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July 06, 2004 

Independence Day

I was a little apprehensive about this long weekend. It's a long time to spend on your own, particularly being on your own and English on July 4th in America (by the way, happy birthday inw - they put some fireworks on down here for you too!). I decided to head up to Fort Lauderdale "downtown" to see what was going on. I parked up and walked up Las Olas Boulevard, window shopping and wondering where the river was. I had been reliably informed (by the internet, so it must be true) that there was a nice walk along the river, but I couldn't see it. As I peered into the window of one shop, a woman was saying to the owner that she would come back later to buy it as they were on their way to the jazz brunch. A-ha, I thought (well it was a totally 80s weekend on the radio!) and proceeded to follow her. After about 20 minutes sleuthing we came to the park, on the riverside, and I have to confess it was worth it. I listened to a couple of tunes from a few bands, had a look at the stalls, sat on the riverbank, declined to wear a sticker of the stars and stripes, and generally chilled out. Then I had to walk back to my car.

By the time I got there I was hot and sticky, so I thought I'd head to the beach. It was only then that I really started to appreciate what the 4th July means in America. My first impressions were that it means $20 parking fees anywhere even remotely close to the beach, gridlock on all the streets, people carrying barbeques and unfeasibly large inflatibles around, and generally heading to what seemed to be the biggest party in the land. And this was just Fort Lauderdale. I gave up on that beach, and decided to try the one closer to my hotel. Which turned out to be closed due to overcrowding (cue loads of people wandering around, carrying big inflatibles, looking lost). So I went back to the hotel and had the pool to myself.

Having exhausted myself I was happy to sit and watch Daredevil on TV for the early evening, before heading out to the fireworks. I thought that as the whole world was on the beach the traffic would be pretty clear. How wrong I was. Only a third of the world can have been on the beach then, because the other two thirds were in the queues at 8pm. I abandoned the car and walked half an hour to the beach, feeling like I was part of the crowd being sucked by some invisible force. The traffic reminded me of the only time I've ever been to the Blackpool Illuminations - almost stationary cars with heads sticking out of skylights trying to see what's going on. When the fireworks came they were impressive, but nothing to the sight of a crowded beach, full of people packing up the day's debris. Barbeques, marquees, loungers, coolers, parasols - all going in the back of cars. You couldn't move 5 metres (sorry, 15 feet) without falling over another family. In the midst of this people were setting off their own fireworks, too impatient to wait for the display. I was nervous about my safety, and had to beat a rapid retreat when a burning chunk of firework fell about 2m from me. It was like the Alamo, only prettier. The favourite firework with the 'youf' appeared to be the ones you light in your hand and then throw. I know that the UK has problems with fireworks around 5th Novemeber, and I imagine it's the same here, but I've been watching a lot of TV recently and I haven't seen a single advert saying "don't hold a lit firework you can lose limbs" or any of the other things that we get told for most of the end of October. I was, as the English were previously, defeated, and retreated to the basketball courts to watch the display.

Fireworks without music lose their interest pretty quickly, particularly when you're the outside observer, so I only lasted around 15 minutes of the display, then went back to the hotel (via the fish and chip shop - nice chips, not good fish, great vinegar).

Today I decided to have a look at Miami proper. I've been downtown and to Calle Ocho, the Little Havana. I also took a look around the Art Deco area of South Beach and the french area of North Beach (road names include Rue de Versailles, Normandy Boulevard and other such delights). I'll put the photos up when I can be bothered. Tomorrow's back to work and I need to get my brain back in gear for that.