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.
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 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.
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.