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July 4, 2002

The luck of the Glorious Fourth
Posted by Teresa at 02:23 PM *

As everyone knows, the turning point for New York City’s long spell of bad luck — which, depending on your point of view, started either with the ascendancy of Robert Moses, or the loss of the Dodgers — was when the tall ships sailed into the harbor as part of the 1976 Bicentennial celebrations. Every description I’ve heard from New Yorkers who were there to see it has been lyrical: It was magic, a descent of grace and glory upon a city that has always and primordially and continually been one of the great harbors of the world.

I firmly believe that what broke the city’s run of luck was the Op Sail 2000 debacle. You’ll be hard pressed to find any mention on the web of the debacle part, since most accounts were written by people who got to see the event. (The common folk posted pictures taken from a distance, or from New Jersey.)

Basically, they set up a heavily guarded perimeter and closed off the entire prime viewing area, all the waterfront from Battery Park City to up around 14th Street, to anyone who didn’t have a ticket—and the ticketing period had opened and closed long before the day. This came as an unpleasant surprise to the thousands of happy New Yorkers who went there that morning, expecting to see the tall ships sail up the Hudson. I know; I was in that crowd.

On the day, when I asked someone associated with the event where and when this ticketing had been announced, she vaguely said it had been in the neighborhood papers. That’s a new one; I hadn’t realized the waterfront was the sole property of the immediately adjacent neighborhoods. And maybe there were other announcements and I just missed them; but I don’t think so. Here’s Op Sail 2000’s announcement of it, preserved on an old page of the Hudson River Fisherman’s Association (HRFA) website. The pertinent bit says:

A high level U.S. dignitary will transit aboard a U.S.Navy vessel along this line as a ceremonial review. The proposed regulations create temporary anchorage regulations, vessel movement controls, and two security zones. The regulations will be in effect at various times in the Port of New York and New Jersey during the period June 29, 2000 through July 5, 2000. The vessel congestion due to the large number of participating and spectator vessels poses a significant threat to the safety of life. This proposed rulemaking is necessary to ensure the safety of life on the navigable waters of the United States.
Mumbling about there being “two security zones” is a far cry from explaining that on the Fourth of July, when there’s a parade of tall ships in the harbor, you’re going to be closing off the waterfront esplanade and the contiguous parks to the citizenry. I don’t think the HRFA understood that part either, because their members were presumably interested parties, and all they told them in their own newletter was that:
This event will have a affect on all boating and marina activities for the several days that surround the Forth of July. Be prepared for the crowds.
“Hello, you aren’t going to be able to get anywhere near the Battery Park City marina” would have been more like it.

The official Op Sail website is profoundly uncommunicative—one of those impervious corporate-speak sites that look like a four-color glossy sales brochure translated straight into pixels. It has a few tasteful photos, a short laudatory introduction by Walter Cronkite, and some further dribs and drabs of superficial copy that read like a corporate mission statement. (Strangely enough, their front page says “Winner of the 2000 Communicator Award of Distinction.”)

I doubt the snafu was just security gone berserk. We don’t have exclusion zones like that when the United Nations is hosting world leaders by the dozen. You can walk down along the row of consulates, playing “suits and muscle” as you go, then past the UN to have a look at the heavily-armed security guys in body armor standing on its roof. They don’t try to close off the East Side.

In fact, the only other occasion I’ve seen handled like that was the non-inauguration in Washington, a year and a half ago. There was that exact same use of euphemistic “security zones” and ticketing to exclude the common citizenry from what had been common ground.

I’m not drawing a simple parallel. I could, and so could you, but that’s not what I’m going after. I’m saying, perhaps irrationally, that solemn patriotic observances like the Fourth of July and Inauguration Day, when we invoke liberty and democracy, are a singularly unlucky time to be pulling this nomenklaturoid crap.

For years now, I’ve been bothered by the way some commentators talk about groups they don’t like—liberals, the poor, homosexuals, immigrants—as though they were hoping they’d up and vanish into thin air. Bad idea. Bad, bad precedent. Don’t kid yourself that they could never wind up excluding you. Aristocracies can get by with a surprisingly tiny number of members, and there’s only so much beachfront property in the world.

Comments on The luck of the Glorious Fourth:
#1 ::: James Macdonald ::: (view all by) ::: July 05, 2002, 11:52 AM:

As it happed, I was in Op Sail 76. Standing in dress whites, at parade rest, for hours. On the port side of the forecastle of USS Savannah (AOR-4).

Who will ever forget the small craft filled with young ladies who had forgotten half of their bathing suits? And the officers up on the bridgewings with binoculars? It was at that moment I decided to become an officer.

#2 ::: John M. Ford ::: (view all by) ::: July 05, 2002, 12:21 PM:

Well, now we know where all the tickets went.

For it is, it is, a glorious thing
To be in Parks and Rec. . . .

#3 ::: Teresa Nielsen Hayden ::: (view all by) ::: July 05, 2002, 06:52 PM:

What I know about the ticketed few is that they were awfully pastel for New Yorkers.

Jim, did you get your share of topless young ladies in small craft when you became an officer?

#4 ::: Glenn Hauman ::: (view all by) ::: July 06, 2002, 02:56 AM:

He probably did, but passed on them when he got up close and saw how many of them wore lipstick.

See what you miss when you drop the list, Teresa?

#5 ::: Teresa Nielsen Hayden ::: (view all by) ::: July 09, 2002, 12:19 AM:

Did not drop it, nyah.

#6 ::: James Macdonald ::: (view all by) ::: July 10, 2002, 01:33 AM:

As a matter of fact, Glen, yes.

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