Fire in the Whole

Independence Day 2008

Fourth of July. For the past umpty-ump years (three) I’ve been a regular at Curly’s Fourth of July Rooftop Party™ for the fireworks, the better to gaze above the madding crowds and take pictures with the camera in one hand and a bottle of Rogue Dead Guy Ale in the other.

Alas, Curly moved last week, and the new place doesn’t have a roof — an oversight in the planning, to be sure, and it’s just a good thing she doesn’t live on the top floor. It’s out into the streets with the rest of the Citizenry if I want to see the fireworks this time around. Or I could stay home and gruntle about it, which in summertime NYC is always an option.

I love fireworks more than I hate crowds, as it happens. So I rough out a Game Plan. I’ll get there, I think, at 7:30 for a 9:20 F.O.T. (Fireworks Onset Time). I’ll bring, lessee. Water, of course. Camera, tripod, hat, umbrella. That foldy chair I bought from the Target in a fit on inspired industriousness and never took out of its carrying bag can make its debut at last. The current book is almost done, I can finish it off while I wait. Anything else? Field radio, GPS, decoder ring? Nah, it’s just a few blocks away.

The sky thunders over, the sky grays apart, the wind threatens and cajoles. At half past five I set out for the corner Barnes & Noble café, which is where I love lately to watch thunderstorms rage past. There’s no real threat of rain, though, despite ominous reports from NPR, and on a whim I swing up toward the Promenade to see how the crowd mechanics are developing.

Crowds, crowds. They just don’t fit where you put them. There’s a little river of people brawling down to the Promenade, and it’s clear that I can go get a spot now or stand in the back later. So much for the chair; at least I’ve got the camera gear with me. I dash back to Starbucks to hydrate and caffeinate, and settle in for the duration. It’s 6:15, or F.O.T. minus 185 long long minutes.

Mike from Bay Ridge turns out to be a classic New York waiting buddy — true blue, dyed in the wool, Old Skool. He knows how it’s done. I ease into place between his spot and the couple next to him (foldy chairs! dammit!), nonchalant, as if I’m not really staying. We ignore each other for 15 minutes or so, politely and casually casing each other for weapons and dangerous-looking combat scars. Eventually I slide forward, he makes room, and we nod. Fifteen minutes later he shuffles his paper, checks his phone, glances up at the indecisive clouds, and wonders aloud if it’s going to rain, which is the first optional gambit to start talking. I take him up on it, and by the time the fireworks start we’ve shared gum and established that we’re both straight, neither rich, and both a little “whatever” about The Waterfalls.

Best of all? At the end of the night, after we’ve talked and sat and looked around and been rained on — and after someone has been poking someone else with his umbrella all during the show, sorry about that — we turn to each other, both knowing what’s coming, with ready grins.

Me: So anyway, I’m Linus.
Mike: I’m Mike. Good to meet you.
Me: See you next year.
Mike: So long.

That’s how we do it in New York.

See a few more shots of the Macy’s 4th of July fireworks in my Flickr set.

About Linus

The man behind the curtain. But couldn't we get a nicer curtain?
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