This past Thursday was the 4th of July, which for us Americans was the celebration of our nation’s Independence Day. Many chose to spend this day in large groups watching fireworks, whether it be in huge shows like that on The Mall in Washington, DC, or in smaller shows in towns like Bedford, Virginia. We spend this time oohing and aahing at the exploding man-made lights in the sky based, oddly enough, on Chinese technology.

Now before you start accusing me of picking a totally inappropriate target for my rant, rest assured out there in Internet-land that fireworks are not what I intend to discuss today. No, as I mentioned to several Thursday night, fireworks are a part of this celebration that I remain totally neutral about. I could take them or leave them and my Independence Day would not be heavily changed.

But when I talk about fireworks, I am speaking about those large shows in controlled settings under the commands of people have have undergone at least some training. I am absolutely not speaking about the low-grade explosives that any incompetent schmuck can buy at a fireworks stand in any given shopping center and use to cause various forms of damage to persons and property.

Many will know that in Virginia, most any form of firework that shoots up into the air is illegal to own, purchase, or use without some fancy shmancy kind of license, but anybody can drive in a matter of hours to West Virginia or Tennessee and purchase those to bring back and cause destruction with.

But in a nation where people have trouble poking holes in punchcard ballots, drive like crack monkeys on nitrous oxide, and use Windows as their primary operating system—should the general public be permitted to own anything that explodes, burns, or looks sparkly? Toward the end of my July 4th celebrations, which I will explain in more detail later-on, I saw several clear examples of why fireworks are not a good thing for average Americans to own and operate.

At the end of the street that Alicia resides on, several people (with many years of experience, I am assured) were launching various forms of legal and illegal fireworks. Most went off without a hitch, though several careened off their intended flight path dangerously close to nearby trees, cars, and people. I was told later that in previous years, these same people have accidentally ignited a tree and a car during this annual celebration. How reassuring.

While driving Melissa home from Alicia’s—a trip marred by near-misses with obviously drunk vehicle operators—an almost-more-frightening thing happened as we drove past a new housing development off of West Ox Road. With no warning aside from the standard sound of a firework launching, a streaming light flew from the left heading nearly parallel to the road mere meters over the passing cars, before exploding in a burst of bright white firework-light in the woods off to the right. There is no telling what damage this would have done hitting a vehicle, and it came too darn close for my comfort.

Upon arriving back at Melissa’s apartment complex, several cars waited to pass as some fools let their ground-based explosive sparkle and flash for nearly three minutes in the middle of the parking lot. After checking my email at Melissa’s and then leaving for sleep at my place, these complete buffoons and their bystanders-in-a-drunker-stupor had moved their fireworks display out of the parking lot and onto the wooden playground shared by the complex. Yes, I said wooden. Somehow the playground did survive, but not without its share of scorch marks.

These are only a handful of examples experienced by just one person. Imagine, when expanded throughout the country, how many incompetent and—frankly—stupid people are handling these potentially dangerous devices. There’s no telling how many people were hurt, burned, shot, or killed by fireworks last night, but I guarantee that it’s not a tiny number. The fact is, whether you like it or not, alcohol and fireworks—both usually operated by complete idiots—do not add to the spirit of our Independence Day, but rather detract from it. The holiday should not be dangerous and should not be dulled with alcohol, it should be a day of happy time with friends.

The 4th of July that I celebrated was perhaps the most American of all those experienced by people that I know. With Melissa, Alicia, and a gaggle of other friends we got into a pair of middle-aged family cars (one sedan, one station wagon) and headed for the hills—literally. After donating some money to the National Park Service in the form of an entry fee, we headed an hour into Shenandoah National Park on the famed Skyline Drive. There, we had a picnic before hiking to a nearby waterfall sharing each others company and enjoying the natural beauty that our nation has to offer, even right in the backyard of bustling Northern Virginia.

Throughout this trip we discussed more than the standard teenage gossip, but rather rational and interesting discussions of politics and other interesting issues. What better way to celebrate the birthday of one of the world’s most stable Democracies than to enjoy an engaging political discussion.

Surely we didn’t discuss such topics the entire time, as friends typically do we shifted quickly and easily from off-color jokes to politics to parents to college and so-forth. But the point is not what we did, where we did it, or who we did it with. My point is that without any explosives in tow, without any alcohol in our systems or in our possession, in fact with nothing more than some food, some drinks, two cars, seven friends, and a free afternoon we celebrated this nation in a way that most others can only imagine—by experiencing some of the things that make it great.

And I guarantee we had more fun doing it.