For the first time since 2010, I found myself with my family in the United States on the 4th of July. My sister, my nephew, my dad, my dad’s girlfriend, and I piled into two cars and drove down the road for the July 4th parade in my home town of Sykesville, Maryland.
Attending the parade felt surreal for a number of reasons.
Sykesville: The Coolest Small Town in America
First, Sykesville has transformed over the past decade from a tiny, sleepy, virtually forgotten hamlet into “the coolest small town in America”, according to an online poll by Budget Travel in 2016. I kind of laughed and didn’t think much about this new designation when Dad first told me the news a couple of years ago. But this year I realized it’s true — Sykesville is extremely cool.
Sykesville’s Main Street has gentrified; the old bank, drug store, and greengrocer buildings have been beautifully restored and transformed into charming little stores, tea rooms, and even a wine shop. There’s a weekend farmer’s market, a couple of great restaurants, and occasional outdoor concerts.
Like virtually all of America’s small towns, Sykesville no longer functions like an actual town. Residents do most/all of their business and shopping online or at the big-box shopping centers up the road. But there is no avoiding this and a gentrified main street is way better than no main street at all, in my opinion.
Maskless in the U.S.A.
It felt super strange attending a parade with hundreds of other people, virtually none of whom were wearing masks, after a year-and-a-half of covid lockdowns in South Africa. There were so many faces to photograph.
Although covid certainly hasn’t left America for good just yet, cases are way down a significant percentage of the population is vaccinated. It’s crazy seeing how relaxed everyone is about covid here as South Africa continues to endure its worst covid wave yet.
To make everything feel that much weirder, my boyfriend (who is back in Joburg) had just tested positive for covid the day before I went to the parade. He was exposed right around the day I left — possibly when he took me to the airport — and it’s a miracle I didn’t get it too. (I went for a test as soon as Thorsten told me the news and tested negative.) Thorsten’s symptoms haven’t been too severe, thank goodness, and it looks like he’s headed toward recovery. But it was a major wake-up call.
I already said this in my previous post, but let me just say again how grateful I am that I was able to travel to America and get vaccinated. My heart goes out to everyone in South Africa — and elsewhere in the world — who is suffering due to covid right now.
A Cautious Sense of Optimism
This parade made me feel proud of my home country for the first time in a while. This time last year, due to the political situation and several other factors, I couldn’t imagine feeling patriotic ever again. But the parade shook something loose in my psyche. Everyone seemed so happy, excited to be around other humans, and focused on unity instead of division.
I felt optimistic, even hopeful, for America’s future. I even shed a few happy tears as the local marching band paraded past.
It was nice to go to a holiday parade and feel cheerful. I won’t ever take that simple feeling for granted again. Happy belated 4th of July and thanks to the cool people of Sykesville.