Although almost everyone I know left DC for the long weekend, I decided to stay and celebrate the Fourth in its full, touristy, bandanna-waving glory. One of my fellow interns – who is French, and whom I made promise to celebrate Bastille Day (“le quatorze juillet”) with me if we did all the cheesy Fourth of July stuff she was so excited about – wanted to head over early to the Archives to watch a “dramatic reading” of the Declaration of Independence, presumably by men in powdered wigs, which would have been glorious if we hadn’t both overslept.
Instead, we decided to meet around where we work, which is in the thick of all the important Independence Day sites – the Washington Monument, the Lincoln Memorial, the White House, etc. – to watch the massive parade which takes place each year. While I usually walk the mile and a half to work, I decided to Metro it on this particular day. Apparently every single family with small children had the same idea – I had to wedge myself onto the train between a pair of strollers whose unpleasant inhabitants, wearing star-spangled onesies, glared hard at me. No one was holding the handrails, as there was literally nowhere to move if the train were to make a sudden stop.
Fifteen minutes and several whiffs of indiscriminately sprayed cologne later, I arrived at Federal Triangle gasping for breath. A red, white and blue crowd had formed by the Department of Commerce on Constitution Ave., along which the parade was set to go. Although the Weather Channel had predicted torrential rain for the weekend, the sun was defiantly and relentlessly beating down, and we’d arrived too late to score a place in the shade. Luckily the parade originated close to where we were standing, so we didn’t have to wait too long before the military bands marched past, followed closely by a handful of Daughters of the American Revolution, various high school bands, Underdog, unicyclists in Jazz Age outfits, George Washington and Miss America – a motley crew.
As the heat intensified, a woman on the front steps fainted, and after offering her our water bottles (don’t worry, she was OK), we decided it was definitely time to go. After recuperating with lunch and some coffee, we wandered around downtown, stopping by the Sculpture Garden to dip our feet in the pool (it’s probably the only publicly-owned fountain in DC where that’s acceptable). Not wanting to miss out on the rest of the festivities, however, we soon left to take a gander at the Smithsonian Folklife Festival at the Mall, where the most gung-ho of the Fourth of July crowd congregate hours before the fireworks are scheduled to begin, bringing a cooler’s worth of soda and enough PB&J to pass the time.
The Folklife Festival, which is replete with food and free entertainment, picks three themes each year – this year’s were the extremely random combo of Bhutan, NASA, and Texas (!). On the other end of the Mall were a variety of religious booths – we were offered lemonade by the Hare Krishnas and salvation by the Mennonites. The sight of gray and white-clad hymn singers and sari-clad dancers in peaceful coexistence was probably the most patriotic thing I witnessed all day.
After the Folklife Festival, we headed to Trader Joe’s (heaven on earth – it’s a grocery store but so much more) for some tasty picnic food – fizzy lemonade, cheese and crackers, Nutella, and an assortment of cookies. We had grand plans to head over to the Lincoln Memorial early and picnic by the beautiful Reflecting Pool before the fireworks began, but sadly this is when the predicted rain finally began to fall.
We camped out at my apartment grumpily watching reruns while a friend tried to find out if the fireworks were still on (we’d heard that they would postpone them to Saturday in the event of serious rain, which would have been completely wrong -everyone knows that the fireworks are the ne plus ultra of the DC Independence Day celebration). After a few vain calls to the DC fireworks department (I found it on Google) we heard through a friend of a friend that the fireworks were, indeed, still on. We determinedly brought our picnic to the Lincoln Memorial, where I was chastised for bringing butter knives, which are apparently a security threat. After promising the security guard I’d exercise caution with my condiments, we were admitted inside.
And although the grass was still sopping wet, making the picnic somewhat problematic, the fireworks were tremendously magnificent. After watching the last trails of steam subside following the glittery, multicolored finale, we sat on our now-damp blanket in front of the majestic, pillared Lincoln Memorial quietly contemplating how good it felt to be in the nation’s capital on the Fourth of July.