St. Croix took the day off Wednesday, flocking to the shores to swim, barbecue, drink, listen to music and generally enjoy the 95th American Independence Day celebration in proper fashion.
By three in the afternoon, St. Croix families covered miles of beach north and south of Frederiksted, barbecuing up a storm. Hundreds, if not thousands, of men, women and children waded and swam in the calm, clear Caribbean, while thousands more lounged around in the shade of sea grape, mangrove, palm and tamarind.
A small, heavily fortified village of sandcastles sprouted up on the beach in front of Sandcastles hotel and restaurant in the afternoon, where Dean Bruno gave an informal workshop on the ins and outs of sandcastle building code compliance.
"They learned different techniques of how to make windows, stairs and walls, and how to use water to make the sand firm," Bruno said.
Chad Cheraw, a 35-year St. Croix resident, built a model of one of St. Croix’s iconic windmills.
"I figure after the kids get to it, it will look just like one of the old mills," Cheraw said.
Just over on the other side of Frederiksted, vendors were set up in tents and tables by Frederiksted beach, selling sorrel jam, guavaberry rum, local honey, fried chicken, pates, jonnycakes, shish kebabs and refreshing libations.
Prodigy Block, Heart Attack Band and DJ Porter took turns getting the crowd hopping, while families began setting up chairs and blankets to prepare for the fireworks to come.
"We are really pleased with how it came together," said Melody Rames of the Frederiksted Economic Development Association. FEDA organized many of the day’s activities and helped coordinate the fireworks.
"We have about 20 vendors on Frederiksted beach and with the economic downturn, they are happy to have a chance to make a little money to make ends meet," Rames said.
Businesses, restaurants and bars from one side of the west end to the other saw more customers than they have in recent weeks, she said. "It is an economic boon to those businesses and to all the ones that supply them," Rames said. "The island’s distributors have been packed the last few days as businesses bought supplies," she said.
At 5:10 p.m. the skies opened up, sending a deluge onto the beaches. Bands and DJs ran around covering equipment, families huddled under awnings, and in the center of tents, as rain fell in sheets and torrents, the wind blew and the temperature abruptly fell 10 degrees. Then with the thunder rumbling in the distance, the rain gradually faded, and the party began again, a little quieter than before.
As the sun set, casting a mellow orange glow over the cream-colored stone of Frederiksted’s Strand Street, the waterfront slowly and inexorably began filling up with a huge cross-section of St. Croix’s populous.
Young men and women in jet skis zipped back and forth across the Frederiksted waterfront, slicing wakes as straight as an arrow.
Blue Moon, Pier 69 and the other Strand Street restaurants began to fill, and the cooks, waiters and bartenders hit high gear, focusing their minds and speeding up their hands and feet for the waves of hungry and thirsty revelers.
Then with the sky threatening to rain, but holding off, the first firework cannon went off, spitting a line of orange sparks high into the air beyond the tip of the Ann E. Abramson Pier. For the next 45 minutes everyone joined together, oohing and ahhing in the universal, timeless joy of a big fireworks display.
Customers left their tables to get closer. Cooks and waiters abandoned their posts to come look. Young people spoke on their cell phones while they watched.
Suddenly a whole slew of charges went off: chonk, chonk, chonk, chonk, chonk, chonk, and the sky filled with many-colored lights, illuminating the smiling faces of the crowd. The inevitable climax and finale had come.
In no hurry, the crowd slowly began wandering off to their cars, to their homes or to their favorite watering hole on King or Strand. The show was over until next year.