Happy birthday and heads up, America
Celebrating independence with mindless destruction, just like the Founders intended
I love the Fourth of July in the South.
I love the fact that it’s surface-of-the-sun hot, and the humidity makes it feel like you’re wrapped in a wool sweater soaked in bath water; postapocalyptic weather runs off the amateurs and the snowbirds. I love getting up before dawn to run the Peachtree Road Race — OK, “run” is a generous term — and I love that the whole city of Atlanta shows out for it, on the streets, on the sidewalk or in the gutters. I love the feel of a cold beer can on the back of my neck, and the taste of that cold beer a couple seconds later. I love hot dogs right off the grill, and John Philip Sousa marches, and my absolutely kick-ass MURICA swimsuit, which you can behold above.
I don’t love that America in 2022 is rattling like the oil hasn’t been changed in 20,000 miles and a whole lot of people are cruising with a F— it, that’s someone else’s problem mentality1. But I do love that there are still those in America — and particularly here in the South — who look to the future with hope rather than fear, pride rather than rage, with the aim to make others’ lives better rather than worse. That’s an even more accurate representation of the American ideal than kittycat-riding-an-eagle swim trunks.
I love blue skies and green pines and white sands, I love floating in the pool and/or lake, I love holding a beer in a koozie from a long-dead podcast or a long-ago race, and I love Braves baseball on in the background. God help me, on this day I even love that dorky Lee Greenwood song for about half a verse.
But mostly, I love the Fourth because we blow shit up real good on America’s birthday.
Some history! Back in the pre-America days, colonists here would hold parties to celebrate King George III’s birthday on June 4. There’d be bad dancing, off-key singing, cringeworthy speechmaking … you know, like every numbing kids’ birthday party you’ve ever been cursed to attend.
Then came the summer of 1776, and rather than celebrate King George’s birth, some cheeky lads decided to celebrate his funeral instead, which is metal as hell.
That’s how America began celebrating the Fourth: with a raised middle finger. Sounds about right.
(George III wouldn’t die for another 44 years. Imagine having anyone in charge for that long. No wonder we ditched those chumps.2)
The first Fourth of July fireworks detonations happened a year later, in 1777. In a mild upset, it was Philadelphia that set off those first explosions, not Florida. One year after that, George Washington gave his men double rations of rum on July 4, 1778, so when you have that sixth beer, tell everyone the Father of our Country said it’s OK.
Within a few years, the nation’s two political parties — the Federalists and the Democratic-Republicans — began holding separate Fourth of July celebrations in major cities, so in case you think we’re living in unprecedented stupid times, no … we’ve always been a bunch of parochial dopes here.
The Fourth of July kicked up another notch after the War of 1812, when Great Britain once again came into our house and once again got whupped3. They’re just lucky we didn’t make that a home-and-home series. Since then, America’s colors have remained the same, and so has the urge to light up the sky.
As much as I enjoy stories of incompetence leading to destruction, when you’re talking about fireworks and the Fourth of July, that’s a pathway that all too often ends with, at best, a bunch of scared puppies and angry Nextdoor posts, and, at worst, death. So let’s stay on this side of the grave and bring our Fourth of July celebrations up to date with the non-fatal tale of a man who once did what we all dream of doing.
Our story begins in Florida. (Of course.) Our date: July 4, 2007. Just six days earlier, a California company had released the first iteration of a silly bit of tech that went by the strange name of “iPhone.” One day earlier, the first “Transformers” movie had just hit theaters, and everybody was trying to get under Rihanna’s umbrella, ella, ella.
On this particular day, a gentleman named Tony4 wandered into a Galaxy Fireworks tent in New Port Richey, looked around at the rows of explosives, and wondered, what would happen if I lit one of these on fire?
Familiar train of thought, right? Only in this case, Tony went ahead and did it, lighting a $130 mortar-style explosive called a High and Mighty.
Guess what happened next:
Pure anarchy! Thankfully nobody was seriously injured in the conflagration, which consumed about $70,000 worth of fireworks in a matter of minutes. It was one of the worst non-fatal fireworks disasters in American history. Woooooo, Florida!
Tony pleaded no contest to charges of first-degree arson — pretty hard to argue you didn’t intend to burn shit down when you lit a fuse in a fireworks store — and got three-and-a-half years in prison. The rest of Pasco County got an unexpected fireworks show, which is the best and most terrifying kind.
Please share with us your finest Fourth of July memory, preferably one involving explosives, grilled meats and/or beer.
Let’s wrap with a drink! Here’s one my brother made for me many times last year, a delightful mix of liquors with a strange Oreo kick. He didn’t give it a name, so let’s call this bad boy …
RED, WHITE & BOOSH
1 oz grenadine
3 oz lemonade
1 oz vodka
1 oz blue curacao
1 Oreo w/ “popping candy” (it’s Pop Rocks) filling
Pour grenadine into glass. Add ice. Pour blue curacao over the back of a spoon for the blue layer. Mix lemonade and vodka in a shaker, then slowly pour over the back of a spoon into the glass for the white layer. Add the Pop Rocks Oreo — come on, what’s more America than that? — for garnish.
BOOSH. America, baby.
Have a safe and happy Fourth, my friends. Catch you back here next week with photos of a Southern culinary delicacy you’re going to need to see to believe.
This is issue #62 of Flashlight & A Biscuit. Check out all the past issues right here. Feel free to email me with your thoughts, tips and advice. If you’re new around here, check out some of our hits:
Elvis Presley gets one last comeback
Beware the White River Monster of Arkansas!
An ode to an Atlanta landmark from the last days of disco
On the Drive-By Truckers and why you should always go to the show
What is a Diablo Sandwich, anyway? Solving a “Smokey and the Bandit”mystery
What does “Flashlight & A Biscuit” mean, anyway?
If you dig this newsletter, share it with your friends. Invite others to the party, everyone’s welcome.
I killed a car doing exactly this in high school, so I know what I’m talking about.
The 1994 movie about the king’s life was called “The Madness of King George” because the director feared, in part, that American audiences would think they’d missed the first two installments if the movie was named for the play from which it was adapted, “The Madness of George III.”
So-called “military historians” will tell you this was effectively a draw. Whatever. We’re still 1-0-1 against y’all, England. Come get some!
I’m not naming his full name because the guy served his time. No need to ruin his Google search results for a goofy story.