Pete, having finished up his job in TX, came to spend the 4th of July in Washington, DC with my family. A few years ago he dressed as Uncle Sam for Halloween, inspired by the dry wall stilts he was using to refinish his basement in Colorado. He was the one who came up with the great idea to bring back the costume for the 4th. I decided I would need a costume of my own, casually suggesting the Statue of Liberty. A week later I got a box in the mail with the return address of “Halloween”. I love this guy.
The morning of the 4th I frantically pulled together a torch and a book from a cereal box, an oil funnel, a recycled crab meat container, and some gold and green acrylics. We had practiced stumbling around on the stilts the nights previous but decided neither of us would try to board to the metro while 8 ft tall. We did apply my green glow (combination of military camouflage and sticky white clown face paint) and Pete’s rosy cheeks and white facial hair (also clown face paint).
We instantly made friends on the metro, quite a few people talking to us about the costumes, the significance of the Statue of Liberty… They ranged from an American 5 year old to 70 year old Indian man and a good mix of in between. A few people attempted surreptitious photos. If I could (the metro is REALLY crowded on July 4th!) I tried to walk over, offer to take a photo, and hand them the slip of paper that said “#SamAndLibby2014”. Most caught on that our names were not Sam and Libby. I kind of don’t get hashtags/loathe the seeming meaninglessness of a lot of their usage. BUT I wanted these pictures. I wanted to get people excited and also just see how many people would put them out there to share.
Even before we got off the metro a young couple asked if they could get pictures with us. Since we stopped to take a picture with them, a bunch of other people asked to take photos too. And there we stood in front of the less than impressive backdrop of sun-stained Smithsonian Mall Information Map. For about 30 minutes. Eventually we were able to walk half way across the mall where Pete could try to put on his stilts. Before he could put the stilts on we had two groups of people waiting. We managed to make it around the corner. And there we stood. For an hour. With the fascinating backdrop of the back of the white Folklife Festival tent. At this point we couldn’t get away. We had a crowd of at least 15 people at all times, usually closer to 30. After multiple attempts to move on, Pete started to get down off the stilts (they are hard to stand on for that long!) and I explained we would be back but we had to get food and water. People reluctantly shuffled on. We had expected some people to want to take photos, but didn’t really fully think through how other people, crowds of people, would react. They of course would want a photo too!
We got some Chinese food from the Folklife Festival. And some beer, which made the stilts easier. Met up with some friends and headed further down toward the capital building. We got a few photo requests along the way, but mostly just smiles and a bunch of “Look, honey, it’s the Statue of Liberty!” I love making people smile.
Finally, we got close enough to have a view of the capital and got into full gear again. A crowd formed quickly and we let everyone who wanted to come take photos join in. Only once did one lady start to get upset because she had been waiting for a while and the lack of a formal line didn’t suit her idea of fairness. We played it cool and soon she got her picture and everyone was content again.
A lot of people didn’t know who Uncle Sam was, I guess that’s more of an American cultural product. EVERYONE knows the Statue of Liberty though. Still, a guy on stilts is pretty darn cool. So everyone wanted a photo with both of us. The crowd was mixed. Some Americans, decked out in red, white, and blue. Some immigrant families, and a lot of visitors from abroad with limited English. Some young Chinese women were excited to learn the Statue of Liberty spoke Chinese. (I was going to try French, but I really know like 6 words and one of theme is cheese.)
At one point some cops rolled up on their bikes, stood to the side watching, and then inserted themselves (on the bikes) between the crowd and us. I had run the camera over to a friend, thinking they were going to shut us down for making a scene. Pete and I side glanced each other, braced for bad news. And the cop asked if he could get a picture with us. We were shocked and stammered out a, “Yeah, of course!”. He rolled between us on his two wheels, smiled for his buddy’s camera, said thanks, wishing us a happy fourth, and wheeled away.
We had a blast. Though by the end, we were exhausted. It would not have worked out so well if our friends hadn’t been there to help take pictures, videos, and sit down with us for relaxing at the end, cuing the end of the photo opportunities. The stilts were also really heavy, which friends helped with too. We went back down to the other end of the mall, near the monument, where we found single square of flat grass to lay our blankets and our heads and watch the fireworks show.
In the end, about 8 people put photos on instagram. Two of them were friends from high school. So maybe that social media hasn’t really taken off yet. Glad to know there are plenty of people who are just as confused by or apathetic about hashtags as I am. But I am SO glad these people posted! We were able to combine them with the few photos and footage we got, into a video of the experience. I was cracking up while putting it together and can’t help but smile now when I hear the first few notes of the 1812 Overture playing.