Just like Times Square on New Years’ Eve, many people believe that Washington, DC is THE place to be on the Fourth of July. As television programming through the ages shows us, that long stretch of land between the lawn of the U.S. Capitol and the Washington Monument, otherwise referred to as the National Mall, is the place you go to truly experience the essence of this great country on the day of our nation’s birth. Right?
Wrong, wrong, wrong.
As a Washingtonian for the past 14 years now, I can emphatically vouch for the overrated-ness of the “Capitol Fourth” fireworks-watching experience. Why? I’ve done it, and simply put: folks, it ain’t all that.
As a service to you, Dear Reader, I’ll give you the day in a nutshell:
7:00 am – Wake up early to pack up sunscreen, blankets, hats, lawn chair, etc. Walk to Metro. (Driving a car down to the Mall on Independence Day is equivalent to slowly but firmly jamming toothpicks into your eye sockets.)
7:24 am – Arrive at Metro station. Make jokes with friends and try not to think about 90 degree heat.
7:25 am – Wait on Metro platform with approximately 1,500 people thinking the exact same thing: Primo Seating on the Capitol Lawn!
7:30 am – Metro arrives; crowbar yourself into the car with the crowd, calculating who to press against by a quick estimate of which of your fellow passengers looks the least body odor-y.
7:50 am – Arrive at Capitol South Metro station. Depart Metro car like cattle, sandwiched between hapless revelers, moving approximately an inch every five minutes. Be thankful you brought a book.
8:30 am – Depart Metro station (yes, it really does take that long when you combine frantic locals with – forgive me – clueless tourists).
8:35 am – Wait in a security checkpoint line longer than the one at Michael Jackson’s funeral. Borrrrrrring. And hot. Now 95 degrees.
9:00 am – Make it through security checkpoint with minimal embarrassment. (Trust me, these guards have seen it all, so no need to worry about that covert tampon.)
9:01 am – Ah! Enjoy the sight of the United States Capitol, gleaming majestically before you. This is why you live here! This is what it’s all about!
9:02 – 9:45 am – Trudge across the Capitol Lawn, stepping gingerly around blankets and lawn chairs, avoiding the dirty looks given by people you’re bypassing to get closer to the action, trying not to trip and flatten small children. Temperature now 100 degrees.
9:45 am – Agree on a final destination. Proceed to unload your hundreds of pieces of gear and get yourself situated. (The irony of this: You’re taking great pains to organize everything perfectly, for what? SITTING ON YOUR POSTERIOR FOR THE NEXT 12 HOURS.)
10:00 to 11:00 am – Sit, look around, chat with your friends, people watch.
11:01 am – Water break.
11:03 to approximately 8:00 pm – With each person in your group, take turns departing from your “station” on the lawn for drink breaks, which consist of walking two blocks to the local dive bar, downing a beer before turning around and braving the crowds, security checkpoints, and Port-o-Potty lines to get back to your island of friends. Each trip gets increasingly more difficult and exhausting as the afternoon wears on and bathroom breaks become more frequent. “Lunch” consists of a handful of Cheeto-s, a plate of nachos you split with your friends, and a Snickers.
8:00 pm – Hunker down on your blanket, which by this time has been soiled with mud, beer (despite alcoholic beverages being disallowed), cigarette butts, and an unknown substance resembling a combination of tomato sauce and bubble gum.
8:05 pm – Realize you have to go to the bathroom, again.
8:06 to 8:54 pm – Internally debate the pro’s and con’s of making a “quick” trek to the nearest Port-O-Potty.
8:55 pm – Decide against it and hope for the best.
9:00 – Fireworks start! The orchestra plays! Beautiful! Gorgeous! Isn’t it great to be an American?
9:20 – Fireworks end. Race to Port-o-Potty. Promise to meet up with friends.
9:45 – Depart Port-o-Potty. Misplace friends. Find that cell phone calls are futile. Let the crush of the crowd carry you down the street to the Metro, which is packed fuller than Kate Hudson’s bra post-surgery, and resign yourself to your fate.
12:00 am – Arrive at home exhausted, slightly drunk, and stinky.
12:05 am – Fall asleep in the shower.
So there you have it! I bring the experience to you here, and you save a day of your life and sanity as a result. And keep in mind that the aforementioned excursion takes part SANS kids, as the last time I attempted it was at least 10 years ago. (Note to parents considering otherwise: Do yourselves a favor and opt for Disneyworld instead. I’d take those crowds any day over the mass of sweaty humanity that foists itself upon the nation’s capital on the Fourth.)
So what will I be doing for the fireworks this year, instead of Mall Madness? We’ll do like we’ve done every year since K. was born: stroll down the street to Marymount University, where we can sit on a little hill and enjoy a free fireworks show courtesy of the neighboring country club. (The college gets all into it, handing out little 3-D glasses to the kiddos.) Then we’ll walk back to our house and probably shoot off some more. (My husband is a little obsessed with fireworks.) Uber-boring? Pretty much, but hey, that’s who I am these days. Call it parenthood, call it growing up. I prefer my chaos contained to the comforts of my own home, and I wouldn’t have it any other way.
Happy Fourth of July, everyone!