Wednesday, July 1, 2009

4th of July-- July 1

The Fourth of July is a big deal here. Bigger than anywhere else I've been. Sure, Chicago has its amazing fireworks, with the symphony playing the big overture and etc. I did go in on the train once while in college or just afterwards, and remember the sea of people, 250,000 officially, streaming down Michigan Avenue afterwards on our way back to our various transportations. And when we arrived we passed someone I knew from Grinnell walking the other way and couldn't stop, just shouted back at each other until the two currents took us our separate ways.

And sure, I was in New York one year, and got a seat on a roof with friends Frances and Jim in Brooklyn overlooking the East River and the fireworks set off of barges. It was 1991 and the first Gulf War had just started and there was a firework called the "scud" that we thought was just terrible-- a flare would go up and then another would "intercept" it. We learned this on the radio simulcast being broadcast somewhere else on the rooftop.

I did always love going into the big field off Orchard Avenue in Park Forest to watch the fireworks display.

But all of this has nothing on St. Joseph, Minnesota. This town of 5,000 people is ground zero for a gigantic parish festival on the 4th of July weekend that brings in about half of the church's annual budget. Preparations began yesterday, June 30, with the arrival of lots of materials for set-up in the church parking lot.

Steve is one of the chairs of the Joe Burger stand, by far the most labor-intensive and popular stand at the festival, although this year there will be a Joetown Brat, which might take some pressure off.

A Joe Burger and a Joe Burger with cheese are the same price, $3. Fries are $2 and a fountain drink is $1. Working the cashier spot does take some math, and there are no calculators. What makes a Joe Burger special are the grilled onions.

Tonight at 6 p.m., onion grilling began. It's now 10 p.m. and Steve is not back. I know from last year that the entire downtown now smells like onion. They do about 500 lbs of grilled onions-- that's 1/4 ton.

I thought you'd like some photos, so on my way to the grocery store to stock up for mom and dad's visit, I took these. A happy crew-- next year I think I will no longer be able to avoid that day. As for me, I'm on to work the stand tomorrow from 5-8, and given the lack of help for the late shift, expect to be on the stand from 10:30-midnight as well. I'll send my mom and dad home after the fireworks.

July 3rd has become the larger of the two events in recent years. Bobby Vee, known for his 1950s hits "Red Rubber Ball" and "The Night Has a Thousand Eyes," gives a free concert with his sons, and they've added a few other local bands as well. That brings them out-- that and the beer and Joe Burgers. In recent years there has been growing concern about safety with the huge crowds on the 3rd, but they aren't sure how to scale it back. I think stopping selling beer and burgers at 10 p.m. would be a start. But maybe the late-night burgers placates the crowds after the fireworks until they can get their cars out.

On July 4th there is a parade, which draws another 10,000 or so to our small town. I'm not sure why, as I think it is not a very good parade. In the years I've seen it there are too many semi trucks and politicians, and not nearly enough marching bands or people throwing candy to children. Two years ago I watched it with my four-year-old friend Orianna, who is afraid of clowns. We watched from the kitchen window of her house, away from the exhaust, and safe if there might be the sudden appearance of a clown on a float. I imagine this year my parents and I will walk down and see at least some of it-- it goes on for two hours or more-- and maybe hit the Joe Burger stand a second time, if we can take the crowds. That's a good time to look at the quilts for the quilt auction and if you're into pull-tabs, it's a good time for that, too.
Steve says it's the worst week of his year, but once you're a chair of the Joe Burger stand, you can't really get out of it-- not for at least 20 years, it seems, and this might be his fifth. The guys started planning for all the buns, special seasoning, ground beef from the St. Joe Meat Market, and of course, onions, back in February...

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