Friday, July 4, 2008

A Multi-Cultural Experience

4th of July Fireworks 2008 - Charleston, West Virginia
Originally uploaded by Jason Means

West Virginia has always been a bit of a cultural melting pot. Its demographics span from one side of the chart to the next in just about every measurable category. Nowhere was that more evident than this years 4th of July fireworks display.

The fireworks are typically put off over the river in downtown Charleston. Per the areas geography, a good view of the display can be seen from a number of locations. But one of the most popular viewing spots by far is Fort Hill, which overlooks most of the downtown area.

Fort Hill is a nice area, sitting just to the west of South Hills (home to the wealthy and well-to-do of Charleston). It's mostly made up of mid to high income homes, and the area is very well kept, bordering on being manicured.

As I started to set up my camera for the show, all of the cash chuckers started pulling up in their Volvos and other overpriced luxury cars. The families properly and promptly exited their vehicles, pitched out large lawn blankets and popped open chilled bottles of their favorite white wine, patiently waiting for the fireworks to begin.

Not so long after that, almost as if a fiddle player was cued to music, the holler folk started showing up in droves, driving their clapped out, hung-down, brung-down Chevy Cavaliers and a sundry of large-wheeled monster trucks.

The many and vast cultural groups of West Virginia are used to crossing paths, and typically pay little heed to one another. But, with an event like the 4th, it's every cash chucker and/or mouth breather for themselves. Fireworks are a sign of national pride, while simultaneously being a tremendous orgasm of wasteful spending. What could be more American? Or in our case, West Virginian?

As the fireworks began, everyone quickly noticed that they were being put off in a slightly different location, requiring all in attendance to shift locations, and in not-so-polite ways, run over top of one another for a prime viewing location. All formalities and courtesies be damned.

Before the fireworks had ended, the rain started coming down pretty hard and it was a mad dash for everyone to get back to their perspective vehicles. Unfortunately, due to the small roadways of the Fort Hill area, the mass exodus of post firework traffic was completely and totally gridlocked, with no one willing to give an inch. Thankfully, I was smart enough to park at the far end of the street, prepared as always for a quick departure.

I usually like to end my tales/observations with some positive moral or quip, but... I'm lost for words right now, and in a strange way, feel the slightest bit empty. Part of me feels genuinely fortunate to have experienced such a unique and varied gathering, while another part of me is fixated and just how big of a cultural cluster fuck that I had just witnessed.

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