The official user's manual for sunshine

Summer Strategy: Rooftop Rebellion

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We’re surprised by the sun every minute that we’re in it, on our Wolcott Avenue roof in Ukrainian Village. We’re shocked when we sweat so much that we have to take our sweaters off. There’s debris up here from previous tenants; discarded, dead and burned-out fireworks, partially empty beer cans—which we joke about throwing across the street to the Happy Village tavern—cigarettes unsmoked, and a very rusty chair.

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Forest Preserve Tales: Hunting Wild Onions

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It is late May in Chicago. Inside Cook County’s Forest Preserves, along the North Branch of the Chicago River, it is now warm enough to kayak absent the fear of freezing water. Pushing our boats onto the muddy shore for a beer break, we see another early summer tradition. Read the rest of this entry »

Ode to the Ice Cream Man: Mister Softee’s Song

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mister-softeeAs a kid, there was probably no sound of summer streets as alluring as the Pied Piper jingle-jangle of ice cream trucks. Good Humor had a little row of bells the white-uniformed driver would clatter, more a Pavlovian alert than a tune. Hearing the pre-recorded, vaguely nursery-rhyme-like song of Mister Softee, however, was both the mesmerizing harbinger and continuing soundtrack of summer. Though even as a kid I wondered how the Mister Softee driver maintained his sanity with that repetitive, almost baroque, plinkety-plink going on all day, for the brief moment that Mister Softee pulled up by the curb in front of our house, the song made us dance in anticipation of soft-serve ice cream in cones, shakes and sundaes.

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The Liminal Life: A Letter from a Chicago Expat

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By Kate Bernot

A pleasantly liminal state is what I remember about all my Chicago summers. I lived in the city for four years, but the summers are melted together in a loose block like the popsicles that inevitably defrosted between the store and my freezer.

I attribute this in-betweenness to Chicago’s mandate that I walk or bike almost everywhere during warm weather. I live in Phoenix now, a city whose summers’ heat is a mockery of humans’ choice to settle there—don’t give me that line about dry heat; when it’s 115 and asphalt turns to molasses, the dew point is irrelevant. Read the rest of this entry »

Our Elotero: Waiting For the Mexican Corn Man

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By Tiffany Walden

There weren’t too many outsiders voluntarily strolling through North Lawndale–bearing treats no less–in the 1990s. The area was (and still is, for now) an enclave of predominately black, borderline impoverished, hard-working grandparents, mothers, fathers, uncles and aunts with a sprinkle of your neighborhood dope boys.

We grumbled through the winters, happy at first and then mad at the mounds of snow that made our streets impassable. But as the days grew longer, skies bluer and weather hotter, the sound of a particular jingle would echo off the two-flats lining the 4000 block of West Lexington Street. That’s when we knew it was time to go outside.

No, it wasn’t the ice cream truck playing Scott Joplin’s “The Entertainer,” that warm weather favorite across all socioeconomic lines.

It was the sound of the Mexican Corn Man, as he was so affectionately called by myself and the other kids. It was only when I grew older that I learned that, in his culture, he was an Elotero. I really can only remember him through a ten-year-old’s lens, and now I wish I’d talked more with him; learned more about him. Gotten a recipe. I moved away from North Lawndale, to the west suburbs, when I was a fifteen-year-old. But until that move, his presence was a mainstay of my summers.

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Dissimilar Summers: You Know You’re Not In Kansas Anymore

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When the sounds of dinnertime are punctuated by motorcycle thunder and ambulance wails
As opposed to tornado sirens and trips to the basement with the family cat and radio

When the debate is whether to avert the murky swamp by switching on the air
Versus cranking it at all times to freeze out the blast furnace blowing

When a parade of happenings crowding a calendar with reminders
Makes the summer job “just for something to do” impossible Read the rest of this entry »

On the Exquisite Quality of Sunshine: The Beauty of the Loop

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It was an unseasonably warm January day nearly twenty years ago, not long after I first arrived in Chicago, that instilled in me an appreciation for the beauty of the Loop. The thermometer read fifty-eight degrees, and having languished mostly indoors since November of the previous year, the bright January sun at five in the afternoon on that unseasonably warm day was irresistibly attractive. Read the rest of this entry »

Memories of Summer: Romancing the Van

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Summer reminds me of skinned knees, rainy nights and short hair. Of climbing trees, catching fireflies and coming home wasted. And even though summers are never the same, I fall in love every time. With a boy? Sure, sometimes but mostly with the warm breeze. With yellow tulips and sundresses. With faint stars and ripened avocados. With new friends and green tea frappuccinos.

When I was fifteen, I fell in love with a van. A decrepit white messy whale of a thing my entire graduating class faithfully dubbed the “Party Van.” I was a freshman, going through what my sister called “the classic phase of teenage rebellion.” You’ve likely seen the scenario played out innumerable times in movies and television shows: Girl yawns, stretching her arms out wide feigning immediate and uncontrollable drowsiness. Girl kisses parents goodnight, marches down the steps to her room, closes the door silently behind her and starts getting dressed with the clothes that have been lying in wait atop her splintered cherry wood dresser since about supper time that day. Read the rest of this entry »

Summer Swill: Drunk Brunch

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I dream about it all winter, as my Brown Line halts and screeches through a December morning or I hunch my shoulders against a February night. One day—maybe not soon, but inevitably—the city will thaw, the birds will return, and we will have Drunk Brunch again.

When I moved to the city two years ago I had something to prove. I was newly twenty-three, working at a comic-book store, and I wanted to be treated like an adult. This was the inspiration for the inaugural Drunk Brunch, the apartment-warming party I threw in June 2012 with my roommate Paige. This was the perfect chance to show everyone our Albany Park apartment with its sloped floors and chipping paint, its front sun porch AND open back deck. Most importantly, it belonged to me, as long as I paid my rent.

I daydreamed my presenting life like a Martha Stewart magazine spread, a chance to flaunt my skill at assembling a strata. We would emerge from a life of undergrad immaturity, inheriting this new world of city sophistication. Twenty minutes into the party, I shotgunned a PBR on the back porch. Read the rest of this entry »

Memories of Summer: The Fun in Our Stars

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Back in those days, we could still make out the stars in the night sky, all the brilliant pinpoints of light along with the constellations—Orion, Cassiopeia, Ursa Major and Minor.

We were surrounded on all sides by cornfields rustling in the warm early summer air. Those night-green fields went on and on ad infinitum. At least it seemed that way. There was a remarkable lack of ambient light back then, in this stretch of far-west suburban Chicago. This was before the incessant creep of asphalt and Klieg lights and big box stores—before the rural acquiesced to sprawl.

We were twenty-one, me and Tom and Bill; childhood friends on the cusp of adulthood. On a quiet country road we had discovered an old concrete pipe factory out amidst the darkness and the wispy corn stalks that would, in weeks, be knee high by the fourth of July.

We parked our car in a subdivision about a mile away from the factory. This was the first subdivision of many that would soon arrive, a harbinger of the development to come, a real estate malignancy bearing such ironic monikers as “Cedar Ridge” and “Willow Creek.” We were in Tom’s nocturnal blue Chevy with scrunched-up fast-food bags on the floor and heavy metal looping from the glowing stereo.  Tom doused the headlights. We rolled up the windows and stepped from the car. Read the rest of this entry »