The VigilanceVoice

July 5, 2002—Ground Zero Plus 296
A Wild 4th Of July!!
Machine Guns, Bomb-Sniffing Dogs, Jazz, The Staten Island Ferry, Macy's Fireworks, Sweltering Heat--And To Top It All Off: Ben & Jerry's!

Cliff McKenzie
Editor, New York City Combat Correspondent News

GROUND ZERO, New York City, July 5--It was one of those great days of Vigilance, filled with machine guns, bomb sniffing dogs, a 50-gun salute at Battery Park, world-class Jazz and a fireworks display put on by Macy's department store that would rival the announcement Osama bin Laden and every Terrorist in the world had just surrendered to the International Criminal Court.
       All this, of course, was conducted in the sweltering, tyrannical heat bursting through the 100-degree mark.
       My wife and I decided to brave the heat of New York City's oppressive sauna-like temperatures, which combined with the heat index, drove the thermometer well above a hundred degrees.

       Our first stop was Battery Park.   The American Flag was being raised at Castle Clinton, commemorating the original posting of Old Glory in New York City on November 24, 1783 after the British troops were defeated.  It was followed by a 50-gun salute, conducted by the Veterans Corps of Artillery (VCA).
       I found it interesting the VCA was started in 1790 by former Revolutionary War veterans who were worried about remaining Vigilant after their victory against Britain.  Their mission was to fight the Complacency that flows from any victory, and to keep prepared against any future tyranny threatening the shores of the new nation that had given birth on July 4, 1776.  It seemed ironic that as the VCA fired 50 rounds of artillery, saluting each state in the Union's birth, that America was under attack again, only this time, 226 years later, from the likes not of King George, but a guy with turban crown named Osama bin Laden.

     The VCA members, all volunteers, were not spring chickens.  The bulk of them were older men.   The oppressive heat took its tool.  One older gentleman had the signs of heat stroke and was ministered by ice and water and a flurry of attention.   The heat wounded him, but his spirit remained strong.  I was sure his comrades from 1790 would be proud he was willing to risk his life to a heart attack as he sent the message to Terrorism that America still had guards at its shorelines--however ceremonial they might be.

       Next on the agenda was cooling off.   We were just a few blocks from the Staten Island Ferry and decided to take a round-trip cruise to duck the heat. It's a free ride--the best part.  The city was on high alert.  The Statue of Liberty was a prime target, as was the ferry. Post Nine Eleven no cars are allowed on the twenty-minute journey.   A cooling wind brushed some of the sweat off as we cruised by the Statue of Liberty.   Two American flags hung proudly under the loading ramp catwalk as we landed, reminding everyone getting off that America wasn't into Intimidation.

       Our friends in Laguna Niguel and Dana Point, California can't believe we have lasted over two-and-a-half years in the hustle-bustle of New York City.   Orange County, California is one of the most conservative and most-white communities in America.   Our allies back there thought both the city's diversity, its liberalism, and the mere struggle of living in its constant cacophony would drive us back to the placid, seashore village of Dana Point.  

     Wynton Marsalis - last on right upper row

      But what they didn't realize was that New York City is not a fantasy, as Orange County, California can become.   It is a throbbing metropolis of constant excitement and wonderment--plus, it offers a vast rich vein of classy entertainment that doesn't cost a penny for those who take advantage of its cultural cornucopia.
       Lower Manhattan, for example, offers 500 free events during the summer. At 2:30 p.m. yesterday one of the world's finest jazz aficionados, Wynton Marsalis sent the sweet notes of America's home-grown jazz to the ears of a few thousand of us who braved the heat to hear him and his famous Jazz Orchestra of Lincoln Center.  We were all sprawled on the grass of Battery Park, trying to hide from the Terrorism of the sun by snuggling up in patches of shade from the great trees that stand Sentinel in the park.   One of the staff members at the concert worked his way through the bodies, spraying our faces, necks and arms with a bottle of water.  All free!

      Our next junket was Macy's fireworks display, hosted by television West Wing's Rob Lowe.   One of our daughters had two prized tickets she couldn't use and offered them to us.   Usually, we watch the display from the rooftop of a friend's apartment, but this year we decided to indulge ourselves with front-row East River Macy seating.
       Police blocked the FDR highway to allow people to view the display, and we stood in line to enter the Macy's bleachers on the water's edge, where the display would be televised worldwide.   Police Bomb Squad dogs sniffed the air as we worked our way into the bleachers.   NYPD officers carried machine guns, a strange sight in America.

      I remember a number of years during the Terrorist hijacking wave, landing in Italy and looking out the window watching our aircraft  being escorted by armored vehicles with turret-mounted machine guns.  Inside, fatigue-dressed guards with machine guns scanned the lobby, making me glad I was an American and we didn't have such a martial state in our country.  However, this year, I was happy to see our "guys" ready to do battle to protect us all, should that be necessary--especially after the gun battle at the Los Angeles airport, reported earlier that day on national news.
      Macy's staff is the best in the world.   Polite, concerned, happy, they tamed the restless, sweaty crowd with gifts and cold water and cheerleaders dressed as Uncle Sam and Betsy Ross.

      The fireworks show was spectacular.   We sat on the water's edge, the four Macy's barges exploding a series of synchronized fireworks that would have made the originators of fireworks--the Chinese--proud.

       Because we were part of a national televised event, we were cued to throw confetti at a certain point, and applaud or cheer on demand.   It was staged but real.  People waved flags, children were picked to mount the stage with Mayor Bloomberg, and Rob Lowe kept the show moving.
       The highlight of the event for my wife and I was Ray Charles.   When our children were younger, we took them to see him at the Hungry Horse Cafe, in Orange County.  It was a very small but locally famous entertainment spot and you could reach out and touch the blind legend.   When he sang his famous "America," I felt the hair on the back of my neck stiffen.   He didn't seem to age a day since the last time I saw him and the hairs on my neck, albeit fewer, again were astir.

       The signs of Terrorism were muffled by the joy of the evening.   As the crowd of nearly 2,000 roared and cheered, it seemed to drown out Terrorism's venom--the Fear, the Intimidation and Complacency.   In its place was the Courage, Conviction and Right Actions that make America able to withstand any of the countless attacks so many have launched against our Constitution and Declaration of Independence over the past 226 years.
        As a fireboat shot red, white and blue water streams hundreds of feet into the air, I thought of the resilience of America, her elasticity carefully engineered into her structure by its founding architects.

      Behind me, in the cramped bleachers, was an older woman who nagged at me about my buttocks being too big, and sticking over the edge of the seat making it hard for her to sit comfortably.   My knees were already jabbing along the sides of the women sitting in front of me, and there was a moment when I wanted to turn and tell the shrew woman behind me some of my finest Marine Corps vernacular.
        My wife nudged me, reminding me to remain Vigilant.  To conjure the Courage, Conviction and take the Right Action rather than convert myself into a Terrorist angered by her constant hen-pecking about my butt, or the fact I am six-feet four inches tall and weigh 270 pounds. 
        I bit my tongue.  It was the Right Action.
        Eventually, she shut up.  I adjusted myself the best I could to avoid imposing my frame on her space, and yet didn't relinquish my right to my space.   Everything worked out, without violence, without Intimidation and without suffering Complacency.

      It was a small victory of Vigilance.  I was glad I hadn't said anything to her, despite the desire to pour a bottle of cold water on her head.
      We walked home in the heat, thirty blocks, to the East Village.   Families, young people, old people filled the streets, wending their way home.   Sirens wailed here and there, as they always do in New York City.  Cops held their hats in their hand and wiped sweat off their brows.
      Negotiating our way down Second Avenue, we found our favorite deli and purchased our reward for a great Fourth of July--two pints of Ben and Jerry's--one Triple Carmel, one new flavor, a combination of chocolate and vanilla with a peanut butter caramel center, my newest liking (Heath Bar Crunch is my historic preference.)
      We popped the pictures into the computer and viewed them, reliving the day.   There was no Terrorism in the day.  Even the heat didn't stop us from enjoying the beauty and multiformity of America.

      I thought of the older lady behind me at the Macy's fireworks show.  I wondered if she was bin Laden's mother.  If she were, she would have to tell her son that the big guy in front of her wasn't so bad after all.




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