We got to the water just in time.
Before that, the Baldwin Pops had been jamming on the bluffs of Fairhope for a couple hours. We were only fifteen minutes late. We reclined on a grey flat sheet in the grass toward the back of the crowd. I couldn’t see the band from where I was sitting, but that wasn’t so much the point as was hearing them. My stomach growled incessantly and I satiated it with pretzel crisps, pine nut hummus, and a few hard seltzers. Joe and I made ridiculous hand gestures at each other when we thought nobody else was looking, because deep down we’re all children.
I’d had to pee for about an hour before I decided to get in the incredibly long line for the Porta Potties—I had to go so bad my eyes were turning yellow. That’s something my mom used to always say. We’d be in the car or something when I was a kid, and I’d tell her I had to go so bad. She’d look at me through the rearview mirror and say, “I can tell. Your eyes are turning yella!” Eventually that became my gauge for knowing how badly I really needed to pee, if I should make a big deal about or not. I remember trying to be diplomatic with her, and when I had to go bad enough I’d ask her to check my eyes to see if they were yellow. If she said no, I could hold it for a little while longer without complaining. If she said yes, you better believe I had to find a bathroom immediately.
So my eyes were yellow standing in line for the Porta Potties at the Pops show, and it was my fault—I shouldn’t have waited for intermission, but I did everything I could to get us there at a decent time. The day had been hot, but with the sun declining and the breeze wafting up from the Bay, it may as well have been early autumn. The band music was pure, the night was nice, and despite having to wait in a bathroom line everything was perfect.
Before that, I drove like Baby Driver. The band would start at 7pm, but the roads were clear, and it only took me about twenty minutes to get across the Bay. We snacked early on hummus and played Spotify Jukebox, passing the phone back and forth to show each other some of our favorite songs. Just before that, Lenny Kravitz sang about an American Woman, Bruce Springsteen swore he was Born in the USA, and Ray Charles, well… He thought America looked Beautiful. Somehow.
Before that, we were starving. We went to Walmart for snacks and something to sit on. A blanket. I wanted a blanket, any blanket. But the only thing they had were either beach towels—which I specifically didn’t bring from home because I wanted a blanket—and bedsheets. I grabbed a queen-sized grey sheet and we headed to the grocery section. Emily joked they’d probably only have one flavor of hard seltzer left on the shelf, the one nobody wants. Sure enough, she was right—it was the unflavored one that just tasted like alcoholic soda water. So we went with a different brand, grabbed our hummus, and booked it out of there. We only had fifteen minutes until the Pops went on, and the drive would take at least a half hour. I hoped not—I had to pee.
But we were only fifteen minutes late, all said and done. Parking, walking to find a spot to set up the blanket. When there were only a couple songs left we picked up our makeshift camp sight and headed down from the grassy bluffs to the sands of the beach. Pockets of other groups sat on their own blankets all over the shore, but we found a secluded spot to make our own. The Bayway bridge glowed in the distance, leading from Daphne to the miniature skyline of Mobile. The entire shoreline of Mobile County made up the horizon, which had groups of lights shining idly, sending up a glare into the hazy sky and lighting it to a softer hue of blue like an aura over the land. When we situated ourselves again, we got in the water and fought to escape a massive hunk of clingy seaweed that we thought was a fisherman’s net.
We got to the water just in time. Moments after escaping the stringy green slime, the first firework spiraled into the sky, kicking off the remainder of the evening. They were launched from the end of the Fairhope Pier, the furthest distance they could safely get from the shores. I’d never seen this particular firework display before, but it was a spectacle, to say the least. I’m sure it would’ve been fine from other vantage points, but none of them could’ve been as perfect as where we were, standing in the water with the horizon backlighting the sky and touching the water with flecks of whites. Just off to the left, explosions of reds and golds, greens and blues, each and every one reaching out and touching us through a giant reflection extending from the pier all the way to our knees.
I don’t think I’ve ever seen anything that stimulated my eyes in such a way. This lighting is too perfect, I thought. This is cinematography. This isn’t real, this is a movie.
But of course it wasn’t a soundstage, like some Truman Show simulation on the dome out over the waters around Seahaven. Of course it was real. I had no worries or concerns. I found peace in the darkness under the shimmering lights. It’s another one of those situations that put my mind totally at ease, and as I’ve said before, an easy mind isn’t something I can just take for granted. No, just because I couldn’t find something wrong with the experience doesn’t mean it wan’t real. It was Southern natural beauty, mixed with a good bit of human ingenuity. Music. Magic. Motion.
It was life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness, all wrapped up in a singular experience.
When the show was over we lied on the beach in the dark, listened to more music, and watched the stars. Every few minutes another bonus firework would be launched into the sky, illuminating it once again for anyone still lingering. Those last few were just for us, because we were the only ones left. I didn’t have much to say then, but that was okay. There wasn’t any need for words at that point.
The world spoke for me through the combustion of lights; the rippling waves washing up near our feet; the rhythm of crickets and tree frogs; the whooshing drones and tones of distant traffic. And that’s how I know I’ve found something good, something circadian that exists and persists on its own, like a breeze off the water, summer nights, and walking barefoot back to the truck; like little-to-no effort to find enjoyment, and good company that smiles at you and sings even when you don’t have much else to say.
Something pyrotechnic. Something, dare I say, truly American.