Eyewitnessing A Capitol Fourth

Usually, I tune over to the PBS coverage of Washington D.C. fireworks as part of the July Fourth crowd avoidance strategy. It involves catching the pyrotechnics from the privacy of one’s home.

And while fireworks this way can seem stilted and as canned as the accompanying music (indeed, it may be the same footage of fireworks year after year), it does come without the attendant parking snarls and crowd issues.

However, this close to the festivities on the Mall made it worth venturing out to see it firsthand for once.

Not worthwhile enough to stake a space on the banks of the Potomac nine hours earlier, as we saw some doing at noon. It is just 20 minutes of boom and bang. But it warranted walking down the street to Meridian Hill Park for a view toward the Washington Monument and the surrounding fireworks.

A big crowd was there already, some sitting on blankets for an evening picnic though it was still in the mid-90s at that hour; others standing near the plaza that overlooks downtown, the familiar drum circle still nearby and ready to break out in rhythms in necessary.

This far away, it’s all guesswork – there’s no announcements, no other entertainment, no word at all when it will all start. It just does. And then people react briefly and adjust madly to see. The park’s trees, it so happens, blocks the fraction of the sky where the fireworks were blooming their colored sparks.

Not much can excite me in the fireworks world – they go up and blow out. There might be nuance and artistry involved but it’s mostly shiny explosions.

Nobody in Meridian Hill felt close enough to react to each effect. No oohs and aahs here. People did try to capture it on their phone cameras, and were pretty disappointed with the results. There was one person holding the iPad out in front of him to capture the image, which couldn’t possibly have been as silly as the pose he was striking.

Still, it was better than the other scene that stood out: People who sat in their low slung sand chairs, ignoring the fireworks altogether and checking their messages.

Police were pretty laissez faire. They didn’t seem to budge when someone tossed a firecracker in the crowd (though the crowd voiced displeasure, just it did when someone hoisted a girlfriend up on their shoulders for a better view).

The only direction from a cop that I heard was telling people to get off the Joan of Arc statue where they had perched for a view.  What she had to do with the Fourth of July I’ll never know.

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