Once again for the 4th of July we were at the penthouse bar at Casa Marina where the view of the fireworks is spectacular. It was a lot of run, other than the cloud of gnats that invaded our little corner of the bar right at dusk. I only lost one beer to the bugs. But it was a delightful place to have an h’or dourve, a beer or two, a cigar, and enjoy the show. The cool thing was, the h’or dourves, beer, and valet parking were all included in the price. A little steep, I’ll grant you, but last year we paid $5 less just for the privilege of being in the bar, so we kind of thought it was a deal. Nor did we need the valet parking, because our faithful Beaches Trolley got us from Florida Boulevard to 8th St. N. and back for just a couple of bucks … which also meant no worries about having a couple of beers.
With the tide on the beach cresting an hour before the fireworks started, there wasn’t a lot of sand, which still didn’t deter folks from having their own little shows on a very crowded beach. I can remember a couple of years nearly getting hit by bottle rockets on the beach, which adds to the value of being 25 feet above the sand on the beach. We did see some less-than-sober people in the sea oats on the dune, one flying a kite, the other climbing up to the very top of the dune to fire his mortar. We kept hoping the Jax Beach police would come by and roust them off the dune, since the sea oats are protected, but they must have been busy with more serious drunks. There were a lot of inebriated people at the beach last night, which is pretty common when the 4th falls of a weekend. Again, another reason to perch high above the sand. But the best reason was for the view when the Rockets Red Glare got underway about 9:30.
Now, I don’t have exactly the right lens for shooting fireworks. I was shooting with a 55-200 zoom, pulled all the way back to get as broad a view of the sky as I could, but I really need Nikon’s new 35mm f1.4 lens to do it justice. Hopefully by next year I’ll have one, bought through Broad Reach Communications. I’ll need it for shooting airplane cockpits anyway, so it’s a legitimate business expense. Still, I got pretty good results looking up into the night sky. The pier is only about a block and a half from Casa Marina, and when those big mortars go, they fill up the sky, which last night was just a black velvet canvass for the bombardiers. There was only one mishap, when it looked like one of the mortars tipped over and shot sparks off the pier into the ocean. You could see the bombardiers springing from the area in silhouette in the glow, but they quickly got things back to right, and the show continued. But it was a timely reminder of just how dangerous that business is. What’s the old saying? It’s all good fun until somebody loses an eye. With several-thousand-degree manganese and other metals and chemicals spraying around, you can see how that might be a possibility.
For 18 minutes the mortars roared and the sky was lit in celebration of the nation’s 233 birthday. It’s a little unfortunate, it seems to me, that by the time we get around to this ubiquitous symbol of the celebration of our independence that the people who have been drinking all day on the beach are sunburned, tired, and in too many cases three sheets to the wind. It seems that a portion of the population has lost sight of what the fireworks represent, and how far out on the proverbial limb our Founding Father’s were when Thomas Jefferson wrote “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal.” To declare independence from the British crown knowing a fight would be coming, and then learning that governing was more difficult than campaigning. But everything we are we owe to those men, and all those men and women who have come behind to defend our claim to freedom and independence. It is a wonderful reason to celebrate, to have a party, to gather with family and friends, or in some cases strangers with whom all we had in common were the place we shared. For many, though, it was just another excuse to overindulge at the beach. The good news is, they have the freedom to do that as well.
Of course, if one needed a reason to ride the trolley to and from the beach for the fireworks, I have it for you here. Nothing like 100,000 or so of your closest friends trying to get off San Pablo Island, or at least back to their homes, at the same time. The trolley we finally go on … within two stops of where we would eventually get off, was packed, which I think is great. It was a little reminiscent of riding the Metro back from the National Mall after the 4th of July in DC, which we attended more than once. But there, it’s closer to half a million of your closest friends. We’ve ridden our bikes down to Jax Beach in previous years, and that’s kind of taking your life in your own hands as well. There are a lot of people on bicycles that ride them once or twice a year, and they might have over-indulged a bit as well. We were happy to have the trolley.
And that’s the 4th of July at the beach. Please check out the full photo set on Flickr, if you like. I may sound a bit curmudgenly about the whole thing, but I’m really not. If I thought people should spend the 4th sitting quietly at home reflecting on what the Declaration of Independence means, I’d have done that myself. I love the spectacle of the fireworks, and frankly, the people-watching can also be a lot of fun … from the 3rd floor balcony at Casa Marina.