Boston is the place to be on the 4th of July, and nothing was going to stop us from experiencing it in all its glory. We had heard from several sources that we needed to arrive very early at the Esplanade in order to procure free wristbands for the Neil Diamond/Boston Pops concert and fireworks.
So, at the crack of dawn on Independence Day, four of us crept quietly out of our bunks to start the 1.8 mile trek to the bus station. I got up around 5:30 to have a little time to relax and get ready for the big day; just as I pull my cinnamon swirl instant oatmeal out of the microwave Jenni walks into the kitchen, still half asleep and rubbing her eyes. No louder than a whisper, I hear her say, “The British are coming!”
I love how Jenni always has a broad perspective. There are a lot of times that the group gets into different discussions about certain issues, focusing on details and picking everything apart; it’s really nice to have someone around to help pull back and look at the issue in context of the big picture. Her coming into the kitchen that morning and talking about the British set a reflective tone for my thoughts throughout the day and kept history in the foreground. It’s really easy to get caught up in the flag t-shirts, barbecues, flip-flops, fireworks, and crowds; it’s so easy to forget what we’re celebrating—the birth of our country as a result of several men and women’s boldness in the face of a tyrannous king.
After a pleasant morning hike we arrived at the commuter rail station and were greeted heartily by an already-half-drunk veteran (at 7am) who pointed us to the correct bus stop. Waiting for the bus, we sat down and played a few rounds of cards. The only time I’ve ever played cards is at large family gatherings—usually during holidays—and once in a while with a few of my siblings. Over the card game we talked about each of our family’s 4th of July traditions—all agreeing that it was the sense of community that made this holiday special. It was obvious that we were all missing home a little. Someone said, “Let’s be a family today,” and it really did feel like we were. This past month has been crazy busy; we’ve been tired, cold, hot, dirty, grouchy, ecstatic, weeping, and laughing together; we’ve spent 720 hours together and shared 90 meals; we’ve lost cameras, sung for hours in the car—in traffic jams in LA and through the Badlands of S. Dakota, searched for sheep in the hills of Arizona, jockeyed for the tiny bathroom sink every morning and night while brushing our teeth…..and it’s been wonderful.
After waiting in line for wristbands for about an hour, we saw signs warning that the fireworks can not be seen from inside the concert arena, so we opted out of that. With the help of some locals, we secured a grassy spot on the bank of Charles River right outside the concert area—just yards from the firework launching platform out in the water. The four of us switched off between holding down the fort and walking around in the adjacent neighborhood. Having passed a CVS on our way in from the metro station, we knew exactly where to go when we realized that we were going to need some supplies for the day. Jenni and Pierce headed off to get the necessities: magazines, candy, and something to sit on. Apparently CVS was clued into the fact that they had a captive audience who was inevitably going to have forgotten something; beach towels/blankets were set at $15 a piece. But, Pierce and Jenni, being the innovative young minds that they are, obtained a couple shower curtains for the low price of $4. Good work, bargain hunters!
Once back at "camp," we enlisted the help of some Canadians on the neighboring picnic blanket and tacked down our glossy white shower curtains, ensuring that the eventual crowd would not encroach on our spectator space. Camping out for 14 hours before the show provided ample time and abundant victims for our research. The aforementioned Canadians were very friendly and held a surprisingly positive view of America. It seems that I’m always hearing about Canadians who travel overseas and are consistently offended when taken for Americans; I hear that they don’t really like our government or anything else about America. But that’s not what I heard from these Canadians.
Here’s what they had to say:
* Americans are very generous—the most generous nation in the world. The only downside is that they seem to go out of their way to make sure that everyone knows how generous they are.
* Bush wasn’t a bad president: he did good concerning the circumstances he had to work with.
* (Then they talked extensively about how the U.S. and Canada have handled Indian Affairs differently—U.S. conquered them through battle, then gave them reservations. The British made treaties, now Indians are saying, “Look- you broke the treaty,” and reclaiming land. Protests have blocked roads in several cities and police are afraid to do anything because one of them was convicted of manslaughter when things got out of hand during one of these protests.)
As a side note: Sometimes people don’t seem to understand what we’re looking for when we ask, “What does it mean to be an American?” They usually go off on some tangent—like the guy in the Mall of America (Emma and I have affectionately dubbed him “angry man”) who couldn’t find anything positive to say about America except that, “Well, the shopping is better. We have more options.” And then went on to rant about his political views, condemning the American government of failing on numerous levels. Although I don’t think he would have wanted to dwell on anything positive, it sounds like he enjoys his right to free speech.
It’s often what people don’t say that provides interesting insight.
Coming back to the 4th, we spent a great day lounging by the river, just reading, talking, napping, and enjoying each other’s company. I picked up a Reader’s Digest (special July 4th edition) during one of my many excursions to Newberry Street, and spent the entire afternoon reading Ken Burns’ take on the National Parks we just visited and other great articles about America. It was a very educational and somewhat relaxing day for me.
The rest of the group (who had been at the reading of the Declaration of Independence from the balcony of the Old State House—the very balcony where it was first delivered to the freedom fighters) arrived at the river around 6pm and we all got together on the shower curtains to talk about our experiences that day. Neither of our professors were interested in braving the 100,000+ crowd, so it was just the ten of us. Even though I was literally freezing on the windy riverbank it was so much fun as 5 of us huddled under one tiny blanket and the other 5 piled on top of each other to stay warm, all of us singing along to “Sweet Caroline” and watching the fireworks.
In the interest of keeping a blog manageably short and readable, I'm going to stop here. But Boston was so much more than just the 4th of July. I had an amazing experience at the Institute of Contemporary Art and was humbled as I walked through several memorials around the city.
As I was telling Andi this morning, I'm going to be blogging about this trip for the rest of the year, maybe longer. There is so much going on in each place that I know it's going to take a while to process it all!