How come no one told me that Craig Ferguson has been hosting the Boston Pops July 4th celebration at the Hatch Shell in Boston for the last three years?
Okay, so it probably wouldn't have gotten me to start camping out on the Esplanade at 4 in the morning for a good seat, it probably wouldn't have gotten me into Boston at all because if I can't deal with the crowds, imagine how overwhelming Pumpkin would find it. But hey, it's Craig Ferguson, I might have at least tried to watch it on TV!
There's always a first time.
I had no idea that our traditional pops concert was broadcast nationwide? How long has that been going on? Okay now someone tell be it's been this way since Arthur Fiedler, and where the hell have I been all these years.
Not watching the Boston Pops, that's where.
Why watch fireworks on TV when every single town in the country has their own?
Of course, my town doesn't have them.
Independence Day is a little offbeat around these parts. But when you live in a town full of eccentrics, the biggest party of the summer is bound to be a little outside the mainstream. My town does not have fireworks, we have, well, I'll get there.
First there's the parade. About what you would expect, but this being a Fireman's Parade, it is dominated by engines. Really loud engines with sirens and airhorns. But there are other things, all sorts of bands.
Guys with kilts. Clearly, we like guys with kilts.
A middle school band, a high school band; hey, we've got no football team, but our music programs kick butt. There's a band of people long out of any school, all dressed in costume, and led by this guy. Yes, that's a nightshirt and boots. His baton is a plunger.
There's the precision lawn chair team. Don't ask. There are family groups with homemade floats called "horribles." There are several boats on wheels, there's the local politicians, several businesses, including a whale watch company that totes a water-spouting whale, and several fundraising floats. That's what I was doing. For the past two years, I have been in the parade rather than watching, and let me tell you, you start to realize how many people you know around town when you do something like this. I'm not a big hugger, but I hugged more people yesterday than at a family reunion.
The last float in the parade is a Jamaican steel drum band that's just fabulous. In fact, I think we need to start hiring these guys for a wrap-up party after the parade. Seriously, it would be preferable to standing around for two hours waiting for the "high point" of the evening. Oh sure, we have the Legion Band playing the requisite patriotic tunes, and they're very good, but, uhm, no.
You see, as I mentioned earlier, we don't have fireworks. What better way to top off a Fireman's parade than with a huge-ass bonfire on the beach?
This isn't any old bonfire where you hang out and roast marshmallows. This is serious fire, frightening at times. Note house below for scale.
Unfortunately, too much time passes between the parade and the bonfire lighting. There's plenty of time to mill about and catch up with people you haven't hugged yet, but after a while you've seen just about everyone you want to see and are running out of places to hide from the ones you don't. When it's finally dark and you think the big show is about to start, it doesn't. When, thirty minutes later, there's a lull in the bandstand music, and you think it's going to start, it doesn't. Finally, hours after everyone's bedtime, when all the children have sugar-crashed and are cranky, the firemen light the pile.
One year, long before we had kids, I got close enough to the pile to see them light it. And I swore if I had kids I would never let them see what I saw - guys with cigarattes in their mouths splashing accelerant on the wood. Wait, aren't these the men in charge of our safety?
It doesn't take long for the pile to go up. At the very top, there's usually an outhouse. It's an odd sort of sacrifice, but they've run out of actual outhouses and are now constructing new ones for the purposes of burning. Sometimes the pile is topped with a boat, and there was one year that involved a Frosty the Snowman inflating and then burning to death, smiling ghoulishly at all the horrified children below, but usually it's an outhouse.
Eventually, the fire gets so big and so hot, that people start backing off and leaving. A bit anti-climatic really.
Personally, I think the story behind it is better than the actual event. According to the legend, the bonfire got its start during the Revolutionary War, when the townspeople built a huge fire on the beach in an effort to fool the passing British ships into thinking that the town had already been sacked.
Of course, the real story may simply be that it's cheaper to burn four stories worth of wooden pallets and an outhouse than it is to fund fireworks.
This is the first time I've stayed for the bonfire in many years, and it may be many more years before I do so again.
Next year, maybe I'll watch the fireworks on TV with my family.
And Craig Ferguson.