Tuesday, July 05, 2011

New York's Independence Day Delivers with a BANG!

July 4, 2011
All photos copyrighted by Jen Benepe
Waiting for the fireworks on 23rd St. and 11th Avenue (c) Benepe
New York City's July 4th celebration went all out to surprise and delight thousands yesterday.

Explosions rattled up and down the Hudson River in magnificent formations resembling at one time bursts of colorful flowers, at another gigantic chrysanthemum blossoms, and still other times radiating sprays of red, white and blue bouquets.

Sponsored by Macy's since 1976, this show featured six barges from 23rd to 72nd Streets on the west side, setting off coordinated blasts of artistic explosions to music that was being broadcast on television and locally at piers along the river.

Crowds behind the barricade: 23rd was the one street where
Hudson River Greenway was closed to the public (C) Benepe
Beyonce was a featured singer before the start of the show, and TV cameras and screens posted along the pier on 23rd street showed the songstress in glamourous, wind swept poses as she belted out her song for all of New York to hear.

BBB donned her nicest red, Marc Jacobs dress for the occasion and picked up a bunch of flowers and totted along a bag full of picnic fixings that I had prepared for BBB's step mom's birthday--celebrated two days early with fireworks.

On the subway a little girl sat down next to me and I asked her if she was going to the fireworks: "Yes, and I am going to hear Beyonce!" she said excitedly.
Young girls watching Beyonce perform on flat screens (C) benepe

Beyonce proved to be a real crowd pleaser with mostly young girls whose faces were pasted to the TV flat screens set up along the pier on 23rd St.
Super duper  Bomb Sniffing Dog (VID) (C) Benepe

The green grass on the piers and along the parks facing the Hudson were lush and clean and free of dog refuse thanks to a Hudson Parks Conservancy policy of not allowing pets on certain sections.

That meant you could shed your sandals and feel the cool grass between your toes with impunity, a rare pleasure in New York City.

Of course we did see one dog, it was the super-duper bomb sniffing dog whom I stopped to have a conversation with. He had his paws folded in the most elegant way, and when I looked in his eyes, I swear I could tell immediately that the dog was more intelligent than I.

His eyes were a clear light brown, and he looked at me with a steady gaze as if he were looking right through me, not in a menacing way, but quite friendly, nevertheless intensely, not moving a muscle.

NY's Finest were everywhere and very friendly (C) Benepe
If we had had a staring contest, he surely would have won. I quite got that he was a VID (a Very Important Dog), even before I learned his occupation.

The pier we went to was not accessible to the general pubic, I regret to say. This was fair because it contained the control tower for the fireworks, the TV cameras and equipment for broadcast, and was right across from the stage that would house Ms. Beyonce.

Nature's own fireworks before the fireworks
this photo is unaltered! (C) Benepe
And anyway, the public was told 23rd St. would not be accessible, but the rest of the Hudson River drive was.  Those who were allowed were press (myself), Macy's employees, and others involved in the operation.

Not to mention an audience handpicked to roar with delight when the MC said anything remotely funny, and to respond to all of his commands, such as "Sing along with Beyonce now."

Picnicking on the Grass (c) Benepe
As the sun was setting the entire scene took on first yellow striated hues, then orange, then pink, and it was a lovely scene to behold: hundreds, no thousands of New Yorkers sitting peacefully on the grass waiting for the fun to begin. Mind you, no photoshopping has been performed on these pictures!

It suddenly dawned on me: this was America, the land of the free, and it didn't strike me in any way ridiculous that therefore millions of people from around the globe would like to come live here, away from fear, discrimination, and economic destitution.

More than 157 languages are spoken in New York, and despite the fact that I was brought up here, and don't feel in any way subjective when I say this, I must say it really is the greatest city in the world.  And what an honor to live here, be here, and be among its people.

Hizzoner Mayor Michael Bloomberg made an appearance in an unbuttoned, tieless, pink patterned shirt, his face looking relaxed. He welcomed photographs with members of the firework audience, including one trio: a young man with his girlfriend and her mother introduced himself as "someone you met at my school yesterday," and Bloomberg gamely said to the mother, "So which one of you is the daughter?"

What a mensch! Here he was in full relief mixing with the hoi poloi, including yours truly.

Hizzoner is a mensch (c) Benepe
I introduced myself and he asked me "So what do you do for a living?" I refrained from asking for a job and told him I had a business writing about cycling and another business making cycling clothing (www.hotvelociti.com, might as well just come out and say it).

He mentioned that he wrote an email to DOT Commissioner Janette Sadik Khan yesterday noting that New York streets are safer than ever for cyclists, with more pathways and bike lanes than ever before.

I refrained from telling him what I thought about that, or about the fact that I had only briefly contemplated coming down to the fireworks by bicycle.

What a shame: how many people piled into cars afterwards and were stuck in traffic jams leaving town I would not even begin to be able to tell you: all I know is I saw them stuck when we left after the fireworks display.

Taking pictures of taking pictures of fireworks (c) Benepe
New York Police Commissioner Ray Kelly was also there in a (slightly) more relaxed version of himself accompanied by his wife Veronica Kelly.  I could tell by the look on his face that he had little interest in mixing with the hoi poloi, afterall that isn't his job, but I did introduce myself to his wife.

I neglected to mention to either of them how I truly felt about the number of police vehicles being parked in bike lanes, especially in ear shot of Hizzoner.

What I probably should have done was compliment the fine force of Blue out doing crowd control. I have never seen such a huge number of people in such a good mood, not breaking the law.

Looking up river from 23rd Street (c) Benepe
Entirely NOT in a sarcastic tone, I was most impressed by the city's Finest guarding just about every corner, and their manner with the public which was friendly and helpful. There is no doubt that the NYPD were critical in helping pull off this fireworks display without incident.

And did I mention the fireworks? They were the most splendid, the most dramatic, the loudest and the scariest, the most fantastic, colorful, undulating, exploding, constantly surprising, variegating, most interesting fireworks I have ever seen or heard for that matter.

Fireworks reflected off this building on 24th St. (C) Benepe
Everyone seemed similarly transfixed, though I have noticed a new tendency to take photos instead of enjoying something with your own eyes, a disease which appears to have gripped the population under the age of 50 like a cancer, so that everyone in front of me either had their camera or the cell phone in front of their face, and few were enjoying the sheer pleasure of just watching the display. Including me.

The lights of the explosions were reflecting on the giant building on 24th St., an old leftover from old New York, with magnificent ripples of colors on its windows. Morag sat on one of the benches by herself, on the other side of the pier from the crowd, and the light reflected on her too.

A fireboat fanned out its water like a peacock (c) Benepe
Later we also ran into Mark Mugnos who used to work at the city's sports commission but has now landed as chief of Citywide Special Events. (Wow!)

Now I must add a few factoids about the fireworks display itself. There were 45,000 pounds of explosives used, consisting of 40,000 shells, 15,000 fireworks, all flying as high as 600 feet in the air. There were eight times as many combined 'works' used last night than in 2008--and it showed. This is also the first year that Macy's used what are called Ghost shells which appear and then reappear in the sky: you'll know what I am talking about if you closely watched the finale.

You can't argue that these aren't some of New York's FINEST Finest
(c) Benepe
The 'works were shot off of six 290-foot barges, and it took two years to create the materials, write the accompanying music, and organize the event--which came and went in 27 minutes.

After it was all over, Morag showed me her garden on 25th Street where she and several other volunteers clear weeds and plant flowers and natural vegetation along a stretch of the Hudson River Greenway.

After that we meandered along the still closed roadways until we got to 22nd Street, where I was gratified to see that the Edison Parking Corporation was offering bike parking for $20 a month, or $1.00 a day right under neath the Highline.

Bike Parking under the Highline: America is Great (c)
What is $1.00 any more? You had better grab that deal while it lasts: Now that is a VERY good reason to love New York, love America and thank the heavens that progress is arriving, even if in small measures day by day.

And if you are not excited about that, then you are just an old curmudgeon!