Sunday, July 11, 2010

Summer Vacation - The Finale!

The original point of Grams and Grandad's trip to Boston was to see the Boston Pops Fireworks Spectacular. For years now, we've watched the show on television. Every year Grams says to Grandad, "we really need to go see this in person." Part of that is because I've always noticed that the temperature is considerably cooler than it is in South Texas on July 4th, but mostly it's my desire to see the concert the fireworks live.

We left the hotel at around 8:30 a.m. on Sunday, July 4th, and took public transportation down to the subway station nearest to where the show takes place. Everyone is encouraged to use public transportation to and from the area. They even close some of the roads around the park and, after the event, public transportation is free. Once we left the subway station it was still about a 12-block walk to the entrance.

Line to get a bracelet and go through security
We wanted to be sure that we were admitted to the Oval which is the lawn area right in front of the Hatch Shell. That requires a bracelet which they start handing out at 9 a.m. the day of the event. When all the bracelets are handed out, no one else is admitted. We arrived around 9:30 and were surprised at how crowded it already was. We had heard that in previous years all the bracelets were gone by 11 a.m. We stood in line about 15 minutes to get our bracelets.

Tents & umbrellas come down hour before show
Our original intention was to get our bracelets, leave and return later in the afternoon. But when we saw how crowded it was we decided we should go ahead and claim our own little piece of real estate.  We chose a spot on the bank of the river under a tree for shade, spread out my shawl, and sat down to stay. It was a warm day for Boston. The high was probably in the mid 80s. Since we left highs in the mid-90s, Grams and Grandad were comfortable.

Since we  did not have any chairs or even a blanket, we were on the ground for the day. It was now around 10 a.m. and the concert would not start until 8:30 p.m. followed by the fireworks at 10:30. That left us 10 1/2 hours before the show started and more than 12 hours before it would be over. But, this was the reason we came, so we decided to make the best of it. I won't lie to you, it was a very long day of sitting on the ground, but it was worth it. There were thousands of people doing the same thing all day long. You could definitely tell the rookies and out-of-towners from the locals and those with experience. Many were very well provisioned, others were like us. But there were food and drink vendors just outside the security gates and they weren't the usual festival vendors, many of them were Boston area restaurants selling good food.

As we sat on the Oval, we met people from Alaska, Connecticut, Washington, DC, New York City, Boston and lots of other places. For me, that was a terrific part of the experience. Many people came and claimed their place, stayed for a few hours, and then left their belongings and were gone for a while. (I can't imagine being able to do that in South Texas. Sadly, I don't think your belongings would still be there.)

101st Field Artillery Regiment
Those of us who remained all day amused ourselves in a variety of ways. Some played trivia, chess, or cards; some napped; a lot of people soaked in the sun; many read newspapers or books; and others just chatted. A few people had radios, but none were loud enough to be disruptive or annoying. From time-to-time during the day Soldiers of the 101st Field Artillery Regiment, Massachusetts Army National Guard, fired M102 Howitzers in preparation and/or practice for Tchaikovsky's 1812 Overture.

I believe that part of the reason this event works so well is that they seriously restrict what is allowed on the grounds, especially alcohol. Everyone who enters the Oval must pass through a security checkpoint and every bag is searched. Things that are not allowed include alcoholic beverages, glass containers, aerosol cans, and sharp objects (including metal eating utensils). All of these items are confiscated. No pets are allowed either. (The whole idea of no alcoholic beverages would be a hard-sell in South Texas, too.)

Everybody wore red, white, & blue
Red, white, and blue attire was the dress of the day ... the more outrageous the better. Several times during the day photographers came through the crowd snapping photos. Some of those were used on the jumbo-tron during the show. People walked around giving away small American flags and red and blue "Statue of Liberty" crowns. Everyone was unabashedly patriotic. Grams loved it! Yes, I know we look ridiculous, but we were in the moment, What can I say?
Diver searching under bridge
In addition to the personal security searches, other security precautions were very obvious. All the footbridges were manned with Army National Guardsmen. Massachusetts State Police in boats searched the structure of each bridge and divers searched the in water beneath them. Uniformed military and uniformed police were intermingled with the crowd.

When choosing a place to sit for the day, you have to choose between seeing the concert and seeing the fireworks. You cannot do both. You can hear the concert from anywhere in the area, but if you want to see the concert, you won't be able to see the fireworks. We chose a place on the bank of the Charles River where we could see part of the stage and most of the fireworks, yet still be in the shade most of the day. Grandad is on medications that require him to stay out of the sun, so that was the major concern for us.

The Hatch Shell
At about 8 o'clock the show finally started. I snapped a few pictures of the stage, but nighttime photography is challenging. The concert is so much better in person than it is on television. The Boston Pops plays a lot more than you see on television. The only part of the show that disappointed me was that Craig Ferguson's role was so small. I really thought he would do at least a little of his stand-up act, but all he did was introduce Toby Keith.

Confetti cannon
In person, the 1812 Overture is awe-inspiring. When the cannons fire and all the church bells in Boston ring in unison, it's breathtaking. The concert ends with a huge blast of confetti, which signals that the fireworks are about to begin.

The fireworks, which started a few minutes after the 1812 Overture, were the most spectacular I've ever seen and they lasted a full 45 minutes. I didn't get any good pictures of the fireworks, but they were amazing.  (I'm uploading one photo from the Boston Pops web site.) They were far and away the best fireworks I've ever seen. The show was over around 11:30 p.m.

Behind the barricade, not admitted.
Leaving the event was the most challenging part of the day. This year's crowd was estimated at half a million people. All of those people had to leave a relatively small area at the same time. We hiked the twelve blocks back to the subway station. On the way we met a couple from George West, which is about 50 miles from where we live. When we arrived at the subway, it was so crowded that the Transit Police were only admitting about 100 people at a time. Once we got inside the station, the first two trains that came by were completely full. They didn't even stop. When the next one stopped, it looked like a scene from a movie. As many people as possible crammed onto the train. We only had to go about four stops, so we were among the first to get off the train. Catching a bus back to the hotel was even more challenging. Several packed buses whizzed by, finally after about 45 minutes, the driver of a crowded bus took pity on us and let us board. It was only about a mile and a half to our stop, but we were way too tired to walk.

By the time we got back to our hotel it was almost 2 o'clock. We had a 6:15 flight from Logan Airport, so we showered packed and rested for about two hours. We slept most of the flight to Houston, but we were still exhausted.  We took turns driving from Houston to Corpus Christi.

It was a great vacation and Boston is now on my list of favorite cities, but we're happy to be home and sleeping in our own bed.

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