The Fourth of July in Saugerties. A return to the scene of the crime-that-wasn’t. The crime that almost-was involved a confused drunk guy very nearly knocking my dome off last year, and he would have if my little brother hadn’t stepped in with at least some sense of bravado and saved my sorry butt from my attacker.
My excitement for the always-wicked Saugerties Fourth of July fireworks night is tempered by the thought that if my nemesis can read, he may have seen my article, and has returned to deliver some brolic vengeance to my face.
I walk gingerly to Cantine Park. It’s your prototypical Hudson Valley summer night, when the heat drapes over your shoulders and holds you down and it’s so humid that you can’t tell if you’re sweating through your shirt or just collecting the H20 floating around in the ether. This worries me, too. Heat tends to turn otherwise normal people into turf warriors, and pushes them over the edge when any indignity – however slight – is perceived. I do my best to shake the feeling that I’m going to get beat up this year, half because it’s an irrational fear, thinking that the drunk idiot from last year will intercept and destroy me, and half because even if it did happen, I have no brother to back me up this year, so I’d be Cantineroadkill anyway.
The walk to Cantine from the edge of town is a weird one. Almost no storefronts are open at 7 p.m. on the fourth, but the Speedy Mart is adorned with miniature American flags and white Christmas lights. When you start to move down the street and hang a left toward the park, the line of parked cars appears, a lot of them decked out in pro-America regalia – pro-Army decals, those American-themed graphic window shades, and the same American flags lining the top of the Speedy Mart, which are now flying proud on the backside of Dodge Rams, Ford Focuses, and yes, even Priuses. One dude cruises by real slow in a blacked-out, 90’s Ram, with a maxi-American flag waving proudly out of his flatbed. I give him the “What’s up” head bump and he gives it right back from behind his purple tinted wraparound sunglasses. The park itself is stacked. It seems like everyone in the greater Saugertiesland area is here, ambling around, buying fried dough, looking for a place to park it on the dampened Cantine grass, putting their kids on carnival rides.
It takes forever, but the sun does eventually go down enough for the fireworks crew to set off some test rockets. I’m alone this year, and I forgot a blanket to lie down on, and I’m five ways from comfortable, but the scene around me as the test rockets go up is at least a little bit soul-warming. There’s a troupe of little girls next to me, bouncing around the park and jumping over me like I was a downed tree branch in their way; there’s a young couple with a pair of babies in a Radio Flyer in front of me; there are good dates, bad dates, and family moments happening everywhere; light-up hula hoops are shooting through the air in the face of the black and cloud covered night; people are desperately searching for their family blanket plot as minutes tick off the clock before the big show approaches. Once it begins, the ruckus everywhere chills out. Even the ballers, most of them skinny kids, are now sitting reverently on the blacktop waiting for the sky to light up. The show is great, the finale is booming, and the human mass pours out of Cantine Park feeling satiated and downright patriotic.
I have friends who are less sentimental about growing up American than I am. One of those friends is an American who goes to London and thinks that my dedication to Americana and belief that some simple things, like a Fourth of July festival on a sweaty night in an economically and culturally diverse town, are special because they’re the product of a distinct and proud nation is shortsighted. Her reasoning is that I’m not cultured enough to understand that patriotic celebrations are universal. I mean, Canada Day and the Diamond Jubilee just happened, too. I agree on one level, that almost every country commits one day a year to the celebration of its history and culture, but on another, I’m insulted. The Fourth of July is exceptional because we’re exceptional – because Saugerties is exceptional and America is exceptional and because this is the greatest country in the history of the planet. Because we were the first to space and because we invented the Internet, and because of Fastback Mustangs, and because Saugerties has everything from thrift shops to hardware stores to cobblers to high-end eateries.
So forget anyone that tells me that the Fourth is just another brick in the wall of patriotic holidays. We rule.
And I didn’t get beat up this year. I didn’t even come close. I love this country.
Editor’s note: accompanying photo is from an unrelated Saugerties event. It appears here because it is evocative of the author’s tone in the piece, not as a representation of his experience.