Monday, July 5, 2010

Reflections on Independence

I hope you had a nice Fourth of July, and were able to spend some time with your family and friends taking a well deserved, mid-summer breather. For someone who travels for a living, you might be surprised to know that I don't travel for the Fourth. The airports are jammed, rental cars booked, attractions crowded, etc. So I kick back at home, reflect upon my good fortunes, catch some fireworks, and get ready for my next trip.

I was listening to the radio yesterday and heard a fellow named Ray Raphael say that we sort of celebrate our independence on the wrong day. Yeah, he's a historian and author and he points out that the Declaration of Independence was voted for on July 2, 1776, and did not start being signed until August 3rd of the same year. John Adams even wrote to his wife Abigail on the 3rd that the second day of July 1776 will be the most memorable epocha in the history of America. He predicted fireworks, patriotic songs and speeches, the works. So how did we end up doing it on the 4th? Well, in the days before the interweb, TV, radio, etc., things needed to be printed up, delivered to the masses via dispatches on horseback, and then read in the town square. That took a day or two to organize and, by the time it occurred the date at the top of the document read July 4, 1776. And so it has been ever since. Turns out, both Adams and Thomas Jefferson (the guy who wrote the thing) both died on the 4th of July fifty years later. So maybe they each got two extra days, if you want to look at it that way.

But there's no ambiguity about the fireworks. They shot them off at the first 4th of July and all of them since. According to the American Pyrotechnics Associations, over $945 million dollars worth fireworks were sold in 2009 alone. And fortunately, there has been a 920% decrease in firework-related injuries since 1976. Still, according to the Consumer Product Safety Commission, 6,400 Americans spent part of their 4th of July in an emergency room last year due to firework mishaps. So there's still a little work to do, but it's clear you can have a blast and still be safe.

And how about this hot dog eating contest at Coney Island every 4th of July? Legend has it that it started with two recent immigrants to the U.S. in 1916. The eating contest was devised as a way to settle a feud as to who was the more patriotic of the two. It was held on July 4th at Nathan's Hot Dog stand in Coney Island. Legend or not, tens of thousands of people flock to the event every year, and over a million more watch it on TV. The event is currently sanctioned by the International Federation of Competitive Eating (IFOCE) and all participants are members of Major League Eating (MLE). I don't make this stuff up folks. The 2010 title went to Joey "Jaws" Chestnut, his fourth in a row, after he devoured 54 hot dogs and buns in ten minutes. Are you kidding me?! But the event was marred by controversy when ex-champ Takeru Kobayashi, currently in a dispute with MLE and not part of the competition, showed up and tried to jump on stage. He was arrested after a melee with NY's finest and taken away. But no one was injured, and Pepto Bismol (MLE's top sponsor) flowed freely afterwards.

Well it sure is great to be free, and there is no better place than the good old U.S.A. to be so. And while I choose not to eat 54 hot dogs and buns or blow part of my hand off in observing it, the 4th of July is undoubtedly my favorite day of the year.

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