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Is it possible to do a Bataan Death March while standing still?

I'm not a fireworks guy. People "oohing-and-awwing" over them always seemed a bit ... dim. It was Sam's idea to go, we were on our own this year and I didn't have a creative alternative.

We started from the Lowes Boston Theatre. After "The Incredible Hulk", we walked through Boston Common, then up Boylston Street. We stopped along the way for a meal and to check out the new Apple store (he's a killer on Lego Star Wars), walked down Massachusetts Avenue to the MIT bridge. Combined walk was just under 2 miles. If you count multiple trips up 3 flights of the Apple Store, the total walk was closer to 7 miles.

photo: Sam at restaurant

We got there near 8:30 PM, just in time for 10:30 PM fireworks. The city closes off the bridge to cars, creating a large open space with a great view of the fireworks. It was about 1/3 full of standing pedestrians when we got there. By 9:00 PM it was shoulder-to-shoulder.

When I lived in Cambridge 15 years ago, that's all the city did. This year they put loudspeakers along the bridge, broadcasting the show from the Hatch Shell.

We’re On a Road to Nowhere

For some strange reason, there was a country music vibe to this year's show. Not classic country, but the watered-down, simple-minded corporate stuff that chased Johnny Cash to his grave. Toby Keith's "An American Soldier" is a perfect example. Instead of inspiring patriotic pride, the song only reminded me of David Cross' response to Lee Greenwood's God Bless the U.S.A.: "Okay, asshole. Here's a gun, there's a plane. Get moving."

photo: Johnny Cash - Hurt video

There were other classic moments, such as Jack Williams reading "Casey at the Bat", sounding even more robotic than he does at his day job. Various talking heads trying to "rev-up the crowd" getting no response. The overall feeling -- at least on the bridge -- was that the broadcasters spent way too much time amusing each other with no connection to the audience. This is what happens when focus groups are allowed to run wild.

(The 2-hour standing part might be a major source of my negativity. People with lawn chairs and the lucky ones partying in boats on the Charles River below us didn't seem to be that angry.)

I was ready to bolt at any moment, and Sam was getting dopey from lack of sleep. You gotta hand it to the rotten kid; he held onto the dream. He was going to stay if it killed him. If only he'd show the same drive in cleaning his room and three-point perspective.

During the 2-hour stand-off, I chatted with another middle-aged father from Philadelphia. He and his daughter were heading home from up north, but the horrible traffic made them stop in Boston. The most positive thing they said was that it beat being stuck on 93 for hours. He'll never do a Boston 4th again.

We thought the real show was going to start when they played the 1812. This was only a tease, meant to set us up for more lame comedy bits and failed local-celebrity crowd control.

So we all just stood there, like on some Twilight Zone version of Ellis Island, waiting for the windbags to run out oxygen.

Burning Up The Charts

Digable Planets - Blowout Comb

The literal fireworks were spectacular. The new shapes, textures, combinations, colors and progressions made me a convert, shoving my negative memories of fireworks into the same brain storage compartment that holds rotary-dial telephones, 8-track tapes and Digable Planets. In a completely different context, Sam was even more amazed.

Yet even in this space, we weren't free from our power-drunk host. (Dean Martin was a funny drunken host. Joe Hazelwood wasn't.) While everyone else plays the 1812, someone decided the most awesome fireworks display the world's ever seen needed a soundtrack of corporate-country radio songs.

At this point, after being on my feet for two hours, I was holding a 50-pound kid on my neck, watching terrific fireworks get ruined by a shitty iPod. Thankfully the bombs bursting in air eventually drowned out the nonsense.

I’m on a Road Shaped Like a Figure 8; I’m Going Nowhere But I’m Guaranteed to be Late

photo: walking back to Cambridge from MIT bridge

After the show, the Cambridge-bound crowd walked down Massachusetts Avenue, flooding the bars and roof top parties. Massachusetts Avenue was closed off all the way to Vassar Street, allowing pedestrians to take the street's entire width. I can't tell of my good feelings were from:

  • being allowed to walk down the middle of a busy street
  • seeing how happy Sam was
  • finally getting that broadcast out of my head

The crowd was well-behaved and no one was in a rush. Sam was dead tired by now, but the 83 bus we needed was still a mile away, down Massachusetts Avenue in Central Square. He never complained or whined. We had to do some last-minute running, but made our bus just in time. Poor kid finally got to bed at midnight.

Goodnight, Cow Jumping Over the Moon

photo: Sam sleeping

I wasn't up too much later. In fact, I might've done something unusual and passed out on the couch. As the darkness pushed the pain in my legs, neck and soul away, two thoughts came to mind on my express train to oblivion:

As a unique display of arrogance and incompetence, this was the best Fourth of July show I've ever seen. (Beating out Salem MA in 1996, when the fireworks were thoughtfully shot behind tall buildings). The other thought?

How will they ruin it next year?


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Comments So Far ...

Anonymous Jesse N says:

Hi David,

Very nice story there, with good pictures, too!

The 4th can be both a community and a solitary experience at the same time. Your description resonates with me in just that way.

Thanks for sharing!

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Anonymous Alan W says:

Well done, Dave

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Anonymous Andrew P says:

Good blog! I camped with 5 friends in Pittsburg NH near the Canadian border, good fireworks show there too and not as crowded. Our campsite neighbors were firing off their own stashes of fireworks well through midnight, and across the lake I heard what was probably rapid fire rockets but sounded like an automatic rifle, being fired. If I had one and lived up there I'd probably shoot it off on the 4th too.

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Anonymous Danita says:

Oh, what a night! Sounds like, despite the talking heads, you had a good time! Having Sam there made it that much more special!

Great job on the blog, Dave. Just the right combo of edgy sock it to 'em commentary and cloaked inspiration.

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Blogger Susie says:

I love all of your pictures.

As much bonding as you did with Sam, he's gonna hate you for posting that picture when he's 15. Be sure to pull it out when he's dating. ;-)

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Anonymous Bonnie B says:

With any luck, enough people will read it and revolt so this kind of tom foolery doesn't happen again next year - we can only hope huh? Now I'm definitely not in any hurry to be able to say, "yeah I've been to the Boston fireworks."

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Anonymous Caren says:

Great pictures, your son is so beautiful and lucky to have a dad documenting the events of the fourth. Jaded they may be, but the beauty of the evening has been captured in honesty. I enjoyed reading a bit into the life of a loving father and son holiday. Thanks for sharing it.

I've never been a fan of fireworks myself. Although I remember the school roof catching fire a few years ago the firemen had to go up and douse it with water. FUNNY!

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Anonymous Zoe says:

Hi, good stuff.

I actually have a vague memory of going to the fireworks at in Boston with you back in 1985 or something. i hated it. it was crowded and I was feeling cantankerous. Crowds of partriotic Americans always have that affect on me. But you were good natured and did not seem to mind at all. it seems you have gotten rather crotchety in your old age.

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Blogger Dave M! says:

to Zoe: Now that you mention it, I kind remember that year too. Thanks for this excellent example of my emotional distance and self-centeredness -- no wonder you split for the West Coast! Luckily for all, I've evolved over the years into a much more connected human being.

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Anonymous Christoph H. says:

Great post Dave. Regards from Miami. Btw, my oldest son, Stefan, is a fanatic of Lego Star Wars as well.

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