[Photos coming soon.] [Update 7/9/04: Photos are now up here. See my entry for video links and some words from me.]
It was Scott‘s birthday yesterday (as well as our nation’s), and after a laid-back brunch of Swedish pancakes and a lively discussion of social conscience, good citizenship, politics, civic involvement, education, and Michael Moore, as well as a phone call to Rodin, we decided to do ahead with the plan to once again watch the fireworks from the Charles River.
The good news: we were in possession of three different vessels, each with a capacity of about four people. The bad news: we didn’t have any oars. So Scott headed back to Cruftlabs to build some, and I wrestled with spam comments for a while.
By midafternoon, we had a plan: meet up with Rodin, Christine, and some Putzen at the Pour House around 6 for a birthday-celebratory dinner, work out the final kinks of our boating excursion, and launch our crafts from the Boston side of the Esplanade around 8. The timing was arranged so as to give us plenty of time to row under the bridge and settle into a good spot before the fireworks commenced at 10:35.
Thankfully, it was an absolutely gorgeous day. I met up with Wax and Kraken in Central around 5 to head over to tep and hang out for a while. (The house, it turns out, is basically smack-dab in front of the barge, so they have one of the better views of the festivities from their roofdeck. The water is still, in my opinion, the prime viewing location.) From there, I headed over to the Pour House, where Scott, Rodin, Christine, Chia, Chandler, Quinn, Emily, Anat, Kraft, and Harvey were already settling into their beverages. Though the restaurant was out of ice cream, I still indulged in one of the better burger deals in greater Boston (—I do prefer to accompany it with a chocolate shake, but what can you do?). We parted ways on Boylston St., and half of us headed to Cruftlabs to retrieve the boats and oars, while the rest went back to Cambridge to get the Kraft craft from EC.
At the labs, we test-inflated (with the air compressor) the second raft, grabbed a roll of duct tape, gathered up the oars and the boats, and headed for the river. We got some curious comments as we walked through Boston, including one from an apparently rather confused fellow, who asked, referring to the oars, “What are you doing with those staffs?” Perhaps he thought we were nerds or something.
By this time, the Mass Ave bridge had been closed to vehicular traffic, as had Memorial and Storrow Drives. This is always an incredible sight: some of Boston’s busiest thoroughfares devoid of cars and filled with people. We walked across the grass and down onto the Esplanade, heading west of the bridge to where we would be able to launch our rafts. Darkness was beginning to fall, and vendors were selling glowsticks and other flashing disposable toys.
We found an open spot just west of the bridge, and settled in to inflate the rafts. Scott and Rodin went to work using the foot pump and some good strong lung power, with help from Quinn and Christine. I documented the process, sometimes to others’ chagrin.
We launched just after sundown, which is when our adventure became thoroughly un-MIT. As we were putting the Zodiac into the water, we noticed that one of Scott’s lovely oars had simply fallen apart. Liberal application of duct tape followed the swearing which caused a nearby middle-aged couple to look at us sharply — too liberal, though, as we ran out on oar number one. This would prove to be problematic later.
With two now-functional oars, we put in the Zodiac, and soon discovered that it was slowly taking on water. This wasn’t a hazard, as the vessel would still be able to float when filled with water (though it would admittedly look rather strange), but rather an annoyance which would later cause Rodin, in one of his Rodin moments, to pull out his Gerber and turn his jeans into cutoffs just below the knee so that the crew of the Zodiac would have rags with which to sop up the bits of the Charles which were leaking through.
Once Scott, Rodin, and Christine were settled into the Zodiac, we put the Supercaravelle into the water and the rest of us climbed in. Since we only had the two oars, the idea was to have Scott and Rodin paddle in the Zodiac and drag us behind, so we tied ourselves to them and started our erratic oscillations across the river.
As we passed under the bridge, a few of us were tempted to sing The Engineer’s Drinking Song, but we quickly thought the better of it, as our excursion was more a failure of engineering than a feat. Scott also vocally forbade it, embarassed as he was at not having a self-made raft this year to begin with, and furthermore shamed by the failure of his oars. “If anyone asks, we’re from BU,” was what we decided.
Slowly but surely, we made our way among the motorboats to the buoy line. We found a buoy and tied ourselves off to it, since, anchorless, we would have otherwise drifted, and with two PFDs for six people, two fragile oars, and a boat taking on water, we weren’t particularly keen on conversing with the police. Once we were tied off to the buoy and to each other, we settled in and really started to relax.
I was reminded then of how awesome watching the fireworks from the water really is. It’s peaceful while being utterly intense: you are just so close to the explosions that it feels like you’re right underneath them. When you’re right up front like we were, you feel like you’re the only ones around, and they’re putting on a whole show just for you. While being gently rocked by the breeze and the water, you get a fabulous view of not just the fireworks themselves, but their reflections in the water as well as all of the buildings of Boston and Cambridge. Seen reflected in the glass of the Pru, or even the Green Building, the fireworks look like a rippling explosion or licking tongues of fire. It almost seems as though the buildings are exploding. Which may be a morbid thought, but it’s really amazing and terrifyingly beautiful.
After the pyrotechnics were over, we detached ourselves from the buoy and paddled towards the Cambridge side, heading for the Sailing Pavilion. We had a narrow passage between two large motorboats which were anchored next to one another, and got scolded by the occupants of one: as we turned around to look back, we saw that the two boats, which had been a couple of yards apart before, were touching, and we felt as though we had just pulled off some sort of slow-motion action movie sequence. We also felt more stupid than we had all evening.
Up ahead, we saw greddy’s raft, and we pulled around (with what limited control we had) to say hello. At this point, oar number two had falled apart, and without dict tape to fix it we were using one oar and one piece of plywood which used to be part of an oar to propel ourselves. Luckily, in exchange for taking one of their crew back to shore, we got to use two of their (apparently more sturdily-made) paddles, which made the last leg of the journey easier and faster. (We were cursing the network fols who had trashed the incredibly sturdy Couchamaran oars. They had been stowed in the Putz ceiling, but had disappeared in the course of a year, as had the pontoons…)
We pulled up the boats at the dock, deflated them, stashed them on Putz, and headed our separate ways. I was going to meet up with Deb at 77 — she had watched from the Esplanade on the Boston side, and was taking the bus back across the river — but the bridge was still closed, and of course the Number One took her on some crazy detour which spat her out in Central Square. Meanwhile, I had run into Night Rally plus Austin, so I told Deb I’d meet her at home and the five of us walked Cambridge-Street-ward. You know, those guys are all pretty tall.
It was, all in all, an excellent fourth of July, not to mention a fabulous (and long!) weekend.