Monday, July 6, 2009

Groovin' the Couv and other 4th of July antics

It was about time for the Fourth of July - only a 3-day weekend this year, but having three days off is better than just having two. Anyway, in New York the big thing to do is watch the fireworks one way or another - either on the street, perched on a rooftop, on a boat floating in the temporarily rocky waters of the East River, or on TV with the rest of America. I've watched them in New York in all locals listed except the boat. After awhile, not that the fireworks aren't phenomenal (they definitely are fantastic), I just didn't seem to try terribly hard to make it out to watch them. The streets and subways can be crowded and it's often so muggy I'd rather stay inside. I know it sounds terrible like Fourth of July isn't all that special to me, but maybe it's because it's been a long time since I've a spent a Fourth of July with a more local ambience and got that magical feeling of people coming together to celebrate. This year was different.

Let's start with Friday. Remember I'm new to Portland, but I'm also new to the concept of legally being able to buy fireworks. So much so, every time I think about the idea of buying fireworks I envision trips across the border to Tijuana or buying products from a one-handed guy on some rural back roads. Never did I think it was legal to buy them in Oregon (if only for a small window of time) or even better in Washington state where I'm told they have the really "good" fireworks.

Thus 4th of July begins with a friday morning adventure to have breakfast in the Couv' (that's Vancouver - just across the river from Portland). We saw on Google maps a lot of dots in the downtown area of Vancouver where there should be lots of places for breakfast. With that knowledge, we decide to drive through Vancouver's downtown area only to find it, well, empty and somewhat uninhabited, except for the older gentleman we stopped walking on the street to ask for a breakfast suggestion. He said we should try breakfast at the hotel, though it's not that good. And with that advice we decided to look harder ourselves by driving up and down the streets of downtown. This is what is called "Groovin' the Couv". Finally, we find a place: it's the oldest restaurant in town and even proclaims on its menu that a baby was born in the bathroom a few years back. That's right Walmart Baby, step aside. Turns out the place was pretty legit and the food: well, a good enough start to the day. Though don't ask the waitress what she thinks of anything on the menu as she will inform you that she doesn't eat there. Somehow that made me feel a little better about the place.

The Couv's exciting and all, but the real adventure was just a few miles up the road: a huge circus size tent where they sold fireworks. This was truly unlike anything I had seen before. There were signs and long traffic lines pointing the way. It's hard to decide which of these make-shift establishments to patronize. Thankfully, one sign stood out more than most: You'll Love Us, the Competition Hates Us. And, thus, my first hands-on firework experience begins. It's amazing to me everyone (customers and sales folks alike) seem to have both hands and even all their fingers. There's an insane variety of fireworks; I didn't know there were so many ways to have something burn up and make crazy noise. They even sold fireworks in family packages. There were sparklers (sticks that you light and twirl as it burns - or not), which turned out to be not so toe friendly. Sparks hurt - Note to self: don't wear open-toed shoes when using sparklers.

Upon leaving the Couv' with boxes filled with fireworks, I made the mistake of asking, "what do you do with all these fireworks?" That's when I learned about a place in Portland called Little Beirut, also known as Felony Flats, where it seems to be tradition to blow up as many fireworks as possible without really hurting anyone or anything. I wish I could say I was brave enough to go, but maybe next year. Instead, I did the thing I hadn't done in years, I got in a car with some friends, drove downtown and parked the car, got out and walked toward the Hawthorne Bridge and watched the fireworks with other spectators and stopped bridge traffic. Now, they weren't as grand as those found in New York. They weren't even really set off with any rhyme or reason, but there was something "All American" to me about this Fourth of July. I kept thinking that I would hear John Cougar's "Ain't That America" blasting on the radio, but I didn't. I guess, instead, I got the sentiment and that was just fine with me.

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