My brother Dan and my friend Ed invited me to take a little road trip last week, down to the Gorge Amphitheater in George, Washington, to see Willie Nelson's Fourth of July Picnic concert. Willie has been putting on these shows every Fourth of July for about the last thirty years, but this was to be the first time the show was held outside of Texas. As I weighed my options, I could feel Willie's hot, stoned breath in my ear. "You'd have to be 'Crazy' not to get 'On the Road Again' and head down to my Fourth of July Picnic!" This was not a decision that even needed to be made. It just was.
So we piled into the old car and headed south the night of July 3rd. Hopes were high. We crossed the border without incident. Fireworks exploded across the horizon and $5.00 six-packs were purchased at a gas station. For a carload of Canadians, this was a defining moment. America the beautiful, indeed.
After spending the night in Seattle, we continued southeast in a three car convoy down the I-90. Historic, tourist-friendly towns rolled by in a cloud of dust. Roslyn, Cle Elum, Ellensburg - we didn't care. We just kept driving.
It was just past noon when we pulled into the campground at the Gorge and set up lean-tos in the crab grass. The sun beat down mercilessly upon us. Sunscreen was applied haphazardly. A group of fellow travelers from Gonzaga University invited us to toast Old Glory at their four foot tall hookah pipe. We declined.
The heat got worse as the day went on. We had one-thousand cans of Pabst Blue Ribbon on ice. We were determined to see this one through, no matter the consequences. Hazy speculation was the order of the afternoon. When would Willie take the stage? What did freedom really mean? How quickly could Graham drink a 40 ounce bottle of Budweiser?
We headed down to the Amphitheater as the sun began to set, sweating profusely. From the grassy knoll where we chose to sat, the performers looked like tiny, patriotic ants. The Columbia River Basin loomed in the background, enormous, like a patron of one of the all-you-can-eat restaurants we had passed by on the drive through Washington State.
Hours began to blend together. Fatigue was a factor. Two drunk Caucasian brothers seated behind us called each other "faggot niggers" and started a fight. They were wrapped in a tight embrace, punching wildly as they careened down the steep embankment. I locked eyes with my own brother at that moment, and we both knew what that gaze signified. This, my brother, is AMERICA - land of the free, home of the brave.
I awoke from a bout of heatstroke several hours later to the excited cheers of my adopted countrymen. Willie was about to take the stage. Though our seats were at least fifteen miles from where he stood, I could see Willie's braids fluttering gently in the breeze off the Columbia. And as the first strains of 'Whiskey River' carried across the Gorge, I thought of Betsy Ross. She might have sat on her front porch, on a night just like this, putting the finishing touches on the old stars and stripes. How many cans of Pabst Blue Ribbon could Betsy Ross have consumed that fateful day? That question is best asked in America, dear friends, as Betsy would have been secure in the knowledge that one of the inalienable rights of the American citizen is being being able to purchase three of anything for the price of two.
God bless us, everyone, and God bless America.