wall to get off of it; judging from the back and forth, he’d told them to get off the wall in another place on the waterfront, so they just relocated to this one and resumed their behavior. One woman in that group started mouthing off to the guard in a loud, highly dramatic way. It was slightly unnerving, because you didn’t know how this was going to turn out. She was clearly playing to the crowd, or what she hoped would be a crowd that would back her. It didn’t happen, and somehow the tension was defused. But what she was trying to do was serve as a kind of spark that would set the crowd off. At least, I got the impression that she wouldn’t have minded that, because this guard had cheesed her off. Luckily, that didn’t happen. The Ice Cream Festival was an event inside a large tent at Penn’s Landing. It’s a cancer fundraiser. Ice cream companies — Ben and Jerry’s and many others — donate their products. You pay $5 to get in, and can have all the ice cream you can eat. The line to get in was, unsurprisingly, very, very long. I waited in it with Julie and the kids till the gate, then Nora and I walked down to get a place on the waterfront. If you throw a fit and won’t eat your lunch, even if Daddy tells you you have to eat your meat if you want ice cream later, these things happen. Anyway, about 40 minutes later, Julie and the boys showed up, and she was livid.”Never again,” she said. “That tent is jam-packed, and Lucas nearly got trampled — literally — by these idiots demanding their free ice cream.” She explained that the whole experience was ruined by small mobs of people who were bound and determined to get as much ice cream as they could manage, and who would throw elbows to get to the front of lines, demanding, “Gimme a Klondike bar! Yeagggh, they got Klondike bars!” Julie said these nitwits were out of control. She went to a security guard and told him to do his job.”That could have easily turned into an English soccer hooligans situation,” she said, still visibly shaken. “There was only one way out, and those people were close to being out of control.”All over ice cream. Again, a good thing is spoiled, or nearly spoiled, by idiots who don’t know how to behave in public. They don’t know how to control themselves, and, because they don’t respect others, don’t understand why they should control themselves in situations like that. Well, the fireworks were pretty great, and as far as I can tell, there were no serious problems, but I can’t say it was worth the hassle. Because of the massive crowd, we spent more time getting to the waterfront and getting back than we did experiencing the actual event (plus the pleasure of spending $30 for parking). And having to deal with menacing jackasses at the Ice Cream Festival and elsewhere really took away from the fun. Downtown Philadelphia, where Penn’s Landing is, has had problems with flashmobs this year, so it’s by no means the case that concern over crowd violence is merely an example of overanxious parents. See this:UPDATE: I thought later this morning about how when in Cambridge, England, in June of ’09, I was warned against going to the local Strawberry Fair by locals who said it had become notorious for drunkenness and hooliganism. Does anything sound more bucolic than a Strawberry Fair in a charming old English university town like Cambridge? As it turned out, I had already made plans to go down to London on the Fair day, so I missed it. Apparently last year’s fair was the last straw for the Cambridge police, who asked the city to refuse to license the 2010 Strawberry Fair — and the city complied. How about that: a lovely event for the community, especially for children, something as gentle as a Strawberry Fair, ruined by idiots who cannot control their drinking and public behavior.
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About Rod Dreher
Rod Dreher is director of publications at the John Templeton Foundation, a philanthropy that focuses on science, religion, economics and morality. A journalist with over 20 years of experience, Dreher has written for The Dallas Morning News, the New York Post, and other newspapers and journals. He is author of the book "Crunchy Cons." Archives of his previous Beliefnet blog, "Crunchy Con," can be found here. He and his family live in Philadelphia.