Monday, September 06, 1999

Fireworks dazzle Riverfest masses

The Cincinnati Enquirer

View from atop Carew Tower.
(Craig Ruttle photo)
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        Crimson, blue and sparkling silver fireworks lit the Cincinnati skyline Sunday night in a spectacular goodbye to summer.

        The annual show, which lasted a full half-hour, also lit up the faces of some 350,000, according to Cincinnati police. The crowd swarmed both banks of the Ohio River for Riverfest 1999.

        “Awesome!” was the assessment from Cassie Watts, 32, of Roselawn. “This is my first time ever (at Riverfest). ... I'm just so amazed, No. 1. No. 2, I think it's neat they are doing this across (both sides of) the river. It seems like it's one positive thing both states can share.”

        Added Ralph Jones, 53, of Loveland: “Every year, it's getting better.”

        Every time a round of fireworks erupted, Mr. Jones and a friend, Jimmy Gardner, 42, of Deer Park, shouted “Wow!”

Boaters line up for a river's-eye view of the fireworks.
(Patrick Reddy photo)
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        Sunday night marked the 22nd year that Toyota, WEBN radio and Rozzi's Famous Fireworks have combined to put on the pyrotechnic bonanza that causes Greater Cincinnatians to jump in their boats or hop in their cars to join the fun.

        As the grand finale came to a booming crescendo, Nick Powell, 16, of Mount Healthy and a friend, Justin Peterson, 17, of Mount Healthy, tried to outdo each other in describing the fireworks above them.

        “It was riveting. It was spectacular,” Nick said.

        Added Justin: “They set off the new millennium with a bang.”

        At least one spectator wasn't impressed, however. Isaiah Contrares, 18 months, fell asleep in his mother's arms during the finale.

        “He was scared at first, but I think it was a good experience for him,” said his mother, Christy Contrares, 19, of downtown.

A sea serpent gets the thumbs-up from fellow boaters.
(Michael E. Keating photo)
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        The fireworks show thrilled, as usual, but earlier in the day, a policy banning beverages from being carried into the event angered many in the crowd. As the temperature climbed toward a high of 91, security guards stopped hundreds at Riverfest entrances, making them dump or leave behind their water, juice and pop.

        “This is ridiculous,” said Mark Wright of Fairfield as sons Nicholas, 8, and Jacob, 5, raced to gulp down the Sunny Delight they had brought. “They say it's a family event, but you can't even bring water in.”

        Mr. Wright said he heard a radio report that said it was OK to bring in nonalcoholic drinks in sealed containers.

        Riverfest organizers declined to comment.

About 52,000 rubber ducks are ready to be released for the annual Rubber Duck Regatta.
(Michael E. Keating photo)
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        Inside Riverfest, there was no shortage of beverages and snacks. But with bottled water selling for as much as $3, some who brought friends or extended family found themselves strapped for cash.

        “It gets pretty expensive if you have to buy everything,” said Tina Spires, 24, of West Chester. “I mean, thank you for putting on a free event; but really, it isn't.”

        Dan Zurkuhlen, 45, of Louisville had a different perspective on the no-beverage policy. A portion of the money he earned manning a water stand inside Riverfest goes toward his Oldham County, Ky., High School booster club.

        “They're really helping us by buying water and soft drinks,” he said, scrambling to serve a line of thirsty revelers. “This is one of our major fund-raisers.”

Troy Mitchell, 4, of Vevay, Ind., wears a balloon sculpture.
(Patrick Reddy photo)
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        Others, however, figured out ways to trick the system.

        Tom and Becky Timon of Loveland stashed their own water containers in a box of Chex cereal that they placed in a book bag. They also brought a pillow — stuffing included — with a water jug at its center.

        “It's just so hot,” said Mrs. Timon, who began brainstorming this week for innovative ways to surmount the inconveniences that accompany Riverfest.

        The Timons, like many Riverfestgoers, made a long day of it. Armed with blankets, lawn chairs, sunscreen and radios, thousands crowded the Ohio River banks early Sunday afternoon to stake out the best spot for fireworks viewing. As early as Wednesday, boat ers were dropping anchor on prime viewing spots along the river.

        Making it to the fireworks wasn't the Timons' main concern.

        “It's getting home that's the challenge,” Mr. Timon said. “It's horrible. (But) we keep coming.”

        Downtown road construction caused extra challenges this year on the Ohio side. Late in the afternoon, traffic crept along Fort Washington Way carrying people searching for a way around orange barrels and chewed-up pavement.

        Ken Cecil, 45, of West Chester, avoided the snarls by taking a Metro bus to the Cinergy Field parking lot.

        “This is the first time for us, so we didn't know what to do, or where to park or where to go,” he said. “I was just thinking of the hassles of getting downtown.”

        Marcia Kurtz, of Dayton, Ohio, also had complaints about traffic and pricy water. But it would take more than that for the Cincinnati native to miss Riverfest.

        This year, she checked in at a downtown Cincinnati hotel before taking a shuttle to Newport.

        As the afternoon wore on, folks did what they could to combat the heat. They made furious use of free fans handed out among the crowd. Kids turned drinking fountains into sprinklers. And several people climbed into an above-ground pool for free scuba diving lessons given by instructors from the Cincinnati Diving Center Inc.

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