It’s time to raise the flag and celebrate our country’s independence. Although I write our annual Thanksgiving gratitude column, I also look forward to the Fourth of July. There is no holiday shopping frenzy, no chestnuts roasting on an open fire (seriously, we do need some new Christmas carols) or a mad rush to complete business travel. The Fourth of July has a casual, relaxed vibe. Think bare feet, shorts, burgers, beer and barbecue, warm weather evenings and fireworks. I have a lot of great Fourth of July memories, but will first yield the stage to my colleagues.
My favorite July 4th memory is from 1991. My brother was a Marine and was one of the first soldiers deployed to Kuwait for the First Gulf War. He was expected home in August. On the Fourth of July, we answered a knock on our door only to find my brother who was released early and had a friend pick him up at the airport and deliver him to our home in Lake Jackson, Texas. There were so many tears of happiness that day. It was both an emotional and symbolic moment.
My daughter, Isobel, was born on July 4, 2015. The day before, my wife and I had spent the day walking around The Galleria trying to bring on labor. My wife, with her Ph.D. in US History, kept telling our yet-to-be-born child how cool it would be to share a birthday with the country. We decided to head to the hospital to get assessed. After a quick exam, the doctor determined it wouldn’t be long. Sure enough on July 4th at 3:03 am we had our baby girl! Later that evening, in our room on the 14th floor of the hospital, we could see fireworks shows from different areas of the city. Of course, it was in celebration of Independence Day, but I told Isobel it was to celebrate her arrival. We are excited to celebrate our little firecracker’s 2nd birthday, again with fireworks next Tuesday.
My experience covered last July 4th weekend, and it mostly took place outside of the US. I am a huge concert fan. On a business trip to London last March, I learned that one of my idols, legendary singer/songwriter Carole King would be performing her landmark album “Tapestry” for the first time on July 3rd and that Don Henley would open for her. I quickly snagged front row tickets.
Don Henley gave one of his first performances since Eagles co-founder Glenn Frey died earlier in 2016. He thanked the audience for their cards, calls, and sympathy and talked about how difficult the year had been. With his voice breaking, he dedicated “Desperado” (the first song he and Frey co-wrote) to Glenn. You could hear a pin drop and also more than a few sniffles.
As the sun set and cast a heavenly glow on her baby grand piano, 75-year-old Carole King took the stage. As she started the first track of Tapestry “I Feel The Earth Move Under My Feet.” the cheers of the 90,000 fans did indeed make me feel like the earth was trembling. The audience sang so loudly, passionately that I thought I saw a tear roll down King’s face (and certainly down mine). King had not performed in London for 27 years. Who knows if she will ever perform again? I didn’t want this performance to end. It was an experience for the ages, which I wrote about for Culturemap Houston. The best part – after the concert itself — was that we flew back to the United States on the 4th of July. As we descended into Salt Lake City shortly after sundown, we were treated to dozens of firework displays. Another song came to mind: “and the fireworks bursting in air…..”
Ten years ago this summer, my wife Claire (originally from England) received her US citizenship. It was a long process, with multiple interviews, a mountain of paperwork, but all worth it when two weeks after raising her right hand and swearing allegiance to the USA, we celebrated her first Fourth of July as an American. We live in San Diego, a Navy town at its core, and the Fourth here is a major patriotic event, replete with marching bands, parades, anthems, flags, and – of course – fireworks lighting up the city as far as the eye can see. While I, and many of my friends and colleagues, have had the good fortune to have been born in this country, those that undertake the process to become a naturalized citizen are even more passionate about the opportunities and values that we hold dear as a nation. I will never forget watching the celebration of our country’s birth through the eyes of a new citizen.
My turn: Uncle Sam speaks and the video that continues to play
I’m not sure I can top those experiences, but I do remember The Alexander Group’s Fourth of July video in 2015. We have always been ahead of the curve – we created holiday videocards before they were a dime a dozen and made donations to charities long before it was de rigeur. Frankly, the genre has gotten too crowded with overly commercial, sappy and well, boring holiday cards. We decided it was time for a change.
Why not focus on our country’s birthday to show our creativity and sense of humor with a video? We hired leading digital media agency, Jaded Palate Productions, who came up with costumes, an old VW bus, and a plan. It was and is (as you will see) a great video that allowed us to take a break from work and be film stars for a day. And for me, a Leo, what could be better than playing Uncle Sam?
However, the best-laid plans started to go wrong when the technology platform sending the video card failed. And I mean failed. Some of our clients got the video four of five times-daily for more than a week. Other clients did not get the video at all. We got responses ranging from “I loved the video on Monday, thought it was great on Tuesday but enough already” to emails from our CIO placements offering to come fix our system.
We compounded the issue by trying to send out individual emails with the video to those who did not get the video, but that resulted in the video being sent to everyone again. One client said it was the best example of Groundhog Day he had ever seen. One email response said only “please….stop.” Another UK client got the card ten times, and I am proud to say they are still a client. I saved all the questioning, frustrated and comical responses which make me hang my head in embarrassment as I reread them. They would, by themselves, make a good video.
But until next year, everyone have a happy Fourth of July, and if you don’t let me know what you think of my Uncle Sam costume, the video will keep coming.