Sometimes, we take things for granted. The big Fourth of July fireworks show at Warner Center Park in Woodland Hills tomorrow night is one of them.
Last year, more than 50,000 people (like a sold-out Dodger Stadium - remember those?) crammed into the one-square-block park to picnic, enjoy live entertainment and a great fireworks show.
The crowd got so big, LAPD officers had to close off traffic on Topanga Canyon Boulevard to ease the pressure inside the park.
Families poured out onto the six-lane boulevard with their blankets and chairs for a better look at the sky.
The same will happen again this year because people know a good deal when they see one. You can't beat a free show, especially when it's a great one.
Is there anything better than lying on a blanket in the park next to your children and grandkids on the Fourth listening to "The Star-Spangled Banner" and other patriotic songs as the sky lights up with fabulous shooting colors that bring oohs and aahs from every blanket?
Take a look around at the faces. Young or old, doesn't make a difference. Complete awe.
I don't care where you live in the Valley, what race or religion you are, how much you have in the bank, or what your politics are - when lying on that blanket with your family tomorrow night inthe park everyone's feeling the same thing.
Pride in our country and how lucky we are to live in America.
Corny? Maybe, but so what? It's true.
It's hard to imagine that 16 years ago we almost lost this incredible Fourth of July celebration. Took it for granted.
The show was ending its 22-year run at Pierce College because of money problems. The repair and maintenance costs were higher than the $20,000 the Woodland Hills Chamber of Commerce was paying to rent the campus for the night.
With little advance warning, the show went from free to families showing up having to pay $10 for adults, $5 for children and seniors (plus a parking fee) to view the fireworks from the stadium and college grounds outside the stadium.
There was widespread resentment, including groups of angry gate-crashers. Happy Independence Day.
A scaled-down fireworks show was held for a few years at Valley College, but then nothing until 2001.
"I had just gotten elected and one of my campaign promises was to bring back a free, patriotic Fourth of July show to my district," says the guy who rode in on the white horse - Councilman Dennis Zine.
Actually, it was a Harley-Davidson, but the former LAPD officer proved good on one of his first promises as a politician.
He hooked up with Jim Kinsey, CEO and president of the Valley Cultural Center, which was putting on concerts in the park during the summer months.
"Dennis approached me with the idea, and it made sense. But we never imagined it would get this big," Kinsey said.
"About 10,000 people showed up that first year and we were shooting the fireworks from off the ground, which was scary."
Now the crowds are five times as large and the fireworks are shot off the roof of a nearby parking structure under the watchful eye of the city fire department.
Sponsorships, donations and some discretionary funds from Zine's office pay the $85,000 tab for the Fourth of July extravaganza.
About a third of the money goes for fireworks and the rest for live entertainment, security and cleanup.
"This show takes us all back to our youth," says Zine. "It brings families together in a positive, patriotic environment, and it doesn't cost them a dime. We want people just to enjoy it."
If you're going, get there early. Entertainment begins at 6 p.m. with the fireworks show starting at 9:05 p.m. It is suggested you take the Orange Line to Warner Center because parking is limited.
The park is located at 5800 Topanga Canyon Blvd., Woodland Hills.
Dennis McCarthy's column appears in the Los Angeles Daily News on Tuesday, Thursday and Sunday. firstname.lastname@example.org.