When you have things to do, a holiday is a most welcome thing. But, when you are on holiday, a holiday can be quite a pain. I mean, what do you mean that the coffee shop is closed today? At 2 in the afternoon? But, but, I just woke up? Observance of holiday shmoliday. All right, I complain too much.
I had the second most unusual 4th of July this year. Usual usually has meant staking out a nice spot - on the grass by the Charles, or in Point State Park, or facing Mount Nittany - and watching the choreographed fireworks. A few years ago - Most unusual - I was in Alaska with friends headed towards Seward on the evening of the 3rd. Without having a place to stay, of course. From many miles outside town, we started to come across bed and breakfasts. While I love these joints for their individual eccentricities, they seemed to have a shared similarity that day - No Vacancy signs outside. We must have driven for a couple of hours trying to find something - and there would be a repeated pattern. We would pull into one that didn't have an explicit Go Away sign (and these were all similar in their layout too, a gravel road that led off the highway for a bit before one came across the home), only to have the owners peek at us suspiciously, or in one case, us locking the car doors at the sight of the giant dogs coming at us!
Finally, we pulled into Alaska Nellie's, an old home inhabited by an old woman, and with a set of trailers outside. The trailers were partitioned into small 'rooms' that she was renting out. One of my friends went in, and asked her if she had a vacancy. She did! But, she said, she couldn't rent it to us. Why, Why. Why?? Well, because it had only one bed and we were three. Oh. We'll take it, señora angel. For a bunch of unwashed guys coming off sleeping in tents for 4 days, it was no problema. At all. That night on the floor of that trailer (my friend who was driving us got the bed), was one of my soundest nights of sleep.
Turned out the big Rush was for a marathon that's held every 4th in Seward - this one starts in town, and goes up and down a mountain. Checked out the town that AM, headed back to Anchorage, and got a super vantage point to watch the fireworks that night - from the window seat of an airplane with the pilot banking to get us a better view. Very Cool, indeed.
Chicago, I was told recently, has it's main fireworks on the evening of the 3rd, so that individual neighborhoods can have their celebrations on the 4th. I should have paid attention.
On the evening of the 3rd, I arranged to meet a friend for dinner. She had just moved to LakeView and I live on the south side of town. No issues - it's a 20-odd minute drive. If I left home at around 9, we would be all settled in and breaking bread by 10. So, I leave at 9:15, and at 10, I'm like 4 blocks from my house. Stuck in what must be the second most insane traffic I've seen in the US (the worst was crossing the GW Bridge into New York one especially busy evening). It was gridlock everywhere. Roads closed. No left turns. Jesus in his manger. Christ! So, I decide to go west and take an alternate route. Only problem was, getting to that alternate route meant taking police-mandated alternate routes due to road closings. Finally, I pick up my friend at around 11:30. I know a couple of places that are open until midnight. We make some wrong turns, thanks to Chicago's ingenious 6-way intersections, and get there too late. Really starving at this point, we decided to head to Chinatown, where I know a 1 AM place.
So, we finally head south and find a spot to park - it's around 12:15. And, Penang is still open. It was really funny except for the fact that I was starving to the point of dropping dead - Chinatown is 3 blocks from my house :) 3 hours of non-stop driving just to endUp round the corner! But, the evening progressed dandily from there, nice times were had by all.
Yesterday, the 4th, I woke up late, missed my coffee due to previously ranted Observance of holiday shmoliday, and promptly went back to sleep. Was woken up by my downstairs neighbor with an invite for a soiree at his place, which I lazily stumbled into around 9. Just about the time they were getting ready to leave. Invited along for a walk in the neighborhood, I decided to go along.
And, boy, am I glad I did.
I live, or am living my last few days tobemoretothepoint, in Pilsen, which is Chicago's Mexican neighborhood. And, as we set out (Destination: Tim's backyard, Agenda: Fireworks watching), it was just the coolest street scene. At every corner, there was a block party. And, these were really organized. A small tent covered music players and huge speakers, food, liquor and table-spreads of fireworks. On the streets, there were girls dancing to the music, elder people sipping Caronitas on their porches or lawn chairs, trucks blocking off traffic, chicos setting off fireworks on the street, people running from badly aimed missiles. I was told that these fireworks were actually brought in all the way from Mexico! And the noise - there was only one reference point for the cacophony surrounding me: Diwali, the Indian Festival of Lights. Took me back to memories of my own childhood. Very Cool.
We stopped by a friends' of somebody, set off a few ourselves, strolled through a couple of these parties, and settled into comfortable lawn chairs in a backyard watching the being-illuminated night sky. And, thusly the night progressed, surrounded by artists and fabulous conversation about The Alchemist, stealing bikes, being 40 and wanting a perfect bike, juggling school|work|art, audio books, Salman Rushdie, holding on to a perfect job and suchlike.
It was one of those unexpected and subtle evenings that made me glad that I chose to act on an impulse and live in this neighborhood. I've gotten to know my neighbors, been exposed to a variety of art, and more importantly, a bit of understanding of the struggles of artists as they hold on to doing what matters to them. And, though I rant, I love going to my local coffee shop, where the people know me by name, and I them. Man, I am going to miss it all. (not, of course, the bastard who stole my bike)
¡Feliz Cuatro de Julio!