For Stacy Jost, the Fourth of July is a chance to make a few thousand people happy.
Bob Russell looks forward to causing a bit of chaos.
And Morgan Hrab just wants to play music with his friends.
Their Independence Day plans - ranging from quirky, homegrown celebrations to traditional fireworks displays - are among a rich menu of midsummer diversions available to Howard County residents Tuesday.
Included are community parades in a number of Columbia neighborhoods, including Harper's Choice and River Hill villages, and the fireworks display over Columbia's Lake Kittamaqundi, which serves as an unofficial countywide event.
Those fireworks are Jost's mission. Since 2000, the president of Kiwanis Club of Columbia has been in charge of the event, which the Kiwanis Club has sponsored for 17 years.
From January through June every year, Jost works 15 to 20 hours a week preparing the celebration - in addition to her full-time job at a mortgage company. This year, she has done it all while pregnant with a girl she expects in the middle of this month.
"My absolute favorite time at the fireworks is after the show is finished," said Jost, 30. "A couple of us will sit down and reflect on the show, and there is an amazing feeling of pride that you get when you see all of it come together beautifully. It's a feeling that I get every year, and it gives me the energy to do it again next year."
Bob Russell holds tight to his Fourth of July tradition. He has organized the Longfellow neighborhood Fourth of July parade and ballgame since 1983, and doesn't set an alternate date for the parade because, as he explains, nothing can rain on his parade.
"We don't ever cancel it because it's a traditional Fourth of July parade," Russell said. The event began in 1970, long before his involvement. "How can you have a traditional Fourth of July parade that doesn't happen on that day?"
Russell calls his event the Longfellow Friends of the Traditional Fourth Parade and Ballgame. He also champions organized chaos: no meetings, no forms, no registration. To be in the parade, just show up.
"That's the most fun," Russell said. "People being awe-struck over the lack of control that we exert."
Free beer is another part of the Longfellow celebration, along with the ensuing community softball game.
"Beer is a good tradition," Russell said with a laugh. "And it makes for a much sillier softball game."
His wife, Barbara, interjected: "Nobody gets drunk."
In the River Hill Community, Morgan, 12, looks forward to playing the clarinet with his friends in a marching band at his community's parade. "Before the performance, everyone practices and talks a little," said Morgan, who played at his neighborhood's parade last year. "Afterwards, we just get refreshments at the firehouse."
And even for those with their own neighborhood events to attend, the Columbia Lakefront fireworks is a centerpiece Fourth of July event.
"People start arriving at 6 or 7 in the morning," Jost said. "Other residents get there at noon and are amazed that the lawn is covered in blankets. ... It's something that families have done for years."
The Kiwanis Club estimates that it draws 10,000 to 20,000 people, though Howard County police unofficially say the figure is likely several times higher. Vendors and entertainers keep the crowd occupied at the daylong event - which can be a mixed blessing for the nearby restaurants.
"The one thing out of control is the bathroom situation," said Jill O'Rourke, a server at Tomato Palace, which is in front of perhaps the best lakefront seats. "The bathroom line is like 20 minutes. Unfortunately, a lot of people come in from the street, and we do have to turn them down."
At least business is good, said Jason Johnson, a Tomato Palace manager. By late spring, he said, the restaurant is booked for the Fourth of July.
Some who work in nearby offices take advantage of their strategic location.
Joan Wanex is an office manager at Christian & Timbers, a consulting firm that until last year had a second-floor office bordering the lake on Wincopin Circle. Last year, six of 10 people from her office enjoyed the view with families in air-conditioned bliss.
"It's OK," she said. "You're cool. You don't have to fight the crowds. There's freedom of movement."
Still, there's something different about watching the display from an office.
"It's not the same as out there being under the stars," Wanex said.
July 4 celebrations
The following activities are scheduled for July 4 around Howard County and vicinity:
Columbia Independence Day Festival and Fireworks:
At the Columbia Lakefront. Food vendors open at 2 p.m. Bands begin performing at 2 p.m. Other activities, such as face-painting and fortune-telling, run through the day. Fireworks begin at 9:30 p.m. Rain date is July 9. 410-740-4545, or www.columbiakiwanis.com.
Allview/Arrowhead Civic Association Annual Fourth of July Parade: