Well, another Memorial Day has come, signaling the official start of summer. Now, I know there are some picky individuals out there who will argue that summer doesn’t really start for another three weeks, on the day of the Summer Solstice. These are generally your New Age types, the sort who will travel long distances to witness the event at some location that channels great spiritual powers. I’m talking places like Stonehenge, the Great Pyramid of Giza, or the Life-Sized Chocolate Moose in Scarborough, Maine.
Most people, however, aren’t quite so particular, and besides, who wants to wait a whole three weeks to start all those fun-filled summer activities that American families so enjoy? Things like packing up the SUV, taking to the road, and getting utterly lost because Dad failed to update the GPS map from the original version, which was drafted by Lewis and Clark.
The fact is, most folks depend on other cues to tell them that summer has arrived. There’s Hollywood, for one. When the summer blockbusters start making it onto the big screen, you know it’s time. And so, with the recent release of Hangover III—Hair of the Iron Dog-Man, we can be sure that the season is now in full swing.
Personally, I take the ending of the school year as my sign of summer. It’s not that we have kids of school age; we’re empty nesters, meaning that we have already exhausted our nest egg on tuition, book fees, and materials for science fair projects. Princeton’s College of Science has a more modest supply budget than do the parents of your average high school student.
You see, my wife happens to be a substitute teacher. What that means for us is that summer marks an end to the incessant morning phone calls, beginning early enough to wake the rooster, if we had one. But I don’t have a rooster, because I’m retired, and being retired, I have the right, as guaranteed in the Constitution (and if not, it ought to be), to sleep until the crack of noon. Instead, elementary school teachers from all over the district are calling the house in a desperate attempt to find someone, anyone, to take over their classes for the day. I say this judging from what she tells me about some of the students’ behaviors—that and the riot gear she puts on before leaving the house. When school is in session, we get more calls than if we had given out cards with our home number at a telemarketers’ convention.
In addition to being able to sleep in, another summertime perk is that of not having to suffer the anguish of driving through school zones. The main drag through my part of town seems to have a school on every block. So, if I want to go anywhere further than, say, my mailbox between the hours of 7 and 9 a.m., I have to plan the trip as carefully as if I were about to hike the Appalachian Trail. Actually, hiking the Appalachian Trail is easier, not to mention faster, than driving through the school zones.
I know this because I have a friend who once hiked the entire length of the trail, and he assured me that there is not one single orange traffic cone standing in the middle of it. The crossing guards place these cones in the street each morning, making it look more like a motocross. Instead of motorcycles, however, the course is navigated by soccer moms in minivans, who maneuver it while making hair appointments on the cell phone and scolding the kids for not washing the egg stains off their faces after breakfast.
Still, they do this with ease because they have been through the course countless times. They could easily back a horse trailer through it. I, on the other hand, only venture through these zones in times of dire emergency, such as when I’m completely out of coffee in the morning. This is why, when the crossing guards see me coming, they dive into the bunkers that they’ve set up for just this purpose.
So this summer, even though the phone will be silent, I may still get up early, so that for once, I can drive past the empty schools at full speed limit. I’ll do it because I was never able to on any stretch of road in Yankee Land, no matter what the hour. After all, this is Louisiana, where traffic jams are supposed to be as infrequent as Astros’ playoff appearances.
Except, of course, if you happen to be in the vicinity of a drive-through daiquiri stand.