The Fourth of July weekend began on Thursday with a sprinkle of rain and an order from Gov. Greg Abbott announcing that mask coverings would be mandatory in public. On Friday, I sped eastward out of Dallas to find a fireworks stand.
I intended to nab a few sparklers and survey the state of the fireworks industry in the COVID-19 economy. As I drove down US-80, small bottlenecks of trucks and RVs formed. North Texas campgrounds reported packed campsites all weekend, and I found myself in the midst of the mass emigration.
There were no roadside stands to be found, so I headed off the highway to an open shop. A line of 40 to 50 people snaked up towards the stands. Employees scurried around, grabbing packs of launchers, smoke bombs, fountains, and firecrackers from the shelves and stacking them haphazardly into cardboard boxes. Cars pulled up, trunks open, ready for the loads of explosives. Cash shifted hands, cards were swiped, and IDs flashed in the sunlight. The smell of barbecue wafted over from a nearby grill, which released blue-gray smoke into the sky. Everyone was sweating.
After a few minutes in line, I began to regret my decision. About 70 percent of the customers were wearing masks, many below their noses. Signs reminded customers to social distance, but most stood within three feet of the next. I moved closer to the counter. Behind me, a steady stream of new bodies flowed into place. Throughout my 30 minutes, more than 200 people circled through, with no sign of customers slowing down. In a field behind the stand, the sound of whizzing explosives pierced the air.
Finally, I was off on my way back to Dallas. With not a cloud in the sky, I worried that my radiator might overheat. Flashing hazard lights caught my eye, and it seemed a fellow traveler had befallen my feared fate. Two cars, stranded next to pawn shops and auto depots, sat in the right lane. One man hauled a gasoline canister over his shoulder to refuel his truck. But the man was not alone. Behind him, a line of 30 cars stretched down the road, idling, hands hanging out of windows. Up ahead, the line turned into a Walgreens, a coronavirus testing site. Drivers inched forward, people at the front taking turns to get tested by a worker beneath a tent. Across the street, a furniture store advertised masks, surgical gloves, and more coronavirus precautions.
Slowly, I passed the line and continued on my drive home. Later that day, Dallas County announced a new high of 1,085 coronavirus cases.
And then it was July 4th.
In front of City Hall, the crowd stood around, many wearing purple shirts with “Not My Son” written on them. This organization, a new activist group in Dallas, had organized the protest. Volunteers moved about, passing out fliers advertising a “March to the Polls” to be held on Sunday. On the outskirts, volunteers wearing yellow vests patrolled, making sure no disruptions occurred. Two tents were set up nearby, one to register people to vote and one staffed with medics.
The protest began with the Black National Anthem, “Lift Every Voice and Sing.” The crowd of around 200 stood and faced towards City Hall while the music soared. Afterward, the speakers took to the mic.
A DISD history teacher urged people to do more than register to vote; he pleaded for activists to show up at the ballot box. “African Americans have always loved America, but America has not loved us,” he said, prompting cheers. “I’m not here to preach hate; this is about love. And until they give us our reparations, this world, this country, will never be right.”
In the middle of the protest, a march organized by Next Generation Action Network walked down Young Street, prompting a temporary pause in speakers. Press scurried out onto the street to take photographs, followed by some “Not My Son” attendees. The crowds briefly merged, before the 200-person march continued on away from City Hall, followed by a few cars acting as security.
Before heading home, I stopped in Deep Ellum to walk around. Plywood still covered many storefronts. Some now featured intricately painted murals honoring George Floyd and the Black Lives Matter movement. A painted tree grew in one store alcove, with painted grass shoots emblazoned with the names of victims of police brutality. The sunset flickered across the skyline, and the fireworks came out roaring.
It sounded as if the Battle of America was raging right on the periphery. Booms and fizzles, cracks and shrieks from individual firework displays pierced the skies. At Winfrey Point, I watched the colors reflect off the water, the sound of bottle rockets whizzing into the night air. The bombs burst in the air, rocketing higher and higher, like the coronavirus counts.