Our 4th July didn’t exactly get off to the best start. Although actually, we probably have ourselves to blame for that.
We stumbled in at about 4am from our night out, slightly worse for wear, and collapsed into our beds for the night, kindly offered by friends of Jamie in Incline Village. However, we’d been warned by Jamie that the beach would be crowded chaos in the morning- and we needed to get there promptly in order to secure ourselves a good spot. So, begrudgingly, the alarms were set for 7am and we woke up, hungover and tired, almost as soon as we’d fallen asleep (or so it felt at the time…!)
We booked a taxi and congregated outside to wait for it- but when it didn’t materialise, Jamie got on the phone to chase them up, only to be told they were on our street. We paced up and down several times to track them down, directed them and still no joy. It took several attempts before the rather slow (!) taxi driver came to realize we weren’t having him on, we really were on the street- but for whatever ridiculous reason, he had traveled 30mins drive away to a different town- and seemed utterly reluctant to accept responsibility for his mistake or willing to rectify it. Choice words were exchanged in frustration until he flat out refused to come to us or send a replacement. It was now 8am and time was ticking- with no other taxi firm around, we had no other choice: we would have to walk. This slightly treacherous journey involved us crossing a highway, clambering down an embankment through bushes, causing us to stumble down the slippery rocky slope until we reached another road to walk down- Jamie still in her pjyamas, me doing the walk of shame in my dress from the night before, make-up still on and pulling along a wheelie-suitcase in tow. We stopped to pick up our floats and lilos for the day, which only added further to the comical spectacle we must have looked as we walked down the street- especially as the road was already lined with cars and people, starting their celebrations early and securing their spot for the fireworks that evening!
We owed our tickets to Jamies stepdad Tommy, who was a true star in managing to get us all in to enjoy the celebrations. Exchanging our tickets for wristbands at the entrance (it’s like going to a festival!) we trudged in and greeted the spectacle with a look of dismay. The beach was HEAVING. People had been queuing up outside from 5.30am in order to ensure they got enough space for their huge canopys and gazebos that monopolized the shoreline. Space inbetween these was taken over by a sea of chairs, towels, cooler boxes, floats and tubes. We picked our way to one end of the beach and found a modest space but noted the ‘no swimming’ signs that were less than ideal (especially given that Theo simply can’t be kept away from the sea once he sets eyes on it!) and so picked our way further up. Stepping over the towels and camps, we found only teeny, tiny spaces sufficient for perhaps two, 4 people max. Somehow, we had to find space for 9 of us. Gulp.
The second spot we found was right by a bin, in the shade. Not good. The third space Matt and I umm-ed and ahh-ed over was by a bench…but got snatched up by another eager hunter seconds before we reached it. I was starting to feel like giving up. The sea of red, white and blue in patriotic celebration was everywhere- flags and tablecloths, hats and towels, bunting and cups…all bearing the American flag with pride. It was only 8.30am, and people were already on the hard stuff, laughing and fooling around. However, in spite of the sheer volume of belongings along the beach, the number of people around didn’t match up: most, it would seem, had arrived at the crack of dawn to set up camp, and then returned home. If only we’d been as organized!
Rich was our saving grace eventually, finding a spot right at the very end of the beach, along the path where most would walk to launch their kayaks and paddle boards. However as we begun to collapse in urn on the sand, we realized we had a problem: no gear. Nothing. No towels, no cooler- no food or drink!- no tent or blanket or anything to mark out our space. How could we protect our ‘area’ from the eager 4th July-ers who were combing the beach looking for even the tiniest little space?!
In the end, we formed a rather pathetic-looking rectangle using whatever we could lay our hands on: our shoes, bags, items of clothing, an empty plastic cup! While the boys headed off to rescue Jamies car (left at the bar the night before) Jamie and I sat there in exhaustion, hungry, thirsty and hungover. When Jamie noticed a waitress walking by offering beach service drinks, she leapt at the opportunity and we greedily ordered a mojito between us- hair of the dog, as they say! I’m sure it did us more harm than good… but after the morning we’d had? It was well-deserved.
It was a long waiting game until the others arrived some 3-4hrs later with supplies and backup. However, we managed to hold onto our spot and grab some burritos (alcohol and burritos for breakfast- can’t get better than that!) to tide us over until the cavalry arrived, and then spent the duration of our day dipping in and out of the lake on the tubes and lilos, sunbathing and drinking, snacking and snoozing, and gradually scaring away everyone around us until we suddenly commanded a huge area at the end of the beach ahead of the fireworks. We strolled up the beach to watch a live blues band take to the stage (and I’ll confess, found the greatest entertainment in watching some of the middle-aged drunken women ‘get their grove on’ and flirt with the guitarist. Poor guy.) and watch the younger crowd play volleyball in the sand.
I tried to think of a national holiday back home that would inspire this same feeling of celebration, patriotism and general ‘good feeling’ back home- I honestly can’t think of a parallel- Christmas, yes, but that is celebrated world-wide, and we can’t possibly claim ownership over that; perhaps the occasional sunny bank holiday creates a similar atmosphere in places, but isn’t truly a reason to celebrate- no, perhaps the only thing that can come close is the recent Royal Wedding, but how many of those do we get?! I admit I felt a small trace of envy: but in my heart I just know that we’d struggle to get Brits to truly embrace a national holiday that simply celebrates ‘being British’, or the foundations or history of how the UK came about. It’s just not the same. Even as I sit here typing, America flags and flag-themed decorations hang from the porches and doorways of many; not simply for 4th July, but year-round. Patriotism is strong here, and you just can’t find that same feeling in the UK. Although the UK ‘identity’ is the same as the US in terms of not having a single identity, but being a country of a million fragments and pieces, unified together…not only in terms of our individual countries (Wales, Scotland, Northern Ireland, England) but also our counties, or the ‘North/South divide’…but for whatever reason, we simply can’t unify ourselves in the same way. We haven’t done so since the last World War- why is that?!
We went with the lazy option of ordering pizza at a local restaurant for our dinner, which we then brought down to the beach for our tea- devouring the huge pizzas and garlic bread greedily (amazing how hungry doing nothing can actually make you!) and as it got dark, we huddled together in anticipation of the much-talked about firework display. You could feel the anticipation building up around us. More people arrived and crowded onto the beach; the air had this continual ‘buzz’ or hum of excited conversation, and those who had been enjoying one-too-many beers during the day were already laughing and shouting, singing and play-fighting. The fireworks were hitched onto a vessel out on the lake, which would offer spectacular views for all and anyone along the beach. And right on cue, they started.
They truly were spectacular- there’s simply no other word for it. Artfully synchronized together in order that there was no gaps, no waiting: a huge spectrum of colours and types, including many I simply haven’t seen before: fireworks that formed the shape of a heart, ones so enormous they felt as though they were just a stretch away to touch. I loved watching Theo’s expressions change as he took it all in: ranging at first from shock and fear to excitement, wide-eyed awe to suddenly very serious observation: he had to have his Nana’s hands over his ears as the loud bangs startled him so much, but calmed down considerably once he realized the fireworks weren’t actually going to hit him! But oh, how we laughed when 20minutes in, he actually fell asleep. Clearly not exciting enough!!
But there we were, 4 sets of couples, all cuddled together on the sand and joining in with the collective ‘ooooh!’s and ‘ahhhhh!’s when a particular firework of extraordinary beauty exploded above us. The whole sky was alive with colour and for the first time that day, those on the beach were perfectly still. The fireworks reflected on the water too, a perfect parallel, doubling the effect of the display- and the boats that had been spread about the lake during the day were all collected around the boundaries of the display to enjoy the spectacle. It was utterly beautiful- quite breath-taking and the perfect end to our day.
The magic was only broken at the very end of the display as a guy in front of us then burst into song, joining in with the music to which the display was synchronized, and gave us a hilarious drunken rendition of the National Anthlem. My day ended to the sound of him roaring out: “O’ER THE LAND OF THE FREEEEEE… AND THE HOME OF THE BRAAAAAAVE!!” to the cheers of the crowd.
Happy 4th July.