“Chicago in the summer…” I began in a conversation with a friend since junior high school.
“Oh, there’s nothing better,” she finished.
What do people mean when they say Chicago is the greatest city in the summer? Well, they mean a couple of things, I suppose. If we truly consider the weather, Chicago summers are usually unbearable. The stickiness is never pleasant. By mid-July, the weather rules with an iron fist. It becomes difficult to imagine a Chicago outside of these temperatures. Where is the cold? Where is the chill? Where is the bite?
But in the beginning, a Chicago summer is nothing short of heavenly. Chicago truly only has two seasons: hot and cold. To live here is to know this. Chicago exists in a binary and to escape the months of cold feels like a triumph over the adversity of snow and ice. “I made it! I finally made it,” you think. The winter is an obstacle of the spirit. It too is great in the beginning, but slowly breaks down its inhabitants. Pleasure exists for fleeting moments.
What I’ve realized now after 25 years as a Chicagoan is that our summers force something fierce of us. The summer gives Chicagoans a chance to do something they rarely get a chance to throughout the rest of the bitterly cold year: see each other. When the temperatures first rise and you take a long walk home, what you will typically find is people, bodies, movement, and chatter. This all seems standard, but to experience it again in the warmth is to be acquainted with an old friend. “I had forgotten what this could be like,” you think. Heat keeps one present in their surroundings. In the beginning, it can be perfect. There is the sky, the grass, the dirt, the air. But heat can be both pleasurable and unnerving. Not every Chicago is as beautiful and right and perfect. Last year I wrote:
The fire hydrant was open, but few people were around. I ran through the gushing, powerful stream of water for a quick respite from the heat. It reminded me of the long days I spent in the Austin neighborhood as a child. Back then, my grandparents filled a kiddie pool with water in their backyard and the other neighborhood kids joined. One day, we were asked to not play outside anymore. A few weeks later, my grandmother took to the ground as gunshots went off down the block. A cul-de-sac came soon after to deter loitering on the street corner. “I don’t understand,” I remember telling my mother. “It’s complicated,” she responded.
I try to remember this. The summer is not perfect. Violence goes up. The presence of people supports the presence of the issues people hold deep within themselves.
I like to take long walks, those nice, three-hour-long walks that produce a kind of sweatiness only of the summer. It is the kind that comes from the heaviness of the sun, a heaviness born only in the season. The power of the bright rays as you keep going and going is heady. Time slips by; the sun steals your afternoon. The feeling is good and pure.
Space is a luxury of the winter. There is always a place to go to and from and quickly. But the leisurely qualities of summer means more loitering. To loiter then is to see the streets for what they’ve become. To see the people around you throughout the summer time is to know that the city is as diverse, multifaceted, and rich in character as we’ve known deep down.