It’s the End of the World as I Know It

After eight years of living in Philadelphia, I have a love-hate relationship with the 4th of July. Let’s get the negative out of our system. For one, there’s a ton of noise. You just can’t escape it. It’s hot and the kids are out of school and bored out of their minds, and they’re constantly letting off fireworks in the street. People flock from all over to the heart of the city to binge drink all day and let off fireworks in the street. And most of us have been granted the day off work, which gives us a whole day for letting off fireworks in the street. On top of that, there’s an all-day party and concert going on in front of the art museum, which is a stone’s throw away from my house. Street closures make it difficult and annoying to get around town. Grocery stores will run out of hotdogs and hamburgers by noon. For one, full day, Philly resembles what movies tell us the aftermath of the apocalypse looks like. Not immediately after the apocalypse, but maybe like three years later, with people roaming the streets, burning crude fires all day in trashcans in the middle of the street, and barbequing who-knows-what in beat-up grills they’ve rolled out just for the occasion.

For us, Independence Day is like Halloween in San Francisco or St. Patrick’s Day in Chicago—the 4th is huge for Philadelphia, and it comes with all the crowds and excitement that one would expect. A big part of me wants to pack up the car on July 3rd and head to someplace quiet with nothing going on, where we could relax in the quiet, maybe spend the afternoon at the local chili cook-off, and then wait for the evening’s modest fireworks display over picnic dinner on a blanket in a park. But we never do. We always stay.

We stay because of the noise and the excitement. We stay because of the fireworks and the day drinking. I can walk out my front door to an immediate and immersive spectacle, whether it’s a makeshift porch party or someone handing my daughter a sparkler. We can take a short walk to a huge party sponsored by Wawa and be treated to music and street food and face painting (and sooooo many people). My neighborhood puts on a barbeque with its own small-town feel that includes a pie contest, grilled hotdogs and hamburgers, potato sack races, a piñata, and bottomless vodka tonics. Later, we might peel off to our own parties or go to Drexel Park to listen to the concert at the art museum and wait for fireworks. Josh, VA, and I like to get home after dark, into the comfort of the air conditioning to cool off for a little bit. And when we hear the first explosions, we scramble up to our roof to watch the fireworks above the museum. It’s breath-taking and reason alone to stay in town on the 4th of July. So I guess I don’t have a love-hate relationship with the 4th of July—more like a hate-love. And I feel fine.

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