Check out Part 1 of Becky Graebner’s ongoing series on the culture and lifestyle of our nation’s capital:
Also check out Becky’s D.C. driving tips:
The 4th of July was always a big to-do in my small hometown. After the brats, sparklers, and fireworks, I usually returned home with grass stains all over my clothes and a rash—usually from doing log-rolls down hills and into poison ivy. I was young. It was worth it.
What I miss most about my childhood memories from 4th of July is the simplicity and peace. Yes, firecrackers went off at inopportune times and some grills may have started small fires, but, overall, the holiday was simple and family-oriented.
Before the fireworks, my family would trek a few blocks to our town park. It was like a migration you would see in a computer version of the Oregon trail —minus the typhoid, gunshot wounds, and dead oxen…Do you want to rub salt in that wound? Press A. On this journey, our family would run into girls from my brownie troop, my elementary school teachers, and maybe a well-timed ice cream truck. The lightning bugs would start to come out and I would run through the school soccer fields trying to catch them. Simple. Wholesome.
This year was my third 4th of July in Washington, D.C. Although the fireworks are pretty good, the holiday here is anything but simple or peaceful.
The city descends into another ring of circus-like craziness and the tourists flock here like zombies to the last living, human host. The grocery stores are short in supply of kool-aid, hot dogs, paper plates and alcohol tolerance.
I didn’t get out of bed until mid-afternoon on this year’s Independence Day because I knew the outside world would be a sweating puddle of red, white, and blue glitter and fading balloon animals. There are three flavors of people in Washington, D.C. on the 4th of July and I encountered all of them on my six-block walk to the fireworks. These people make me shake my head at humanity, but also laugh. America, you’re awesome.
1. Dude, you can TOTALLY lift me for a keg stand!
On my way to the fireworks, I came across one of the biggest cliches of college fraternities: the “Amurica” beer-pong tournament. Cue the first 9 seconds from the Team America theme song. As I neared the overly-patriotic house, I saw a group of gentlemen in their late-20s in flag-emblazoned tank tops and swim trunks. They were several beers deep, stumbling around their yard, tripping over lawn chairs. One bloke did a semi-face plant while another looked like he was about to hurl. They composed themselves and started a raucous rendition of “We Are the Champions” by Queen. Freddie Mercury probably would have picked up one of the garden pavers and knocked himself out. The yard was a mess. THEY were a mess. It was only 5:45pm. Bravo.
As I continued on, I could hear more parties starting up—boom boxes being moved outside—and loud cheers when teams sunk their ping-pong balls. Someone started talking about keg stands…I got out of there.
2. Irv, the Washington Mall is THIS way!
Like I said earlier, tourists flock to D.C. during the 4th of July like hungry zombies. They are everywhere. Union Station is packed with families and tourist groups trying to board double-decker buses so that they can ride past the monuments instead of walk. While I am not a fan of their groups, that move like a giant human mass through the streets, their same-color t-shirts are a great heads up that I am entering a hoard of cluelessness and constant picture-takers. These poor people wander the streets sunburned, ornery, and, usually, lost.
After I passed the frat party, I encountered a car full of tourists. They were from a Midwestern state that starts with “O” and were obviously lost. They were openly arguing about the location of the fireworks and the direction of the Washington Monument. If you can’t spot a 555-foot obelisk, I’m not sure we have sufficiently schooled eye-doctors in this country. I couldn’t help but laugh to myself as their angry sentiments escaped from the open car windows; “It’s by that other tall building! We are SO lost, Maureen! You stop that or I will TURN this car AROUND!”
Good thing for them they were three hours early for the fireworks. They eventually turned around and limped along to a parking spot. Watching them parallel park their town car was also a real experience. The two adjacent compacts barely made it out alive. I could still hear them arguing a few block away… “MAUREEN!”
I shuffled through a few more straggling tourist families (definitely from Nebraska or Kansas) and another that actually announced themselves to the outside world by writing it on their shirts: “Johnson Family D.C. Trip 2013, A Trek from Texas to The Capital.” Thanks, guys.
3. D.C. natives busting moves.
I finally reached my destination (the “work party”) and took my spot along the rooftop railing to chat and mingle. Remember my last piece on getting a drink in a D.C. bar? Ok, the conversation wasn’t quite that bad, but I did end up talking about Red vs. Blue to a lobbyist. Also, everyone was wearing what I described in the last post. The roof was a sea of plaid shirts, salmon shorts, and boat shoes. The women looked ready for a Cape Cod runway show.
Usually at work parties, you try to be on your best behavior — you never know who is watching. Not this holiday it seems…
The atmosphere started out as any D.C. event would: reserved, professional, political—but it soon made a quick turn for the “awesome-er.”
I encountered a very intoxicated man with a “Don’t Tread on Me” flag. He enthusiastically waved it above his head throughout the fireworks display—much to the dismay of children and vertically challenged adults. I couldn’t stop laughing at him—such patriotism.
The Vineyard Vine-wearing, spiked “sweet tea” drinking people around me broke into the Cupid Shuffle around 9:45 pm. It was an awe-inspiring spectacle—really. Those who work in D.C. tend to party hard, but I never expected them to throw all caution and inhibition to the wind—in public. In D.C. you have to be the perfect model of decorum and professionalism—rumors spread quickly.
There were woops of “get it!” and “break it down.” The traditionally hard, no-funny business D.C. facade melted away into sheer happiness. The super-serious policy workers were getting down on the rooftop and didn’t care who saw them. This was the atmosphere I was hoping for: fun, humble, and wholesome. I’m sure that family from Texas would have blended right in. Crazy frat-parties and annoying tourists aside, I felt like I was at home. It was a great Fourth of July.
To all Americans:
Washington, D.C. is a great city and it has a pretty awesome fireworks display on Independence Day. I would say go see it, but then I would be supporting D.C.’s “tourist problem.” (I’m just kidding.) On a more serious note, we are lucky to be citizens of such an amazing country and we should never take it for granted. A special thank you to our troops and God Bless America.