Monday, July 27, 2009

Summer Vs Economy

At last, the summer has finally come upon us, and from a personal point of view, it's been a long, cold, winter. Thankfully, I spent most of that winter indoors and was spared much of the aggravation of "driving" (meaning "skidding") along never-salted, under-plowed streets. I can understand the pagan appreciation for the official summer solstice up here on the top half of the third rock. For starters, it's the longest day of the year, and ideologically furthest away from the December darkness that loomed over our afternoon commutes. Most people would readily agree that afternoon darkness is possibly the most depressing, situationally morose aspect of the season of the forgotten sun. Ah, the sun! That bipolar sun, like an alcoholic spouse who rudely left us last night, is back with flowers and apologies. We always welcome back the contrite sun every spring, forgive its drunken abandonment from the wintry night, and forget how crudely it ignored our once thriving flora and fauna. We are free to roam the streets, released from our imprisonment of winter, and seek out all the outdoor festivals and activities otherwise denied us by wind chills and frosty atmospheric intimidation.

Martha and the Vandellas once sang "Summer's here, the time is right for dancing in the streets". Normally, that would be true. In densely populated areas like Chicago, street festivals, music festivals, outdoor concerts, beaches and baseball games bring us the smell of grilled food, the incomparable sound of outdoor music, and the sight of scantily clad masses, both good and bad, prancing about with a vivaciousness rarely seen in January. With the economy failing in every physical and industrial corner of the land, people haven't been turning out in droves as with before. Baseball parks are not filled to capacity, street festivals are not as festive, and even golf courses have vacancies unseen since the 1970s. Baseball owners and teams have been long overdue for a reality check, as their ticket and merchandising prices have been ridiculous for years. The Chicago Cubs organization has lazily assumed that Wrigley Field would be filled to capacity for every game, every season. Not to be the case. A mediocre team and a stagnant economy has produced empty seats at Wrigley Field this season, and that's just fine. Perhaps, finally, ticket prices will become reasonable again, and the majority of its fan base, the working class family, will be able to afford a game. Street festivals, because of local business support, are still showing their jewels, sometimes literally. I have noticed, however, that local festivals have morbidly toned down advertising and promotion, likely depending on return attendees from years past. As for the golf courses, screw 'em. I was a competitive golfer throughout the 1980s and 1990s until the fees grew well beyond my means. I could no longer take the game seriously if I could only afford to play a course once every three weeks. In the early 90s, with a relatively modest salary, I was able to play three times a week. The game had an explosion in popularity, supposedly due to that overblown phenom named Tiger Woods, and courses were constantly filled to capacity. With that excessive demand, course owners could raise their rates at whim, and now that demand has ebbed. Perhaps, like trips to Wrigley Field, rounds of golf will become more affordable and accessible as a result of this economic reality check. This is the first summer in a long time for such seasonal institutions to face a harsh economy, and hopefully those institutions, like the housing market, will come back to earth.

As I've previously recounted, I went "back to the garden" in a sense, by eschewing the bar scene from glory days past, and to simply become the local suburban gentleman farmer, embracing his .000000001 acres of tillable land. Thankfully, it's been a pleasantly uncomplicated summer, which is one I sought, after many summers of complexity and histrionics. Sometimes, a walk around the block and a quick back yard check of the "crops" are enough to gratify my internal need to be out and about. Perhaps my advancing age and commensurate dwindling energy level keeps me from journeying far beyond the bounds of my personal premises, but for the moment, roughly 36 days into meteorological summer, I've been fine with that. It's financially more feasible to simply stay back at home base and find alternate means of entertainment, rather than dropping fifty clams on a night at some avaricious "eating and drinking establishment" that potentially might provide a night of nothing other than warm beer, mendacious philanderers, and disenchanted collegiate misanthropes. As such, I've previously stated my advocacy of back yard barbecues; some I've hosted, others I've visited. With simple barbecues, I'm with friends, it's usually a controlled environment, and the cost is always less. Going to a bar, I'm overextending myself financially by purchasing five dollar pints of oat soda for the privilege of watching bad sports on big screen television screens, perched prominently above the disinterested bartender, who is obsessed with texting nefarious individuals about a post-closing rendezvous. Regardless of the environment, it always seems more financially tenable to just hang out with friends and, as they say, BYOB. Plus, there's just nothing like a summer night outside, and save for a few Chicago outdoor beer gardens, you just can't replicate that outdoor summer night environment when huddled in a bar full of redundant patrons.

As for festivals, I've attended one already. Cruefest 2 came to Tinley Park last week. Motley Crue played a forgettable set, made a lot of mistakes, but that was to be expected, as it was only their third show of the tour. The tickets were very affordable, and for once, a musical entity paid attention to the economic drought and kept lawn tickets under thirty bucks. It didn't matter that the Crue played a sloppy set, and bumbled their way through public rehearsals of the entire "Dr. Feelgood" album, since it was the 20th anniversary of its release. I was outdoors and listening to great music with my kindred spirit, Wendi.

We got away, and had a half-day vacation together, something long overdue and sorely missed by yours truly. Our plan was simple - head down to the area, have a leisurely dinner at Culver's under the setting sun, and wander over to the WORLD THEATRE (I'll never rename it personally). Munching on burgers, I was relaxed, and savored every second. After that, we drove over to the concert, which was like driving to a golf course. No traffic getting to the parking lot, no parking "attendants" pointing to a spot. We just parked where we wanted. Since we refused to pay obnoxious prices for drinks, we simply sipped on bottled water during the show, enjoyed the good songs as they were performed, and had a wonderful day. We found a way to make the trip affordable, enjoy a great dinner with a great friend, and see a show without breaking the bank. It was well worth it. For those that want reviews of the Motley Crue show, check out Wendi's take on things.

In times such as these, we all need to look to our affordable options for summer activities. A person can still have a wonderful summer night out with friends and not spend much, if anything. It can be done, and it's literally right in our back yards!

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Sun = Alcoholic spouse. Love it!
Overpriced festivals and sports games keep me away this summer. Too bad cause I love them. Crue = boo! Sorry, just don't like this band. But I'm glad they helped enjoy a summer evening.

Great writing, Mike!

Dan Cheely