By DAVID SHARP
Associated Press

Many Americans weren't letting worries about their pocketbooks keep them from traveling and enjoying fireworks as they celebrate their nation’s birth with parades, cookouts and fiery splashes of colors against the evening sky.

Travel records were projected to fall, with people already jamming airports and crowding highways ahead of the Fourth of July to get to their destinations.

Fireworks also were expected to reach an all-time high with an untold number of backyard displays in addition to 16,000 professional shows lighting up the horizon from sea to shining sea, a consumer fireworks industry group said.

“This is how we celebrate. It’s the bombs bursting in air. It’s the rockets’ red glare. That’s how people show their pride and patriotism,” Julie Heckman of the American Pyrotechnics Association told The Associated Press.

All signs pointed to big celebrations: The Transportation Security Administration reported that a record-breaking nearly 3 million people traveled through airports in a single day last week, and that figure is expected to be broken this week. And AAA projected that 60.6 million people will travel by car during the holiday period.

Part of the boost in travel was attributed to easing inflation, even though Americans remain concerned about the economy.

Plenty of barbecue, desserts, cold drinks and the Stars and Stripes were on tap. But Americans were also celebrating in other ways unique to their communities.

Off the rocky coast in Down East, Maine, some planned to enjoy lobster boat races. Descendants of the signers of the Declaration of Independence were ringing the Liberty Bell 13 times — once for each of the original colonies — in Philadelphia. The California communities of Bolinas and Stinson Beach, north of San Francisco, were engaging in their annual tug-of-war contest in which losers end up in a lagoon.

And, of course, there's the annual hot dog eating contest on New York’s Coney Island.

At least one community was in for a muted observance, however: The Northern California city of Oroville's annual fireworks were canceled as an estimated 26,000 residents remained displaced by the growing Thompson Fire, while hundreds of firefighters toiled under extreme heat to keep flames from reaching more homes.

The July Fourth holiday generally unites Americans in their shared love of country, but the 2024 version comes against a backdrop of deep political polarization and a divisive presidential race.

In Boston, where tens of thousands were expected to enjoy the Boston Pops Fireworks Spectacular, maestro Keith Lockhart said it’s inspiring to see people of different political stripes gather on Charles River Esplanade. But he noted that “one would have to have one’s head pretty deeply stuck in the sand to not notice the deep divisions in our country.”

“It is, indeed, a dangerous time,” he wrote in an email before the show. “If, even for one day, we can set aside our differences and embrace our commonalities, this has to be a positive thing.”

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