The new soundtrack to summer in the city: illegal fireworks displays

With many official fireworks displays cancelled amidst the pandemic, Americans are setting off their own fireworks – and often illegally

Lesson #
July 6, 2020

Fireworks have long been a summer tradition for Americans. But with many official fireworks displays cancelled this summer, Americans have turned to setting off their own fireworks – and often illegally. Cities are starting to crack down on illegal fireworks imports, sales, and displays amidst skyrocketing complaints. Plus, learn what it means to be “in a bind.”


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Transcript

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The new soundtrack to summer in the city: illegal fireworks displays

Lesson summary

Hi there everyone, thanks for joining us for another Plain English lesson. I’m Jeff; JR is the producer; and this is lesson number 274. That means you can find the full lesson contents—including the transcript, translations, video, vocabulary, exercises, and all the rest—at PlainEnglish.com/274.

On today’s lesson: With so many official fireworks displays cancelled, Americans are setting off their own fireworks. That is causing conflict in the biggest cities, where the only thing higher than the colorful fireworks themselves is the number of noise complaints. We’ll be talking, also, about the English expression “in a bind”—you can guess the context that comes up in. Ready to go?

Fireworks displays—and complaints—soar in American cities

Americans love their Fourth of July fireworks, but many of them are now starting to hate the new form that our mid-summer tradition has been taking. In many of America’s biggest cities, including New York, Philadelphia, and Chicago, people have been setting off more fireworks than usual, leading to a spike in complaints.

Setting off a small amount of fireworks is one of those things that’s often illegal in a technical sense, but police departments give a fair amount of leeway to people who keep their fireworks under control. Outside of a big city, it’s common for people to set off a few fireworks in the driveway or the back yard. Most neighbors and police departments are tolerant of a reasonable amount of this, as long as it’s not too late at night.

If police do get involved—at least in smaller towns and cities—it’s usually to drive by and give people a friendly warning. Every year, there are public service media campaigns warning about the danger of setting off fireworks; and every year, there are people who end up in the hospital (or worse) as a result of accidents. Even so, this is something that is generally tolerated in smaller towns. It’s a part of everyone’s childhood in small-town America, including mine.

Big cities are a different story. It is illegal to set off fireworks within the city limits of most American cities. There are just too many people in close proximity to one another for that to be safe. It is even illegal to buy fireworks in certain states, especially those with large urban areas, such as New York, Massachusetts and Illinois.

But that doesn’t mean it doesn’t happen. Where I live, in Illinois, it’s illegal to buy fireworks. But you can drive about 30 minutes to the neighboring state of Indiana, a much more rural state, where the fireworks rules are much more permissive. As soon as you cross the border, you see billboards on the highway advertising nearby fireworks warehouses. People buy them there and either bring them home to Illinois or sell them here.

On any given summer night in Chicago, you would hear some fireworks in certain neighborhoods. Where I live, it’s somewhat popular. In the more upscale neighborhoods, it’s less so. But this year, it’s many, many times worse than in previous years. And it’s not just me saying so. Chicago has received over 7,000 complaints of fireworks this summer, a 700 percent increase over the previous year. In the first week of June, Boston saw almost 1,500 complaints, compared with just 22 complaints in the same week the year before. About 11,000 people complained in New York in just three weeks in June; last year, during the same period, the city received 28 complaints. Not 28,000: twenty-eight complaints; this year, 11,000. To voice their frustration over the noise, a caravan of New Yorkers went outside the mayor’s mansion on the tony Upper East Side of Manhattan and leaned on their car horns in the middle of the night, to demonstrate how difficult it is to sleep where they live, in the more far-flung areas of the city.

What is going on? For one thing, public, official fireworks displays have been cancelled due to COVID-19. Chicago, for example, typically has downtown fireworks displays every Wednesday and Saturday night for the whole summer. Those have been cancelled. Many traditional July Fourth fireworks displays in cities and smaller towns have been cancelled too. If people want to see a fireworks display in 2020, it has to be the homemade kind.

With cities not buying explosives for their own official displays, many distributors are left with large stockpiles and no buyers, so prices have fallen. People have been stuck inside with nothing to do for months. The owner of a popular fireworks chain said this is the biggest year he’s ever had and that a lot of customers are buying fireworks for the first time.

This new tradition puts big city governments in a bind. On the one hand, citizens are upset about over-aggressive police tactics; there’s even a movement that calls for defunding police, meaning reducing the number of police officers on the streets. On the other hand, cities can’t simply ignore the flood of complaints—many of them, no doubt, by the same people demanding the police eliminate officers.

New York’s mayor announced a task force of 40 officers to crack down on illegal fireworks. Rather than target the individuals who set them off, the new task force will target the illegal distributors of fireworks.

There have been some high-profile busts. New York police made dozens of arrests as they uncovered massive arsenals of fireworks in Brooklyn, Staten Island, and the Bronx. In one bust, they also found illegal guns. In another, they found three dead alligators.

Free webinar on English-learning technology

You might be wondering if it’s an American tradition to set off fireworks with an alligator, but no. The alligators were unrelated to the fireworks. And they are not native to New York City. But I guess the kind of person who deals illegal fireworks in New York is the kind of person who might also have access to an alligator.

I definitely noticed that the fireworks where I live are a lot more prevalent. I can sleep through almost anything, but I have woken up several times in the last few weeks from fireworks displays. It’s easy for me to get back to sleep, but I wouldn’t want to have a small child or a pet with all that going on.

What technology are you using to learn English? Besides listening to Plain English, that is. Are you using apps? Do you have a teacher? Do you watch movies? Maybe take classes? Other web sites? There are a lot of great options out there, and I’ll be presenting some of those options in a free webinar here in a few weeks.

The reason I’m doing it is simply because people have asked, what else can I do to practice English? What other tools can I use? Should I read books? Should I get a teacher? Those types of questions. So I thought, what better way to answer those questions than to do a whole web class with it?

So that’s what we are doing. Later this month, we’ll be hosting a live webinar all about the best technology for learning English in 2020. You can find a link to that on the home page of PlainEnglish.com or in the show notes of this lesson if you’re on the app.

¿Hablas español?

The transcript of this lesson is available with interactive translations into Spanish. In each lesson transcript, we select about one hundred difficult words, phrases , and expressions for translation.

How is this different than simply using a translation engine?

Translation engines are powerful tools for communicating in the modern world . However, they often miss the context and can either mislead you or leave you confused . Our human translators are here to make sure that you’re getting not only the correct definition, but also the full context .

How can I use the translations in my studies?

Most members use the translations as they are listening to the lesson and reading along . When you come across a word you don’t understand, you don’t have to press pause to discover the meaning . You can simply hover your mouse over the highlighted word . This lets you learn the definition of the word without having to press pause on the audio.

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你说中国话?

The transcript of this lesson is available with interactive translations into your language. In each lesson transcript, we select about one hundred difficult words, phrases , and expressions for translation.

How is this different than simply using a translation engine?

Translation engines are powerful tools for communicating in the modern world . However, they often miss the context and can either mislead you or leave you confused . Our human translators are here to make sure that you’re getting not only the correct definition, but also the full context .

How can I use the translations in my studies?

Most members use the translations as they are listening to the lesson and reading along . When you come across a word you don’t understand, you don’t have to press pause to discover the meaning . You can simply hover your mouse over the highlighted word . This lets you learn the definition of the word without having to press pause on the audio.

Do the translations work on mobile?

Yes! Instead of hovering over a highlighted word, just tap on it .

How can I access the translations?

Translations are included in two memberships: Plain English Plus+ and Starter. Choose a plan and get started today!

Parlez-vous français?

The transcript of this lesson is available with interactive translations into your language. In each lesson transcript, we select about one hundred difficult words, phrases , and expressions for translation.

How is this different than simply using a translation engine?

Translation engines are powerful tools for communicating in the modern world . However, they often miss the context and can either mislead you or leave you confused . Our human translators are here to make sure that you’re getting not only the correct definition, but also the full context .

How can I use the translations in my studies?

Most members use the translations as they are listening to the lesson and reading along . When you come across a word you don’t understand, you don’t have to press pause to discover the meaning . You can simply hover your mouse over the highlighted word . This lets you learn the definition of the word without having to press pause on the audio.

Do the translations work on mobile?

Yes! Instead of hovering over a highlighted word, just tap on it .

Can I see a sample?

Yes, please visit PlainEnglish.com/sample to see a sample episode with the Spanish translations.

How can I access the translations?

Translations are included in two memberships: Plain English Plus+ and Starter. Choose a plan and get started today!

Você fala português?

The transcript of this lesson is available with interactive translations into your language. In each lesson transcript, we select about one hundred difficult words, phrases , and expressions for translation.

How is this different than simply using a translation engine?

Translation engines are powerful tools for communicating in the modern world . However, they often miss the context and can either mislead you or leave you confused . Our human translators are here to make sure that you’re getting not only the correct definition, but also the full context .

How can I use the translations in my studies?

Most members use the translations as they are listening to the lesson and reading along . When you come across a word you don’t understand, you don’t have to press pause to discover the meaning . You can simply hover your mouse over the highlighted word . This lets you learn the definition of the word without having to press pause on the audio.

Do the translations work on mobile?

Yes! Instead of hovering over a highlighted word, just tap on it .

Can I see a sample?

Yes, please visit PlainEnglish.com/sample to see a sample episode with the Spanish translations.

How can I access the translations?

Translations are included in two memberships: Plain English Plus+ and Starter. Choose a plan and get started today!

日本語は話せますか?

The transcript of this lesson is available with interactive translations into your language. In each lesson transcript, we select about one hundred difficult words, phrases , and expressions for translation.

How is this different than simply using a translation engine?

Translation engines are powerful tools for communicating in the modern world . However, they often miss the context and can either mislead you or leave you confused . Our human translators are here to make sure that you’re getting not only the correct definition, but also the full context .

How can I use the translations in my studies?

Most members use the translations as they are listening to the lesson and reading along . When you come across a word you don’t understand, you don’t have to press pause to discover the meaning . You can simply hover your mouse over the highlighted word . This lets you learn the definition of the word without having to press pause on the audio.

Do the translations work on mobile?

Yes! Instead of hovering over a highlighted word, just tap on it .

Can I see a sample?

Yes, please visit PlainEnglish.com/sample to see a sample episode with the Spanish translations.

How can I access the translations?

Translations are included in two memberships: Plain English Plus+ and Starter. Choose a plan and get started today!

Parli italiano?

The transcript of this lesson is available with interactive translations into your language. In each lesson transcript, we select about one hundred difficult words, phrases , and expressions for translation.

How is this different than simply using a translation engine?

Translation engines are powerful tools for communicating in the modern world . However, they often miss the context and can either mislead you or leave you confused . Our human translators are here to make sure that you’re getting not only the correct definition, but also the full context .

How can I use the translations in my studies?

Most members use the translations as they are listening to the lesson and reading along . When you come across a word you don’t understand, you don’t have to press pause to discover the meaning . You can simply hover your mouse over the highlighted word . This lets you learn the definition of the word without having to press pause on the audio.

Do the translations work on mobile?

Yes! Instead of hovering over a highlighted word, just tap on it .

Can I see a sample?

Yes, please visit PlainEnglish.com/sample to see a sample episode with the Spanish translations.

How can I access the translations?

Translations are included in two memberships: Plain English Plus+ and Starter. Choose a plan and get started today!

Sprechen Sie Deutsch?

The transcript of this lesson is available with interactive translations into your language. In each lesson transcript, we select about one hundred difficult words, phrases , and expressions for translation.

How is this different than simply using a translation engine?

Translation engines are powerful tools for communicating in the modern world . However, they often miss the context and can either mislead you or leave you confused . Our human translators are here to make sure that you’re getting not only the correct definition, but also the full context .

How can I use the translations in my studies?

Most members use the translations as they are listening to the lesson and reading along . When you come across a word you don’t understand, you don’t have to press pause to discover the meaning . You can simply hover your mouse over the highlighted word . This lets you learn the definition of the word without having to press pause on the audio.

Do the translations work on mobile?

Yes! Instead of hovering over a highlighted word, just tap on it .

Can I see a sample?

Yes, please visit PlainEnglish.com/sample to see a sample episode with the Spanish translations.

How can I access the translations?

Translations are included in two memberships: Plain English Plus+ and Starter. Choose a plan and get started today!

Sen Türkçe konuşmayı biliyor musun?

The transcripts of Plain English lessons are available with interactive translations into your language. In each lesson transcript, we select about one hundred difficult words, phrases , and expressions for translation. Turkish translations are available starting at Lesson 278.

How is this different than simply using a translation engine?

Translation engines are powerful tools for communicating in the modern world . However, they often miss the context and can either mislead you or leave you confused . Our human translators are here to make sure that you’re getting not only the correct definition, but also the full context .

How can I use the translations in my studies?

Most members use the translations as they are listening to the lesson and reading along . When you come across a word you don’t understand, you don’t have to press pause to discover the meaning . You can simply hover your mouse over the highlighted word . This lets you learn the definition of the word without having to press pause on the audio.

Do the translations work on mobile?

Yes! Instead of hovering over a highlighted word, just tap on it .

Can I see a sample?

Yes, please visit PlainEnglish.com/sample to see a sample episode with the Spanish translations.

How can I access the translations?

Translations are included in two memberships: Plain English Plus+ and Starter. Choose a plan and get started today!

Mówisz po polsku?

The transcript of Plain English lessons are available with interactive translations into your language. In each lesson transcript, we select about one hundred difficult words, phrases , and expressions for translation. Polish translations are available starting at Lesson 278.

How is this different than simply using a translation engine?

Translation engines are powerful tools for communicating in the modern world . However, they often miss the context and can either mislead you or leave you confused . Our human translators are here to make sure that you’re getting not only the correct definition, but also the full context .

How can I use the translations in my studies?

Most members use the translations as they are listening to the lesson and reading along . When you come across a word you don’t understand, you don’t have to press pause to discover the meaning . You can simply hover your mouse over the highlighted word . This lets you learn the definition of the word without having to press pause on the audio.

Do the translations work on mobile?

Yes! Instead of hovering over a highlighted word, just tap on it .

Can I see a sample?

Yes, please visit PlainEnglish.com/sample to see a sample episode with the Spanish translations.

How can I access the translations?

Translations are included in two memberships: Plain English Plus+ and Starter. Choose a plan and get started today!

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