A Curmudgeon's Guide to Surviving the 4th of July

Tim Cotton

Tim Cotton | Jul 03, 2017

I like fireworks on the Fourth, but parades are overrated. This is the opinion of a man who has been officially deemed to be a curmudgeon by his family and all but several friends. I have been in and/or directed traffic around more Independence Day parades than I can count using all my fingers.

Happy July 4th from Car Talk Plaza!

At this point in my career, If I don’t have the day off, you can bet I would be posted at an intersection blocking traffic. An intersection where only people from out of state show up and ask remarkably similar questions to the person before them and the one who will soon follow. When will I be able to get through? How do I get to Bar Harbor? Why do you block Main Street for a parade? Our town no longer has parades but we were sent here to ruin yours. Was there a point in your career where you looked good in uniform? Obviously, these people need to be directed back down I-95 as they are not getting into the spirit of the celebration.

If the air conditioning is working and a little classic rock can be found on the radio, the driver’s seat of a cruiser is the perfect location for the celebration. It can be downright relaxing as all you need to do is wave and go slow enough not to lose the high school band that is walking behind you. Waving to the thrum of Won’t Get Fooled Again by The Who is a respite from giving directions or listening to donut jokes from the rowdy crowd of patriotic revelers.

"Are they still following us?" (Smnyst/Wikipedia, CC BY-SA 3.0)

Cops are usually lucky enough to be in the lead car in a parade. Even before the grand marshal in the Mustang Convertible and one of several bands. The grand marshal’s ride should be equipped with an automatic. Most of the available drivers are not versed in the nuances of the standard shift. No one wants to see the mayor toppled backward onto the trunk lid. Not good for the freshly waxed, red paint. Not good for his reelection efforts. Not that bad for Facebook fodder. Facebook feeds are frequently filled with faux pas of the Fourth of July.

An automatic transmission will help keep your elected officials and local junior royalty from toppling into the trunk. (By Ellin Beltz - Own work, CC BY-SA 3.0)

Leading a rural New England parade also gives you an opportunity to use all the modes of the siren intermittently. Dogs hate you, kids love you, and parents put up with it because it’s the 4th of July.

Inside the Police Interceptor, the siren is never loud enough to drown out Roger Daltrey. Windows must be up to shoulder height to keep the classic hits inside the car. This still leaves enough space for friendly waving to the kids. They can be very cute when they wave back. The majority of them do it with all their fingers. Hopefully you have treated the skateboarding public with enough respect that they only flip you the bird after dark and not at public events. Most parents still frown on this behavior and their very presence causes many children to behave quite nicely.

Go ahead and show your fans what that siren can do.

Switching the siren into the Hi-Low mode (British tone) just prior to Daltrey’s scream creates a whole different experience inside the cruiser. No one else will appreciate the skill level involved in timing it perfectly. The kids will still be waving and your smile will be ear to ear. A great way to celebrate the country’s independence from the Brits.

By the time the last fire truck or ambulance passes, the sirens are getting a little old. The crowd’s reaction becomes slightly less jovial. Nothing says, “I love my country” more than crying Golden Retrievers and small children with their fingers stuck deep into their ears.  Later, at the family picnic, when a mother asks junior if he wants more corn on the cob, and the child says, “I don’t have to go to the bathroom,”  you know there was a little too much siren and not enough John Phillips Sousa. I prefer, Stars and Stripes Forever over any tone put out by a siren. Call me crazy, but that guy could really lead a brass band.

Go ahead and wave to the kids; the majority will wave back using all their fingers. (Cliff via Flickr, CC 2.0)

If you like classic cars, Independence Day parades usually have the best variety. Memorial Day is a little early to bring out the Gran Torino and by Labor Day the alternator probably gave out so the Ford is back in storage waiting for parts. July and sunny skies tend to bring out the best of the best.

The staging area an hour or two prior to your town’s parade is the perfect time to look over all the cars and speak to the owners. Typically, they love to talk about their vehicles. The air is filled with the cherry fragrance of Meguiars-Quik Detailer and green, pine tree shaped air fresheners. I love the smell of anal retentive car ownership in the morning.

Try not to be the guy explaining why the owner is wrong about one or two particular details regarding their car. Yes, it came standard with the dimmer switch on the floor. Car owners don’t want to talk to “that guy” anymore than they like to explain to the town cop why their exhaust is not stock. Peruse the rides. Enjoy the day.

"Try not to be the guy explaining why the owner is wrong about one or two particular details regarding their car. Peruse the rides. Enjoy the day."

So, take the kids to the parade. Around the age of 12, they start to lose interest. Make sure that they know the universal signal for the drivers of the big rigs to blow their air horns. The up and down, left arm yank is becoming a lost art. Is it even a feature on GTA 5?

I wish you all a happy and safe Independence Day. If you take the time to slip in a couple of foam earplugs just prior to go-time, you too can smile during the parade and your day will be far better. The kids don’t need to know you are a curmudgeon. They are getting older and won’t get fooled again.


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