And It Rained

by Anil Antony | 7/13/01 5:00am

I had never before experienced what most people would consider a decent, or even normal, celebration of our nation's independence. And now that it's been a week, and I've finally recovered, I want to tell people about it.

Last year I had a pretty good time. A few friends and I headed down river to a town in New Hampshire that shall remain unnamed due to a pending lawsuit. It was a beautiful evening, the type of which you dream. The crowds were mulling about, children were playing tag, watermelon slices were being distributed and fireflies filled the air with 'pre-game' pyrotechnics. In fact, it was a dazzling evening until the fireworks started.

As the first ones were fired, I turned to a friend to smile, and reflect upon how wonderful the day had been, and suddenly an acrid odor drifted into my nostrils. Looking up we witnessed hot ashes gracefully fluttering earthward and landing on little children who screamed in pain. Everywhere people were yelling, and gasping for fresh air as they tried to dodge the virtual shower of soot. Moreover, with the soot came gasses. I don't know what they were, but they certainly seemed poisonous, judging from the number of people retching. Quickly deciding that the evening was probably a wash, we sought cover. With stinging eyes and lungs quickly filling with choking sulfur gas, we practically crawled from the field.

So, it is with this experience in mind, that I say that this past Fourth of July was the best one I've attended in years. Of course, other people might not agree, but I had a grand time. Washington D.C. on Independence Day is something that everyone should experience at some point. What better place to celebrate the end to colonial tyranny (not ours, Great Britain's) than in our nation's capital? Before we left to find a spot on the Mall, I heard on the radio that the National Park Service estimated that roughly 1.5 million of our closest friends had similar plans. If nothing else, I was eager to learn what 1.5 million people looked like.

It drizzled all day. It was the type of persistent, annoying drizzle that leaves you wishing that the weather would just make up its mind and have it out all-together or just stop spitting entirely. Right from the beginning when we were passing through the National Sculpture Garden, past the pro-pot smoking booth at the Ellipse, through the FDR Memorial, which, incidentally, is my new favorite place in D.C., and to the Jefferson Memorial. As we searched for a place to view the fireworks from near the Tidal Basin, the weather gods, who had previously seemed determined to keep dribbling all day, decided that it was time to get serious.

As we sat in the shade of a large oak tree in the edge of the tidal pool, an ominous frontal line formed in the sky. Deciding that this was probably going to be my last decent chance to find some food, I started walking, avec umbrella, to the Jefferson Memorial refreshment stand, in search of an $8 hot dog and some $5 fries. This too is one of the great joys of Washington D.C. The vendors at the monuments have a veritable monopoly on all fresh-ish food that you don't feel like fishing out of the Tidal Basin. As I made my way back, protecting my new investments, a 4-inch mega-jumbo hot dog and a cold slab of gelatinous turkey on a soggy bun, the sky opened up.

Within seconds, I was drenched. Never mind that I had an umbrella or that I was running under trees. Apparently umbrella material isn't quite as waterproof as the manufacturers would like you to think. I was so desperate that I stopped to proposition a lady boarding a bus who was carrying a beach umbrella. I'm still shocked that she turned down $40 for the umbrella.

When I arrived back at our tree, I was witness to a rather pathetic sight. My friends, Maribeth, Frank, Jason and Megan were huddled under the tree. Maribeth, stubbornly refusing to use an umbrella, rather resembled a drowned rat or Pekinese. Frank, obviously not realizing that newspaper is not waterproof, had abandoned his search for the answer to 33-Across in the crossword, and had covered himself in swathes of The Washington Post. Jason, meanwhile, was acting macho; standing shoeless, chest puffed out and arms crossed. Megan, obviously the only one of the group with any common sense was standing, back against the tree, under the other "working" umbrella we had brought.

After roughly 20 minutes of being bombarded by marble sized rain drops, it became evident to us that the weather gods had obviously effectively sabotaged our day, and that it was time to go home. Even though we were still in the midst of a torrential downpour, we decided it was time to abandon cover and make a dash for home, which at this point was over 3 miles away. As we hurried past cars stalled on the bridge, Frank and I found ourselves slowing to savor the exhaust pipe heat from passing cars. Sheepishly looking around, we agreed that we were indeed pathetic individuals, and that a breath of carbon monoxide had never before been so good. It was really one of the high points of the evening.

And then it started raining with more ferocity. It was almost as if the rain was not content merely to drench us, but now also intended to wash us away into the Tidal Basin. At this point I remember recalling an old joke I had once heard.

"My son once asked me, 'Daddy, why is it raining?' And I responded, 'It's raining because God is crying, son.' Then he asked me, 'Daddy, why is God crying?' and I told him, 'Well, son, it's probably because of something you did.'"

I only bring this up because I remember thinking, at the time, that if I ever found the kid who was responsible for this, that I would throttle him and then drown him in the lake that had formed in my sneakers. Call it ironic justice.

At around 9:10, as we were walking past the Engravings Bureau, we heard a loud "BOOM" that shook the ground and set off car alarms. I vaguely remember yelling "Oh, ! The fireworks!" and running, along with the others, toward the Mall to catch a glimpse of the show.

I really don't understand why they had bothered to inform us that there was a rain date for the following day, if all of this downpouring from the heavens could not convince them to postpone the pyrotechnics. Just as I was saying that to Megan, the rain came to a halt, right on schedule, and we watched brilliant reds, blues, greens and golds explode in a cacophony that set our eardrums reverberating. Despite being drenched, everyone there was having a ball and cries of "WOW" and "Heppy Birtday, Amaaaariker!" sprang forth from the huddled masses.

The finale was magnificent. It was everything you'd expect from Washington D.C. on Independence Day. And then, minutes after the display had finished, a few obviously renegade fireworks exploded into brilliant reds and golds, which left everyone scratching their heads. Of course, as soon as the spectacle had ended, the rain decided to stage an offensive and poured down with even more ferocity than before. If you ever feel like simulating the experience, here are my suggestions: Wear shorts, a tee shirt, undergarments, socks and shoes, and then jump into a swimming pool. Near the Capitol, I was almost swept away by a mini-flash flood caused by clogged drainpipes, and a small child next to me went headfirst into the stream, losing his shoes in the process.