I’ll have a slice of America, on wheels

5 July, 2006

I’ve been looking forward to the DC fireworks for about 10 years, since I saw a spectacular Philly 4th of July. “The only ones that have any right to be better than that are DC’s”, said I at the time. Also, for months I’ve been eager to test my photographic skills on this rare and tricky subject. I had had my first crack at it the previous night, after watching the Sussex Seahawks’ relief pitcher hand a victory to the New Haven County Cutters in 16 pitches in the bottom of the 9th. (Which is a whole other story). After the game there was a Fireworks ExTRAVAGANza! at Yale Field, during which I got the basics down enough to feel prepared.


“What time do they start?” I asked Reaganite, who had picked me up from Union Station. We were driving down Constitution and had no plan. “I don’t know,” he said, and in front of us behind the Washington monument, *boom*! Grr! Damnit. Luckily I had grabbed my gear from the trunk and had been getting myself together, setting useful exposures, mirror lock-up times, attaching the tripod mount…. All I needed was a place to (*boom*! grr!) park the car and watch, but we were on the Mall. No way in hell could (*boom*! grr!) we stop anywhere near there.


Thinking fast, we (*boom*! grr!) took the 9th street tunnel and aimed at some spots we knew of in SW…which were barred off by the cops, forcing us onto Maine Avenue. Argh! *boom*! Virginia or the mall? Virginia (*boom*! grr!) or the mall? He took a left, against my recommendations, onto (*boom*! grr!) the Southwest freeway westbound to Virginia. *boom*. Grr. I groaned when I saw the traffic on the early rise of the bridge, which had come to a complete standstill…


Because everyone had stopped their cars and gotten out to watch. We were no more than a half-mile southeast of the Washington monument and had an absolutely clear view of the show — even the smoke was blowing behind the fireworks (towards NW). I pointed out a spot with an unobstructed view a few lengths up, “until the cops move us along, anyway,” and then realized — nope. Even if they had wanted to, you couldn’t move that many en-vehicled people with a few bullhorn announcements. It was a very similar feeling to an underguarded protest or the crowd after a major league sporting event, when the crowd decides when to cross the street signals and cops be damned, and the authorities know all they have is their uniforms, a few bullets, and an understanding of herd behavior.


*boom*! Yay! I hastily set up my tripod and was getting all my photographic ducks in a row when Reaganite tapped me on the shoulder to show me the eastbound freeway bridge south of us — another solid line of people, leaning on the barrier. (Being an evil Republican who hates freedom, he would not let me stand on his car with the tripod to shoot this amazing sight, so I must leave it to your imagination.) Camera settings in order, we stood on the bridge’s north face, me hitting the shutter every few seconds and making adjustments every now and then, but mostly just enjoying the show. (It kills me that I have not had time to process my photos of this yet. Stay tuned.)


A weekend in Connecticut had reminded me how much America lives in its cars. So the slice of America you get when you stop a freeway and line everybody up is…beautiful. So many different kinds of people had been on that bridge, right then, for so many different reasons, but all with the same goal. We stood flanked by a black and a gay couple (funny, eh?). A car or two down, children screamed in excitement with each explosion. I wasn’t even paying attention and I heard English and Spanish, there might have been others. People were friendly as could be, all of us in the best mood possible at our luck in being in a great place at the right time. When it was all over (*boom*! awww.), we smiled and chatted with each other on our way back to our cars. Someone started honking, then another, then another, that honk of joy that I’ve only ever heard when an area’s team wins in the playoffs. But it was just another July 4. I couldn’t have felt any more American had I been watching from the Capitol steps themselves.


Yeah, now I really regret going for the shiny-shiny and not shooting the crowd. Talk about missing the story. Oh well….there’s always next year, right? Y’all know where you’ll find me.


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