Growing up in the South (yes there are parts of Florida considered the ‘South’), July 4th was always kind of a big deal. I mean, I’m from the so-called ‘Redneck Riviera’ and if anyone knows how to celebrate America’s birthday, it’s the truck-driving, jean short wearing, Natural Light drinking, USA in your chest shaving kind of people.
It’s one of the only times of the year I ever get truly homesick and it pains me to miss my mom and dad’s annual Independence Day bash that pulls in over 200 party revelers. It’s so seriously epic that even after my parents’ divorce 2 years ago – they still come together every year to host it.
Much like my parents’ party, we had such grand ambitions for the 4th – lobster rolls for dinner (never happened), drinks at my apartment (happened a little too well), party on our rooftop to watch the annual Macy’s fireworks display (kinda/sorta happened), and then on to hit up all the historic American bars in the Financial District where our founding fathers enjoyed a pint or two(haha not even close to happening).
Yep, the perfect plan making for the perfect first blog post. Of course only one thing is a given in a perfect plan – plenty of unperfect plot holes.
A Yankee Doodle Stroll
The day started off well enough.
Being one of those annoyingly perky morning people before ever having a sip of coffee, I decided to rise early and go for a walk to watch downtown New York City wake up.
As most NYCers had left to go out to the Hamptons, the Rockaways, or further afield New England and the tourists were just now starting to get up for breakfast at their hotel, the Financial District was my empty playground.
I strolled over to the South Street Seaport where all I could spot were a few workers setting up for the big 4th of July ‘Pier Party’. Barricades were being put up, news reporters with unusually large hair were setting up their equipment, the NYPD were showing up in full force, and taxis were starting to line up as if they were outside Madison Square Garden after a Knicks’ game.
My walk took me further up Fulton Street towards the World Trade Center – the same route I take 5 days a week to get to work. Those days I move at a brisk pace weaving in and out of foot traffic as if I were Mario and both Luigi and Donkey Kong are up ahead leaving a trail of bananas for me to circumvent.
But on this quiet morning, there was no one to avoid or throw turtle shells at so I was able to leisurely amble along and take in my surroundings. In the spirit of Independence Day, I approached St. Paul’s Chapel with the World Trade Center looming in the background and took advantage of this opportunity to reflect on what was in front of me.
St Paul’s Chapel was completed in 1766 and is the oldest surviving church building in all of Manhattan. Not only did it endure the Great New York City Fire of 1776, but it stood strong without so much as a broken window throughout the September 11, 2001 terrorist attack. It remained a symbol of hope through this heartbreaking chapter of American history.
America, and New York City in particular, bonded together in this time of tragedy and our nation’s determination and hope can be seen this 4th of July morning in the yet unopened One World Trade Center and in the constant buzz of construction currently involved in the redevelopment of the area.
When I first moved to NYC, One World Trade Center was only about 3 stories high. Now the tower stands at a symbolic 1,776 feet tall and the National September 11th Memorial and Museum is open for visitors.
It was impossible not to feel a surge of national pride as I made my way back to meet up with a couple of guy friends.
The streets were really starting to come alive as the afternoon wore on. There were several block parties taking place on all the little side streets in my neighborhood. The Iron Horse Bar in particular was having a good time so we stopped by for a while – though the guys were too full from Taco Bell (yes you read that correctly. Persistent little devils insisted on trying the new Quesarito) to enjoy the spectacular pig roast.
The Wristband Conundrum
This year, Macy’s switched their firework show over to the East Side which meant I could finally give up my years’ long search for a new best friend with a West Side high-rise apartment.
The show was now in my own backyard which can clearly only mean one thing – Kick-ass Rooftop Party.
But just like the first ant at the proverbial 4th of July picnic, Building Management decided to put a damper on the fun and ban anyone who wasn’t a resident from the rooftop. This form of crowd control resulted in all tenants lining up downstairs to sign-in with the doorman to get wristbands (Insert college frat party flashback here).
This left my friends and me with 1 of 2 options – say screw the rooftop and battle the crowds at the Seaport or put all those early years learning summer camp crafts to use. One trip to Party City later and my friends came out sporting newly fashioned wristbands of red duct tape (Seriously – How has duct tape not become its own superhero yet? IT CAN DO ANYTHING).
My roommate and I went up to the roof to further scout out the situation. To our consternation, not only were they checking for wristbands, but they were also asking for our Resident IDs (Seriously?!)
Luckily we weren’t angels in college and living in a sorority house gave us plenty of experience in thw whole ‘sneaking in boys’ arena. Lesson #1 – there’s always a back door. Sure enough, there sat the security guard guarding the back stairwell. And what was he doing? Reading a book.
One text later, the boys came bursting through that door, arms laden with champagne. The security guard barely gave them a glance.
The Macy’s Fireworks Spectacular
Finally, we were ready to relax and watch one of the world’s greatest firework displays.
That’s when it happened.
We heard the boom. We heard the bang. We heard the cheers below. We. Couldn’t. See. A. Thing.
Wait, what? After overcoming all those obstacles, we can’t even see the fireworks?
“Over there. The other side,” someone shouted. Was it a bird? A plane? Superman? No – it was brightly colored fire creeping over the edge a building.
Like the Great Wildebeest Migration, the crowd surged in one fluid motion toward the southeastern corner of the roof – the only place the fireworks were slightly visible – and right where 2 large office buildings blocked the view of the river.
Little did we know at the time but due to shifting wind patterns, the barges charged with dispatching the fireworks were forced to move soutward.
I braved the herd and charged in, managing to squeeze myself into a spot between the 2 office buildings where I had a much better view. And boy, were they spectacular.
Unfortunately, my friends weren’t able to sneak through and after 5 minutes of watching the show alone, I realized it wasn’t worth it without my friends to share it with. Holidays are all about spending time with family and friends. And well, this is my NYC family and I wanted nothing more than to be with them (corny I know, but blame the sentiment on the booze).
I rejoined them at our original spot where we started drinking the bubbly straight from the bottle. We hung out and laughed and laughed until well after the fireworks were over. There was nowhere else I wanted to be.
And hey, it wasn’t a total bust, did I forget to mention we still had a view of the Brooklyn Bridge fireworks?
How did you spend your 4th of July? I’d love to hear from you!
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Taking on the classic “round-the-world” route, the next Travel Dispatch journey kicks off Nov 15 as I travel east to west, looping the globe over a period of 12 months with $25,000. Now’s your chance to get in on it from the very beginning!