A Capital Fourth

On July 6, 2009 · 2 Comments

A rare opportunity dropped into my lap a few days before the July 4 Independence Day celebrations.



My family and I received an invitation to view the fireworks on the National Mall in Washington, DC. The vantage was a rooftop balcony only two blocks away from the action. A lifetime can pass without an offer such as this so I snapped it up immediately. Imagine the symbolic significance of being in a capital city as its nation celebrates independence and freedom with a rousing spectacle of light and sound.

Now, truth be told, I’ve attended this event before. However I’ve always watched from the grounds of the Iwo Jima Memorial or the Netherlands Carillon along the Arlington Ridge in Virginia. This is a nice elevation but it’s also about two miles away from the rockets’ red glare and the bombs bursting in air. This distance reduces much of the visual impact and it’s far enough away that the flash arrives noticeably before the boom.


High Atop a Washington DC Rooftop

I could never seem to rationalize going to the foot of the Washington Monument hours in advance to claim a prime spot, sitting out in the hot sun all day so I wouldn’t lose it, and sharing my personal space with several hundred thousand of my closest friends. Maybe that’s a sign of age. I dunno. I wasn’t all that tempted even when I was younger.

As with just about everything else I’ve discuss on the Twelve Mile Circle, there is also an underlying geographical dimension. A physical barrier, the Potomac River, stands between the fine people of the Commonwealth of Virginia and the grand firework show in the District of Columbia. The problem isn’t getting across the river so much as trying to return after the show as thousands of revelers hit the bridges and subway stations simultaneously. So for a variety of reasons I’d always been content to be on the "right" side of the river to avoid the mayhem, on the increasingly rare occasions I even made an effort to watch.

Now most of those excuses fell by the wayside. I could arrive whenever I pleased, evade the crowds, find ample space on a large balcony, and get the best seats in the house directly in front of the firework staging area. I could go inside the building if the weather turned nasty. I could even avoid those nasty porta-potties. Sure, I’d still have to fight the crowds after the show but I could withstand any of that with every other inconvenience and lame excuse removed.


The Washington Monument as Nighttime Approaches

The monuments began to glow as dusk approached, illuminated by floodlights along their base. Flashing and twinkling sprinkled the amassed crowd far below, from cameras and mobile phones recording the scene.


Fireworks on the National Mall

Tiny colored bursts appeared along the far southwestern horizon as distant towns in Maryland began their local celebrations. Suddenly rockets thundered to the sky without warning, their explosive force throwing sparks in concentric directions, accompanied by concussions of sound and vibration for the next twenty minutes.

It was an incredible show. I wish I could do it again.

On July 6, 2009 · 2 Comments

2 Responses to “A Capital Fourth”

  1. Joshua says:

    That’s wonderful that you were able to get such a opportunity as you did! I wouldn’t bother being around the crowds and uncomfortableness of the 4th of July fireworks or New Year’s celebrations here in New York City. Most time I just watch them on the TV.

    This year I had an opportunity to see multiple fireworks displays from an interesting vantage point. Friends of ours are active sailors out of City Island (just off the coast of mainland Bronx) and invited us onto their sailboat for a trip into Long Island Sound. We could see the fireworks displays in the west in lower Westchester County as well as the northern coast of Nassai County (Long Island). Additionally we could see in the distance the grand scale New York City fireworks on six barges in the Hudson River. Definitely a 4th of July to remember like yours!

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