Happy Independence Day!
I am spending this particular 4th in the best way possible: hanging out with the family, doing a whole lot of nothing. Right now in AOI land, Led Zeppelin is playing on iTunes, TIVO’d Ben 10 episodes roll on in the living room, and we’re packing sandwiches and drinks for an evening of spectacular D.C. fireworks. The grill will get a workout today as well, even if the weather goes south on us as it is wont to do this summer.
That’s my little slice of America, and I am happy to bask in it this fine day. Americans celebrate the 4th in many different ways; some, like the Marines in Task Force Leatherneck, are working overtime this weekend and will have to take a rain check on the independence day festivities. Others may let the day pass without a thought. To each his own.
And that’s one of the great things about the United States of America. Do whatever the hell you want, because you’re free!* Freedom is worth celebrating every day if you have it, but if there’s a day each year when we launch fireworks to light up the night in celebration of it, as we down Miller lite and white zinfandel, why not the 4th of July? And while we’re purchasing Roman candles and M80s for the night’s festivities (hopefully I can get mine from a stand like this!), it is worth contemplating some of the little things that make America’s independence worthy of celebration. And since no doubt many people are doing this sort of thing on their blogs, I will try my damnedest to make my list of American originals as unique and eclectic as America itself, if not less serious. . .
The American cougar. The cougar (Puma concolor) or mountain lion, is the second heaviest cat in the American continents, after the jaguar, and the fourth heaviest in the world, along with the leopard, after the tiger, lion, and jaguar, although it is most closely related to smaller felines. Though found throughout Canada and Latin America, it has long represented the American wilderness and our contact with it. The beauty and aggression of the species contributed to its popular use in American pop culture today as well. Most Americans are as familiar with the slang use of cougar as they are with the wily feline itself.
The Winchester Model 94. The Winchester Model 1894 is one of the most famous and most popular hunting rifles. It was designed by John Browning in 1894, and produced by Winchester Repeating Arms Company until they ceased to manufacture rifles in 2006. Can you picture John Wayne shooting a villain off his horse from 100 yards without him using the lever action to jam a follow-on round in the chamber? The Model 94 is sadly relegated to history , but it remains one of the most popular rifles of all time. It was the first sporting rifle to sell over 7,000,000 units. The millionth Model 1894 was given to President Calvin Coolidge in 1927, the 1½ millionth rifle to President Harry S. Truman on May 8, 1948 and the two millionth unit was given to President Dwight Eisenhower in 1953.
The American Muscle Car. During the mid to late 1960’s through the early 70s, Detroit produced some of their most iconic automobiles.
Sure, if you lived in the northeast in the 1980s and owned one of these it was likely more bondo than metal at that point. And any respectable muscle car would burn through gas, but gas was cheap back then, right? When your ’69 Camaro SS or ’70 Mustang Mach 1 ran low, you simply stopped at the Hess station and filled up with regular (not regular unleaded); hell it was only like 59 cents a gallon back in the day. Steve McQueen drove a Mustang during the most memorable chase scene of all time, in Bullitt; Kowalsky, rebelling against everything that was wrong with America in the early 70’s, drove an alpine white Dodge Challenger in Vanishing Point (which I have written about before). The (not so) Big Three would be in better shape today if their cars were in as much demand as the Charger R/T’s and GTOs were a few decades back. And does anyone think our kids will be restoring and cruising in the 2009 Chevy Camaro or putting Cragar Mags on classic Chevy Volts in 15 years?
American Rock . Somewhere within the range of any receiver there is a radio station playing (on XM alone there are like 4) Hotel California. From Elvis, to the Eagles, to the Dead Boys and Misfits, Rock has featured prominently on the American Soundrack for nearly six decades. Pink Houses or Born in the USA will likely be humming on the airwaves today during some 50 million picnic outings. Would there even be a point to Rock music if America did not exist?
Eastern Brook Trout. Brook trout are a gift from the gods to the American fisherman. What they lack in smarts they make up for in beauty and aggression. No two brookies look exactly alike; their ornate bars, dots, stripes and backgrounds appear as imperfect hand painted antique glassware (or the intricate design of a Maker whose aims were beyond the reckoning of mortal men). They are the perfect foil to fly fishing novices, since they often hit any hook with a feather lashed to it. Of course, many of the tiny streams they inhabit are hell on the back cast. The Acre of Independence logo features a brook trout prominently upon it, by the way.
Cormac McCarthy’s beautiful, apocalyptic novel The Road closes with a passage that captures their haunting essence
Once there were brook trout in the streams in the mountains. You could see them standing in the amber current where the white edges of their fins wimpled softly in the flow … On their backs were vermiculate patterns that were maps of the world in its becoming. Maps and mazes. Of a thing which could not be put back.
Star Wars. Walking to the study this morning I was painfully reminded of the ubiquitous presence of Star Wars in the American zeitgeist when I trod upon two stormtrooper
figurines, their disruptor rifles nearly piercing my calloused bare feet. A meaningless collection of mythological cliches arranged into a memorable storyline, George Lucas’ fantasy has cemented itself within our collective consciousness and inspired the imaginations of millions. Even as I write this, my two boys are mimicking the sounds of blasters and light sabers, as their action figures confront one another in yet another final battle. . .
Cheap American Beer. We are beer snobs here at AOI. The fridge is normally stocked with Guinness or Harps, pricier Belgians, or with our finely crafted home brewed ales. But back in the day before fortune favored us, we drank the proletariat beers of our forefathers. Have you ever been to a union hall or VFW or Fireman’s picnic where Pabst, Busch or Miller did not feature prominently? A generation ago, the reasonably priced Schaefer was one of the most popular brands in the country. Even in the 21st century, most Americans can afford to stop by the 7-11 and pick up a 12-pack of Lite beer and a lottery ticket or two, and there is something to be said for that. A person could lose his head for doing the same in a place like Saudi Arabia. . .
So go ahead and read about how great America is because of the Constitution and Declaration of Independence on other blogs. Sure those things make America great, as do the thousands of people who serve in uniform defending the freedoms we hold dear. But the little things make America great, too. Remember that the next time you drink some MGD in a VFW with an old Korean War veteran, or catch a five-inch brookie on a lucky roll cast beneath a low-hanging sugar maple in a nameless stream.
And God Bless America, by the way.
* Just watch out with those bottle rockets as you celebrate your freedom, I do not want any landing on my roof!
Thanks to wikipedia, for filling in the technical details on many of these listings!