Half-hearted pledge

I attended the Let Liberty Ring celebration at One Mile on July 4, and it was the usual fare of righteous political speeches, patriotic songs and little flags stuck in straw hats. In truth, it was colorful, festive and for the most part friendly. I winced a bit during the invocation before the politicians spoke, when the Jesus Center’s Katy Thoma announced, “This is a celebration of God’s destruction of our enemies!” But I really liked Butte County Supervisor Jane Dolan’s remarks about Ben Franklin and the fact that he, a former editor, is now on the $100 bill, while Thomas Jefferson, the man credited with writing the Declaration of Independence, is only on the $2 bill.

Assemblyman Rick Keene and Rep. Wally Herger were there, dressed in matching khaki pants (government issue?). Chico Mayor Maureen Kirk was there, too. When it came time for the flag presentation and the Pledge of Allegiance, I noticed the fellows who wore hats respectfully removed them. I did, too. I didn’t want to take any chances. But I noticed an older guy wearing a VFW hat; he didn’t take his off, and neither did a member of the Chico Community Band. But I figured the band member was an artist, and since his hat was a white beret, that was probably OK. Musicians are afforded some tolerance for their rebellious nature. And I’m wondering if VFW hats are exempted from this political protocol. If not, they should be. We finished the pledge (as a minor protest of the Bush administration, I refrained from putting my right hand over my heart), and the speeches began.

Earlier in the day, I noticed Herger inside the Sheriff Bob’s Pancake Wagon, serving up hotcakes to the hungry masses standing in line with paper plates and plastic forks. When he emerged from the wagon, I went over to say “Hi.” I’m always apprehensive about doing this and think it’s probably best to say, “Hi, Congressman, Tom Gascoyne, Chico News & Review.” But before I could do so, the congressman stuck out his hand, gave it a hearty shake and said, “Well, look who’s here! Hey, Tom, how ya doin’?” And he meant it. “Boy, isn’t this something?” he asked, looking around. I agreed it was something. We made some small talk before he said, “Good to see you, Tom,” shook my hand again and headed for the blue-and-white tent where the band sat waiting.

When I first arrived at the park that morning and rode my bike through the gate off Fourth Street, I heard a mighty rumbling coming up from behind me. Looking around, I saw a military troop carrier with two big American flags mounted to the front fenders. Two kids getting out of a car parked along South Park Road spotted the truck. One of them said, “Don’t shoot!” and put up his hands in mock horror. I figured the truck was carrying National Guard troops, either to keep the celebration civil and orderly (maybe look for guys not covering their hearts during the pledge) or as part of the overall military theme of the Fourth. I got off my bike to take a picture of the truck (see below) as it rumbled past and saw it was driven by a civilian with two young fellows on the seat beside him. The driver of the truck then stopped and engaged the attendant standing guard at the VIP parking lot near the softball field. As they talked, the traffic coming into the park backed up behind them. The truck was too big to allow the other drivers to get around in their search for the quickly evaporating parking spaces. Finally, after a few minutes, with a diesel snort, the truck moved on and eventually left the park completely. I was proud of the attendant for standing his ground against this military invasion.