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Summer Smackdown: Chicago v. LA

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Memories of Summer: On Hitchhiking

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Photo: Gil Castellanos

Photo: Gil Castellanos

The pickup pulled to a stop just ahead of us.

“Hey, ” the woman behind the wheel said. “You boys need a ride?”

The six of us had spent the day hiking along the Tahquamenon River toward the copper waterfalls Longfellow immortalized in “The Song of Hiawatha, ” but were now exhausted and walking the four miles back to our van along the comparatively flat shoulder of the highway. Guillermo had been jokingly sticking his thumb out every time a car passed—which wasn’t often up in Paradise, Michigan, a town of 500 about an hour south of the Canadian border—but none of them had stopped. We hadn’t thought of what we might do if one did.

We were not, after all, risk-takers. We were six friends from high school who had just completed our sophomore year of college and were on our annual camping trip which had, until this year, taken us to Wisconsin, only a few hours north of where we grew up in suburban Chicago. Read the rest of this entry »

Following the Gray Ghosts Trail Home: The Long Arm of Civil War in Central Missouri

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The Gray Ghosts Trail panel “Callaway County Men at War” was dedicated at the Callaway County Courthouse with the help of local law officers, firefighters and first responders on Sept. 11, 2012./Photo: Don Ernst

The Gray Ghosts Trail panel “Callaway County Men at War” was dedicated at the Callaway County Courthouse with the help of local law officers, firefighters and first responders on Sept. 11, 2012./Photo: Don Ernst

By Martin Northway

More than 150 of us are gathered in front of the Callaway County Courthouse in Fulton, Missouri, to share a community landmark: dedication of our eighth and final local interpretive panel on the Gray Ghosts Trail Civil War driving tour through central Missouri. It is warm and clear, and seating in the closed-off brick street fosters the atmosphere of a country wedding.

The theme of the panel is “Callaway County Men at War.” Its thumbnail biography features a local Civil War and Reconstruction hero, a county sheriff killed by vigilantes in whose honor three-dozen uniformed law officers and firefighters pass with muffled tread in front of Civil War re-enactors to open the ceremony.

This is a project that has occupied years of effort. I am surrounded by friends and even relatives, almost none of whom I knew when I returned to the ancestral home of my dad’s family a dozen years before. I could not then have predicted this result, but I had after all come here for connection, and I enjoy the jibes thrown my way by speakers who understand not only the event’s significance but its importance to me. It is like being alive at your own wake; it is not so bad.

I vividly recall wheeling my U-Haul truck west through St. Louis from Chicago, suddenly facing mounds of black clouds roiling from the southwest, threatening to muscle out the calm sky north of I-70. It was as if God himself was troweling the frescoed sky. I laughed at the unexpectedly familiar: the southern three-fourths of Missouri is the top of the South climatically, storms liking to ride the Gulf current from Texas and Oklahoma, while weather in the top tier of counties arrives on the prevailing northwest wind, as in the upper Midwest, or Chicago. Read the rest of this entry »

Stealing Flowers from the Dead: A Summer-Long Graveyard Shift

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Photo: Matt Wade

Newport, Rhode Island/Photo: Matt Wade

By Pat O’Brien

I desperately yanked on my weed whacker’s rip cord in a pathetic attempt to rev its internal mechanics. In between pulling the cord and pumping the rubber primer button, I’d quickly glance around the graveyard to see if the other guys were staring at me. My shoulder ached when I noticed Brooks making his way around granite markers and gravestones to reach me. I acted like I was inspecting the motor to appear competent. Brooks grabbed the weed whacker out of my hands and, without uttering a word, pulled the cord in a rapid succession until it wheezed itself stable. Only my first day on the job and any hope of conveying an outdoorsy manliness floundered off into my weed whacker’s smoke plumes.

It was the summer of 2009 when I started working for the St. Charles Cemetery District. Weaving in between headstones on a riding lawn mower, whipping overgrown grass into submission and trimming unruly hedges certainly wasn’t on my list of possible job preferences. But when a mutual friend and nephew of the cemetery superintendent told me he was leaving and there’d be an opening on maintenance crew, I lazily took the platter-served employment offer. Read the rest of this entry »

Doggin’ It: Nothing Finer Than Sausage Slinging in the Summer

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Vienna Beef

Vienna Beef

By Eric Lutz

In summers throughout high school and college, my friends and I worked at a hotdog stand called Voo’s—a mobile cart at an upscale outdoor shopping mall in the suburb where I grew up. From 8:30am to 5:30pm every day, we’d hang out, eat sport peppers and listen to ball games. Then, our boss—the eponymous Voo—would pay us eighty dollars cash from the register, plus whatever tips we earned which, on a good day, amounted to about twenty bucks a piece. It was—and remains—the best job I have ever had.

Amid the pretensions of the uppercrust mall, we were a kind of populist oasis where the low-wage mall employees and the bored shoppers could find reprieve from the carefully manicured shrubbery and high-end shops.

Most of these people were cool. There was the goateed Apple Store guy who ate probably six hotdogs per week. The fun couple that operated the roasted nut stand nearby. Even the Polish security guard who hurled insults at us as he sped by on his Segway found his way into our hearts. Read the rest of this entry »

Cruel Summer: Against Estival Romanticism

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cruel-summerBy B. David Zarley

Droplets of water, glistening, tiny misshapen jewelers’ loupes clinging desperately to and summarily highlighting rebellious curls of hair darkened and weighted by moisture, falling from eyelashes, caressing clavicles and iliac crests, running along lines, be they bust, thigh, abdominal or other; nights as warm as the days, trees aflame with the phosphorescent backsides of fireflies; ice cubes and ceiling fans sweeping across naked bodies; hideously pink baseball gloves and grotesquely crude cartoon characters with gum-ball accoutrements; opaque delicacies the flavor of citrus and the shape of a shark, with the color of electricity, and the blooming of a powdered and pinwheel shaped delicacy known as the sugar waffle; these estival pleasures aside, summer is the most acerbic of all months. Read the rest of this entry »

Kneecaps: The Summer I Went Home

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MuncieBy Naomi Huffman

Last summer I began a long-distance relationship with a man from my hometown, Muncie, Indiana. I don’t know exactly why, not yet, but I think I just really wanted to be in love. We had grown up together but had very few actual memories together—he’s a few years older than me, and we’d attended different high schools, and I moved to Chicago and didn’t think about him for a decade. But then we reconnected when I was home for my sister’s wedding in July. We began talking every day, and then I was booking round-trip Megabus tickets to Indianapolis twice a month: for my mother’s birthday, for Labor Day, for occasions I’d missed or otherwise ignored the past five years, enamored as I was with Chicago and my own oh-so-busy life, but which now seemed as good an excuse as any to come home and sleep in an almost stranger’s bed and pretend I knew how it was all going to turn out.

That my frequent trips home would set off a summer that changed my relationship with my mother should have seemed inevitable, but it didn’t at the time. I never seem to see that sort of thing coming. Read the rest of this entry »

Summer Sonnets

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By Anthony Opal


the scaffolding of a butterfly boat
above ten darkly schooling syllables
as the body launches from its farthest shore
experiencing all as one layer
among others among the darkness of
the many-splendored objects that fell
from our hands as we took off our pants
and hung them lightly from the birch branches
entering the water without looking
(an airplane passing overhead) it took us
an hour to remember who we were
or how water always appears clearest
from above even though light angles in

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Weathering Psychic Storms: Summer Makes Me Un-SAD

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LurieGardenBy Rachel Helene Swift

Millennium Park. Evening rush hour, just before sunset. Grumpy commuters dodge meandering tourists in a rush from Here to There; tourists chug water from plastic bottles, fumble with cameras, bob their heads like pigeons to take in the sights. They gape up at their reflections in the silver “Bean,” shuffling heedlessly backwards to distort their reflections.

I’ve found a shady spot on the grass between tidy rows of flowering trees. Nearby, colorful beds of tulips ripple in the cooling breeze, the flowers bobbing their heavy heads. Summer has arrived and Chicago is awake again, collectively elated as the memory of a drab, harsh and erratic winter fades. I am awake, too. A bit dazed, perhaps, from months of psychic colorlessness and chaos, but clear-headed and content, at the helm of a well-ordered mind, calm in the aftermath of a wretched depression brought on (I am told) by winter’s thinner light and shorter days. Read the rest of this entry »

Snapshots of a State Fair: An Account of Carnies and Pig Shows

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Photo: Jenny Yoon

By Jenny Yoon

Saturday, August 18. Day One.

The Fair
The day is impossibly nice: a boundless blue sky, warm in that skin-shivering way, and a breeze with a cool bite to waft the smell of fried dough blows through the air.

It’s Park District Conservation Day at the Illinois State Fair, and my friends and I have yet to see a tent dedicated to the cause. We’re greeted, instead, by a massive wooden statue of a young Abe Lincoln brandishing an axe, flanked by a bed of flowers. From somewhere in the distance, we hear the buzz of racecar drivers circling in front of a rapt audience in the grandstand.

We wander, bug-eyed and slack-jawed at the sight: hordes of people (some of whom are airborne on a ski lift), food carts that line the pavement, the tram led by a John Deere tractor that parts the crowd as it makes its sputtering way through the fairgrounds. A man dressed as Honest Abe saunters past. We stop in shrill indignation at a gate emblazoned with the label “Ethnic Village.” In the village, one can find authentic fare such as “Dracula’s Feast” in Romania, gummy falafel from Persia and turkey legs from “Cajun.” Read the rest of this entry »