Saturday, September 05, 2009

Riverfest Etiquette

Had I not gone to law school, I likely would have pursued a Ph.D. in sociology (or perhaps in economics, which over the last ten years seems to have expanded to areas that were previously thought to belong to sociology). And if I had pursued that alternate path, I'd likely do some writing on the fascinating issue of space reservation for Riverfest fireworks watching.

The fireworks aren't set to begin until Sunday evening, but since early this morning, people have been staking out their spots along the Serpentine Wall, as well as on the grass atop the Newport levee. As you can see from the pictures, people simply put down tarps (usually secured by duct tape) and leave. The people who leave their tarps make no effort to guard their spot or stay with their claimed space, but instead seem to just trust that they can return tomorrow to watch the fireworks.

This situation presents a departure from the rules governing any other situation I know of in which people wait for a particular event. For instance, when people want to buy tickets to a sporting event or concert, they can't merely show up in line, claim a number, and leave until a few minutes before the ticket window opens. (Yes, I realize that the internet has drastically reduced the camp-out-overnight-for-tickets phenomenon.) People hoping to cash in on limited-supply sales events on "Black Friday" (the day after Thanksgiving) have to physically hold their spot. Golfers hoping to play the famous Bethpage Black course without a reservation subject themselves to a complex set of rules as they wait one or more nights in the course parking lot. And a few years ago when I watched the fireworks from the observation deck of the Empire State Building on the Fourth of July (truly a fabulous experience), we had to stand in our spaces for over five hours; we didn't dare to even take a bathroom break for fear that our group would be forever separated.

So I'm curious: how has the Riverfest tradition developed? Why is it so polite--and, frankly, so easy? What prevents an unscrupulous (or perhaps just eager) fireworks watcher from removing someone else's unguarded tarp and claiming a spot of earth for themselves?

Enjoy the fireworks, everybody. And if you're going to drink down there, have a designated driver or catch a cab.

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