Arizona Summer Wildcat July 1, 1998
From Seattle to NYC, few things beat a Tucson Fourth
Arizona Summer Wildcat
The Fourth of July is the summer holiday, and Tucson is all about summer and what marks you as a local, what stakes your claim in a town, are the traditions, the rituals, surrounding a holiday. And the Fourth of July is all about fireworks. Maybe it's that early July is really when summer hits hard, when it's the hottest and you know the monsoon is just around the corner, when I realize how long I've lived here, and how quickly I need to get out, but suddenly the Fourth of July hits me and my memory in some weak spot and I'm all about trying to figure out what it is about fireworks that makes people want to drive out or climb up and sit and stare.
When I was a kid we used to pack up a cooler, throw it in the back of the Suburban and head to South Tucson, either across from the Pep Boys and next door to the bakery my dad used to take me to get cinnamon donuts, or on some residential street, where we would run around the open back of the truck while the adults sat in folding chairs and actually watched the fireworks.
Because fireworks aren't all that interesting. If you've seen one you've seen 'em all. They're just colored gunpowder ignited against the night sky. Even the ones that sparkle and change colors or shape get boring after the second time. But every year, people sit around, watching, searching for the perfect spot with the best view, turning the radio on and craning their heads to the sky in anticipation of the first glimmer.
Last year I was in New York City on the Fourth, on the roof of a building at Lexington and 23rd, with my friend Sommer, a slew of film school kids and exchange students, and a six pack of Rolling Rock - about as American as you can get. We had a crappy stereo balancing on a windowsill, some girl screaming "Shake shake shake" every time one of those glittery ones erupted, and the silhouette of the Empire State building framing the display, but it just didn't feel like a holiday. Year before that, I was in Seattle - it was about 65 degrees and raining on the Fourth, and we watched by far the most interesting fireworks display I've ever seen from my aunt's office on the 32nd floor. They had it synchronized to different songs, and jet streams of fire spewing out from Puget Sound, but it was practically winter, I had a cold and was wearing my wool coat.
We were up high, staring at the artificial stars straight at eye level, looking almost down as the embers disintegrated into the haze and showered over the city; there was no bare earth underneath to absorb the heat or fuel a fire- they made sure of that. It was all such a production, all TV personality, pop-musified and packaged. Fireworks lose something ethereal when they're watched from that high up.
Those past two Independence Days left me feeling like the holiday was stupid, like celebrating America with fireworks is pretty silly when you think about it. I'd stand there and tap my feet in boredom and watch everyone else oooh and aahhh and give them dirty looks, like their fun was insulting me. My sister was in North Carolina one summer, and instead of fireworks, she saw a symphony perform classical Fourth of July pieces, with canons. That was way cooler than fireworks, she says, every city from sea to shining sea should do that instead. Still, I find myself back in Tucson this summer for the Fourth of July, wanting to drive to the base of A-mountain and watch the fireworks.
And I know that I won't really go all out and do it, because I'm working that night and my sister's leaving for Massachusetts, because I don't remember what street that was or where exactly it is, because I'm older now, because my dad doesn't live in town anymore and that Suburban was sold, because I really could care less about fireworks... and somehow I feel cheated from a national holiday tradition.
There's something in the tradition surrounding the watching, something that shows itself when you're away from home and noticing the differences. That's what forms the stories, the local folklore, what makes a holiday a holiday...stupid things like fireworks exploding annually, even if they're not all that interesting. Even when they glitter.
Annie Holub is a Tucson native and a creative writing junior. She is Arts Editor at the Arizona Summer Wildcat.