Before you head out to celebrate the Fourth on Friday, you might want to review these handy Who–What–Where–How questions.
1 The venue – in addition to the sure-to-be fantastic fireworks display, what else is attached to the celebratory proceedings? (A concert, a long parade, a long-winded great-grandmother’s presence?)
2 The people going with you to watch the fireworks – would you go with them if they hadn’t already asked you (before you had the opportunity to ask someone else)?
3 Seating – are there sublime seating comforts available where you’re going? (Regardless how anxious people are to watch the fireworks, the truth is it takes forever for them to begin, which means you’ll be sitting and looking skyward well into the ten o’clock hour.)
4 Weather – remember the last time you were stuck at an outdoor party and the weather was less than spectacular? Even if it was for only fifteen minutes, are you prepared to multiply that disaster by double-digit amounts just to ogle over fireworks?
5 Crowds – have you determined your truthful and realistic threshold for mobs of people milling around you everywhere? (Remember: you’re not eleven anymore.)
6 Transportation – despite the fact the drive to the venue might be fun and loose, have you considered what the way home will look like? (Again, you’re not eleven anymore and looking skyward at ten means you’ll be on the road with everyone else at eleven.)
I wish I’d known about these success gauges twenty-five years ago. But, as a young and stupid person at the time, even if I’d been asked, I was too naive to answer the questions and have any idea what I was talking about. As a result, here’s what July Fourth, 1989, looked like.
1 – Venue: We went to the Mall in Washington, DC, to hear – from a half mile away – the aging Beach Boys gag over their outdated hits, Americana tunes, and canned, patriotic dialogue.
2 – People going with me: I went with every family member and relative living within the tri-state area.
3 – Seating: I learned firsthand that blankets, however large, soft and plush, do not qualify as back support. “The fireworks are only four hours away now.” Ow.
4 – Weather: “In the open air of the Mall, there’ll be a breeze. It’s gonna be awesome.” In the open air of the Mall there is, and always will be, heat, humidity, still air and active, ravenous bugs.” It was no different when George Washington boated through the swampy Mall area in 1776.
5 – Crowds: The Mall scene was worse than the Battle of Gettysburg, and the million tourists toted enough food and beverage to supply an entire army with three months of rations (although most troops wouldn’t have lived long on Skittles, popcorn and bite-size wiener dogs).
6 – Transportation: Sure, the fireworks on the Mall were the best in the nation, but nothing justified the irritation of standing flesh to flesh with hundreds of sweaty, inebriated, fellow patriots on Metro trains going home later. The stampede to the train station rivaled the Antietam battlefield surge.
One day in the far-off future, when all households come standard with 62-inch inlaid flat screen TVs, perhaps everyone will stay home and watch the televised Mall fireworks display from their couch in privacy.
Eh, come to think of it, that’s no good either.
I say go out there and celebrate! (So long as I can drive with my folding chair strapped to the hood, ready for service.)