I went to see the Independence Day fireworks down on the National Mall today. I've only done that once before and it was quite a number of years ago.

I parked at a metro station and took the metro down to Foggy Bottom. From there I walked to the Lincoln Memorial. I was supposed to meet some friends on the steps of the memorial. I was worried that since 9/11 the security would be pretty cumbersome, but it wasn't really too bad. They'd cordoned off the Mall and at the security checkpoint they just half-heartedly looked through my backpack. I don't really understand the point of the questions where they ask if a certain pocket is empty or when they asked me if the contents of my water bottle was really water. I could just as easily lied to them and there's no way they could have known. I guess that to a large degree it's probably just feel-good security.

I had gotten to the memorial and staked out a spot on the steps to wait for my friends when a US park ranger came over to tell the crowd in front of the monument, We have word that there's going to be severe weather, thunderstorms and lightning, so we advise you to seek safe haven. Now, besides the fact that this made it sound like we were political refugees, I had no idea what sort of safe haven he was expecting us to seek. The Mall itself doesn't offer much cover, and most of the surrounding buildings would be closed. It turned out that, because of the weather, they stopped letting people in through the checkpoints, so the people I was trying to meet couldn't get in.

I went to meet my friends outside security, and then we waited around for the bad weather to pass so we could be let in to the Mall. Once it started raining in earnest, we were told that there was a building setup for shelter a few blocks down. Since most of our group didn't have umbrellas, we headed down there. What we discovered was that they were letting people into the shelter but not belongings. They wanted you to leave any backpacks, bags, blankets, etc. outside. We opted to take our chances with the rain. We hid out under a tree, and in 15 or 20 minutes the rain subsided. Not too long after that we finally got on to the Mall, minus a few members of our group who were tired of the rain and run around.

We had pretty good seats on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial, and the fireworks display was quite good. I remembered that it was good (which stands to reason), but that's not quite the same as actually seeing it. The only big detractor was the group of people who sat next to us, a Seaman and his family. After a few minutes they got to talking, and I overheard him complaining, Did you see the rag heads, er, towel heads we passed by? Yeah, there were a bunch of them on the way in. You know those are the same people throwing their babies in front of our Humvees in Iraq. His father gave a grunt of agreement. Presumably the towel heads in question were a Muslim family we'd passed by when coming in who were, one assumes, there to celebrate their adoptive country's independence. In any case, I'm fairly certain that they didn't blow anyone up or throw babies in front of any automobiles that night. Also, I had to wonder why he corrected rag head to towel head; is that supposed to be more acceptable?

I couldn't help scowling in his direction, and I strongly considered saying something, but in the end I figured it'd be a useless confrontation that would probably just inconvenience my friends. That display of blatant, unabashed racism generally put me in a foul mood for a while, and it only added to my annoyance when people wanted to have their picture taken with the guy and were saying, thank you for your service. If not for his comment, that all would have been nice, but instead I was left there wanting to scream, This guy's a damned racist, stop patting him on the back! I've mostly had occasion to meet current or former members of the armed services who are thoughtful and intelligent, so this was an ugly reminder of the fact that not everyone in the service measures up. That this all went down on the steps of the Licoln Memorial, of all places, added insult to injury.

The racist Seaman went on to make a couple of other stupid comments. For one, he was talking about how coming to the celebration in his uniform probably made him a target for terrorists and how in their training they're always told to avoid being conspicuous. Right, so terrorists are going to come half way around the world, ignoring all the servicemen in Iraq and elsewhere, to, not a military base or even the Navy Yard area of DC, but the National Mall to take out some single enlisted navy man. That seems quite plausible. Then again, I also doubt he has much occasion to be on land in Iraq driving around in a Humvee either. What a dumbass. I later realized that the best reaction to his towel head comment would simply have been to blurt out, Yeah, towel heads, who needs 'em? ...or the blacks or the jews. Alas, hindsight is 20/20.

In the end, the fireworks were great, the weather, aside from the rain, was nice, and most of the people were nice. But I could have done without that one jerk.

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