Celebrating Freedom: Explosions, Excess, & Good Old-Fashioned ‘Merican Exploits

America sure loves to celebrate how great it is, doesn’t it? Throughout the course of one calendar year, we commemorate the first white guy to “discover” America, some “Blurred Lines” version of our discourse with Native Americans, our work ethic, our veterans, several presidents, a Civil Rights leader, and more.

As we become more accepting of the darker chapters within American history, Independence Day has taken on a sort of satirical patriotism. Many of us are aware that despite the holiday being a celebration of our nation’s independence from Great Britain, it left a great many people still enslaved; whether literally, or, if they were women, to their husbands. I believe the 1996 box-office hit Independence Day goes into greater detail about the specifics, if you’re in need of a historical refresher. While I tend to feel very Kanye West about the holiday ( “I’ma let you finish, but Juneteenth was the best Independence Day of all time!”), you better believe I throw on my stars and stripes, grab the closest beer to guzzle, and celebrate right alongside the rest of my too-rambunctious American brethren.

To the adult 9-5er, the rare and mythical three-day weekend represents an expanse of opportunity that can only truly be seized by drinking to continual belligerence for 72 consecutive hours. I suppose to those who have children, it represents a very concentrated amount of time when they’re expected to entertain life’s harshest critics. Sufficed to say, when the Fourth of July lands on a Friday or Monday, all hell breaks loose.

After announcing on Facebook that my three-day weekend began two hours earlier than expected last Thursday, I couldn’t exactly decline when friends invited me out that evening. I had planned on a more private “turn up” with wine and Netflix, but obliged to visiting a bar within walking distance for some dancing. Since it was so early, I even took a nap beforehand.

My gal pal got to my place around 10pm, about two hours later than we’d originally planned. I beat down the feeling that it might end up being “one of those nights.” We stopped by Ralph’s and bought a concerningly large jug of Jim Beam whiskey, rationalizing as economical, responsible adults that we’d spend far less money if we forwent buying drinks at the bar and consistently pre-gamed instead.

The thing about pre-gaming though, is it means tacking an additional thirty minutes onto to your departure time. By the time our other friend arrived and we left my place, it was already after 11. No matter, I thought. That still gives us more than an hour-and-a-half of solid dancing time.

Except that the Federal Bar was at capacity and the line to get in was a line, which I do not do, so we were forced to think of a Plan B. Now almost midnight, our options were limited and stomachs were beginning to growl. Somehow, the Buffalo Wild Wings across the street did not seem like a completely deplorable option.

Stepping through the doors, we were greeted with a nasal, karaoke version of John Legend’s “Ordinary People” and a barrage of identical-looking frat boys frothing at giggling, drunk girls. We found seats and flagged down a waitress to put in an order for overpriced hot wings.

We sat through five more karaoke performances, of all of them only one, performed by a confident young woman strutting around to Six Mix-a-Lot’s “Baby Got Back,” actually worthy of the applause. Finally, my friends tired of my pleading stares and we left just after last call.

Overall, the pre-gaming ended up being more fun than actually going out, and I vowed to remedy that on Friday, the actual Fourth of July.

Phantogram – 4th of July Block Party – Grand Park

Alternative radio station 98.7 hosted an “Altimate” Fourth of July block party at Grand Park in Downtown LA, so a friend and I made that our first stop mid-afternoon the next day. The sky was bright and clear, with temperatures rising towards 90. Despite my breezy shorts and sheer top, pools of sweat began to cluster on my forehead. Unimpressed by the opening bands and turned off by the growing crowd, we decided to pop into the nearby Redwood Bar to cool down.
We were apparently not the only ones with this idea, and the usually mellow bar turned out to be just as overcrowded and humid as the park, but when two bar stools serendipitously became available, we decided to stay and order a round.

Nearing 6pm, the streets were beginning to cool, and we found a nice, remote slab of concrete to settle down upon and enjoy Phantogram’s wafting tunes. Ambient though it was, the performance didn’t sound particularly enthused, and shortly before it ended we decided to pursue the unlikely (and alcohol-fueled) hope that Last Bookstore might be open on the holiday and left the park.

View of fireworks from Eagle Rock

View of fireworks from Eagle Rock

Despite our hopes, Last Bookstore was closed, so we hitched a ride with the most entertaining Uber driver in existence, and made our way to a friend’s BBQ in Eagle Rock. There, we experienced a more organic, surreal version of the holiday on a sprawling wood deck overlooking the Los Angeles landscape that felt worlds away from the so-called capital of superficiality. We munched on grilled eggplant and dipped hand-salted tortilla chips in freshly whipped guacamole, taking in the drastic change of scenery.

When the firework displays began, we stealthily climbed through my friend’s bedroom window and onto her roof, in direct defiance of her mother’s orders. The disobedience proved worth it, and from that vantage point we saw fireworks explode across the horizon, spanning the hills of Pasadena to the valleys beyond Hollywood.

We spent another hour lazing in a hammock and enjoying the occasional punctuation of illegal fireworks exploding in the distance, before we realized that the BBQ was winding down and headed home.

Irrefutable evidence.

Irrefutable evidence.

On Saturday morning I awoke to a smattering of spider bites swelling on various body parts, two of them directly on my bum. Accepting this as my penance for disobeying an elder the evening before, I quickly threw on workout clothes and set off toward Santa Monica, where I planned to meet up with friends for a Soulcycle class before heading to the beach.

Legs still wobbly and souls thoroughly rocked, we arrived at the beach just after noon. We quickly staked out prime beach real estate near the shore and commenced lounging, sneaking sips of mixed cocktails from Capri Sun-like pouches.

Santa Monica beach and pier

Santa Monica beach and pier

Despite my earlier convictions to friends that Santa Monica beach was too polluted for me to tread in further than my ankles, the teal tides proved too tempting to resist and I soon found myself completely submerged under foaming waves.

While there, we learned of a free Stones Throw event happening that evening featuring Peanut Butter Wolf, Dam-Funk, and Madlib. Tiring of the sticky sand, and anticipating traffic on the ride home, we piled into several cars and planned to meet up after showers and dinner had been had.

A couple of hours and another interesting Uber ride later, we found ourselves downtown in California Plaza, jamming to an uplifting Dam-Funk, who seemed unbothered, or immune to, the unresponsive, too-cool LA crowd.

Stones Throw event at California Plaza downtown

Stones Throw event at California Plaza downtown

Several friends who hadn’t been at the beach showed up, and we found a high perch to watch Peanut Butter Wolf’s performance from. My favorite part of the show turned out to be the amateur break dancing competition between three boys whose combined age was probably under 35. It was a shock of nostalgic to see this form of dance and art that had previously peaked in my childhood, and that I had no idea was resurfacing. It’s seeing things like that that gives me hope this younger, iPad-raised generation will have something meaningful and artistic to contribute to the world after all.

It was only 10pm, but a day of vigorous cycling, day drinking, and frolicking on the beach had caught up with us and we soon piled into a soccer mom van to head home (Uber got a lot of business from us this weekend. Don’t drink and drive, kids!).

Before separating for the night, we draped each other in exhausted hugs, some of us making vague plans to reconvene the following day. Un-American as it may have been, I knew no one could talk me out of a relaxing, antisocial day of rest to close my holiday weekend.

Despite having lived in Los Angeles for seven years now, until this summer, the 4th of July has either fallen on a weekday when I didn’t have the following day off, or I took the opportunity to visit family instead. This was the first time I took advantage of the rambling metropolis I call home and celebrated the holiday in almost every corner of the city.

And sure, I was faced with leering frat boys at Buffalo Wild Wings, and I could have done without the squealing children at the beach, or the familiar hipsters downtown, but this variety of interactions, spliced with time spent with my adopted Los Angeles family, was also what made this weekend so uniquely American. That we were all able to mingle and coexist, none of us pressured to conform into anyone else’s world, each celebrating in a way that felt authentic or patriotic to us, well, isn’t that what freedom’s all about?

And the countdown to Labor Day officially begins!

Categories: Blog, Feature