We thought it would be pretty cool to go to Washington, D.C. for the Fourth of July, 1999. As you know it was the turn of the millennium (yes, I know that Jan. 1, 2001, was the actual turn of the millennium, so don’t write me about that) and they were going to have an amazing fireworks display. We’d also hit various Smithsonian buildings and try to get to the Capital Building too. Fun for all.
Kim’s cousin Karen lived a couple hours south of D.C. in northern Virginia, so in late June we flew up there to visit for a couple of days. We would rent a car and drive into D.C. on the Fourth and toodle around. I thought we was prepared, but nothing prepared us for the heat and humidity.
I used to watch David Letterman and hear him complain that the thermostat got up to 92 degrees that day in New York City and I’d just shake my head. “How can these people not survive 92 freaking degree heat? I’m a Texan! We deal with 192 degree heat every summer!” My father told me that the heat there was different; I scoffed. Texas heat is terrible. I scoffed too soon, I think.
We drove to the Pentagon City mall (right across from the Pentagon, no less) and took the Metro blue line from there. The D.C. Metro is amazing – clean, comfortable and quiet, it’s the complete antithesis to the New York City subway as I would find out a couple years later. Nobody hassling you, people not feigning sleep so people wouldn’t bother them, none of that, only quiet and clean. The Metro is the way all subway trains should be.
We stopped at the Smithsonian stop and climbed out of the underground and got hit by a hot blast of wind. Very hot wind, and it felt like you were swimming there was so much humidity. Instantly our clothes started sticking to us and the backpack we’d brought with us caused my back to ooze sweat. It was not a good sign.
Kim had never been to the Lincoln Memorial so we trekked down past the Washington Monument (which was closed) and walked past the reflecting pool. As we walked past, Tito Puente was playing at a band shell near the Monument, a crowd gathered around. I’d forgotten how big the reflecting pool actually was and it seemed like we walked forever. We finally got there, out of breath and red in the face and saw Lincoln. Took some pictures, went past the Vietnam wall and saw the Korean War memorial and then grabbed a tram to Arlington National Cemetery. Yes, there are Revolutionary War veterans and presidents buried there, but I was there to see the grave of Lee Marvin, who had served in the Marine Corps during World War II. We went and asked at the visitor’s center where he was located and after a little searching found him. He has a very simple white marble headstone, very much unlike his neighbor, professional boxer Joe “The Brown Bomber” Louis, who had volunteered for the Army, even after an amazing career he’d already had. We went to the Tombs of the Unknowns and then headed back to the tram.
We hit the Air and Space Museum at that point and then started to stake out our turf. The Mall was crowded already with thousands of people and it was probably 6 hours before the fireworks would begin. We’d been hot and miserable most of the time we were there, but it was beginning to get to me. I was starting to say things like, “Let’s just go back to the car, I can’t take it anymore,” and other whinyisms, but Kim, the trooper she is, said that we hadn’t come all that way to give up. So we found an office building that had an open lobby and camped out in the air conditioning for several hours. It was heavenly.
When the fireworks started many hours later, we were just east of 14th Street. Right across the street was a huge line of port-a-potties, with a line of people waiting to go them stretching several hundred feet. With the amount of sweating Kim and I had been doing we couldn’t see how anybody would even need to pee in this heat.
The fireworks were amazing, like nothing I’d ever seen before or since. I would think that that much ordnance was not even expelled on D-Day. The sky was full of rockets, light and sound. We were so close to the actual launch site that the booming of each rocket was almost simultaneous with its explosion. It was pretty incredible.
Afterwards, we headed back to the Metro stop, along with about 10,000 people. The heat had been bad, but cram 10,000 people together trying to go down a flight of stairs and you learn a new definition of hideous. It was claustrophobia inducing.
Despite the discomfort, we’d had a great time. Lots of fun. Everyone should go to D.C. for at least one Fourth of July.