Saturday, July 6, 2013

The Lamest Place in the Entire Universe to Spend the 4th of July

 

Where is the best spot in NYC to watch the Macy's Fireworks?
New Jersey.

What is the most fun thing to do in NYC on the 4th of July?
Leave.

Maybe I'm spoiled, having been born in our nation's capital and growing up in a farming town a couple hours west. Independence Day was reliably fun.  Typically, my family would attend a potluck barbeque at the local park, then wander across the street to the county fairgrounds to watch the fireworks.  They were loud, they were in your face, they were pretty spectacular.  One year, we drove into DC to visit my aunt for the 4th.  We stuffed our faces with tabouli and hung out with her friends and neighbors.  The crowd was at least 50% international, which gave a fun sort of extra meaning to the day.  In the evening, a few of us climbed the hill by the Kennedy Center for a great view of the fireworks on the Mall.  DC gets stupidly crowded for Independence Day, but they do know how to throw a party, and in true DC fashion, everything is free.

New York City has an odd relationship with the 4th.  Back to the dawning days of our country, New York City spent pretty much all of the Revolutionary War as British HQ.  The city was the capital of our nation for about a nanosecond before Washington DC was appropriately de-swampified.  New Yorkers then proceeded to try to forget all that.  NYC has never been running for recognition as America's #1 city - it's too busy challenging the rest of the world for the title.

Other cities have patriotic concerts or parades. There are no free events in New York on the 4th. Plus, fireworks are outlawed in the city.  Even measly little sparklers aren't allowed.  That's not to say people follow these laws, but setting off some backyard-grade fireworks is technically illegal.  That's not a problem, you say.  Macy's will provide!

In 2008, Macy's moved their fireworks extravaganza from the East River to the Hudson.  It was in celebration of the 400th anniversary of Henry Hudson discovering the river, a nice gesture.  The problem is, Macy's never bothered to move them back.  Previously, the fireworks were set off at the mouth of the East River.  From that spot, people in four of the five boroughs were able to watch them live.  (Sorry, Bronx.)  Currently, a view of the fireworks is available from three spots:

1) West Side Highway.  People line up for hours to cram into the cross-streets between 24th and 42nd street.  More and more of the waterfront is snatched up by private parties each year, leaving crowds behind police barricades. 

2) Rooftop Parties.  If you are lucky enough to know someone who lives in a building with a view of the Hudson, you're set.  If not, you can pay $100+ per ticket to a wide range of rooftop parties.  The only American value we're celebrating today is capitalism, folks.

3) Jersey.  It's not as if they don't have their own - from our perch on the Brooklyn Heights Promenade, I could count a half dozen fireworks displays in metro-area Jersey.  But for whatever reason, Macy's felt they needed ours as well. 

 

Though we knew all this before heading down to the Brooklyn Heights Promenade, we held out hope.  Maybe we'd be able to see a few sparks, some rockets gone astray, a half-hidden view?  We waited, along with several hundred other people, for dark to fall.  Locals impatiently checked their iPhones to see how much longer we'd have to wait. Lis's out-of-town guests enjoyed the great view of Manhattan, the Empire State Building appropriately bedecked in red, white, and blue.

And then we realized.  The fireworks were already happening.  Directly behind the Verizon building, the ugliest structure in all of downtown.  We wandered off before the rest of the rush, Lis and I cursing Macy's and Bloomberg, and her guests totally bemused that New York City could be so very lame at something.

So yes, NYC is the lamest place in the nation to spend America's birthday.  But in the Universe?  That's a little harsh, you may say.

The rest of the universe has a legit excuse to not celebrate the 4th.  New York City doesn't.  I've been in other countries on the 4th.  If you see other Americans, it's a fun little winky secret, like going somewhere cool on your birthday and telling no one.  That is, if your host nation doesn't find out - in Canada, my parents were brought a little strawberry and blueberry shortcake with their dinner one US Independence Day.

The upside is, both Boston and DC are an easy train ride (or plane, or bus) from New York, and both cities know how to put on a real show.  Loads of people leave New York for the holiday.  In that single respect, the fourth of July in NYC is kinda neat - the city feels oddly empty.  But if you're looking for a celebration rather than eerie peace and quiet, you're better off elsewhere.  And while you're at it, light a sparkler for me!

Any other places that ace Independence Day celebrations, or utterly fail at them?  Please share in the comments!

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