Independence Day. A celebration of the American Spirit, the triumph of Freedom over Tyranny. How will we celebrate? In New York City, you might be standing behind miles of barricades along 12th Avenue, or even 11th Avenue, to make sure you don’t get anywhere near the Hudson River where five barges will be blowing off enough fireworks to decimate a small country in a very colorful fashion.
I love fireworks. I’ve seen a lot of them in New York. Some were legendary, like the Bicentennial Celebration or The centennial anniversary of the Brooklyn Bridge, both of which could be easily witnessed among throngs of people watching from the RIVERSIDE. When did the Police Barricade State take over? It’s been gradual in some ways, part of the ongoing national campaign to curtail personal freedom in every possible walk of life. Hey let’s go to the YMCA for a swim! But no diving, no jumping, no paddle boards (you could kill someone with those things).
I grew up in a world without (too many barricades). Born in Niagara Falls, I swam from the Third Sister Island to the second, which is in the middle of the Niagara River right above the falls. Idiotic? Of course. But I could. I could also climb the sides of the gorge, tube in the rapids of the lower river and zoom down steel slides that were three stories high at the public pool.
When I moved to New York in 1980, it was a very dangerous place, particularly in the Alphabet City area where I lived. But the abandoned, condemned buildings weren’t cordoned off. If you had the balls/stupidity to go inside, hell, you could live there! Today every neighborhood is safe. You never have to look over your shoulder going for a walk at night. And that’s terrific. That’s the kind of freedom I like. Unfortunately, it came with a big price tag. The Rudy Giuliana administration hired armies of cops to clean up the streets and subways, which was great. But then they began going after the squeegee people and hot dog vendors. Pretty soon the barricades started appearing at major public celebrations, like the wonderful free concerts on the Great Lawn of Central Park. People were herded like cattle through the fences to sit in their designated sitting areas.
After 9/11, fuggedaboutit! Barricades everywhere. Security checkpoints. Sometimes in makes sense. 99% of the time, it’s ridiculous. And it makes me so mad that I can’t even go near one of these events for fear I’ll be thrown in jail for yelling at the cops, which is exactly what happened last Fourth of July. I went to go see the fireworks and you couldn’t even get beyond 11th Avenue toward the river. All the designated “access streets” had been mysteriously closed. Crown control. I started mother-fucking the cops after the third time they told me to go to the next access street, and I actually went through the barricades and ran down the street, correctly betting they wouldn’t chase me. But what if they did?
The slammer at my age? No thanks. So even though I love fireworks, and my daughter desperately wants to see them with me, I won’t be going down there, because the only people who have a really good view are wearing badges. Instead, I’ll watch them on TV and eat an amazing meal of chicken wrapped in bacon on a bed of fresh, sweet corn. And be nostalgic for my youth in a world without barriers.
Happy Independence Day!