Summer heat blisters the land, and we hear the heartfelt chorus of seasoned adults, shvitzing prodigiously whenever they venture outside, asking, “How did we ever survive before air conditioning?”
We listened to Chuck Thompson on the radio cry, “Ain’t the beer cold!” and decided to find out if he was right.
We pretended to be cool. We took our teenage dates all the way out to Liberty Dam, telling them we could watch “the submarine races” there.
We collected lightning bugs in glass jars, but poked little air holes in the top so the poor things could breathe. We thought the air holes were a great humanitarian gesture that surely marked us as Nobel Prize candidates.
We went to Abe Sherman’s bookstore at Park and Mulberry, just to hear cranky old Abe yell, “This ain’t no library! Buy something or get the hell out!”
We turned on our backyard sprinklers and told ourselves this was better than a trip to Ocean City.
We got on the backed-up Bay Bridge on the way to Ocean City and told ourselves we should have stuck with our backyard sprinklers.
We went to Memorial Stadium to see if Gus Triandos could wrestle a Hoyt Wilhelm knuckleball to the ground.
We took long Sunday afternoon drives to the distant suburbs of Pikesville, Owings Mills and Reisterstown with the car windows wide open so we almost didn’t notice the smell of Dad’s cigar and Mom’s cigarette wafting from the front seat.
We went to Carlin’s Drive-In with half a dozen teenage pals hiding in the car trunk. It felt like sneaking past the East German guards at the Berlin Wall.
We waited for the tinkling sound of the Good Humor truck after dinner so we could line up with 600 other neighborhood kids for 5-cent popsicles or 10-cent ice cream sandwiches.
We went to Gwynn Oak Amusement Park on “Report Card Day” and got on its rickety old rollercoaster, knowing these might be the final five minutes of our lives. And we got off feeling we’d cheated death and officially gained our manhood.
We played stickball, curb ball, stepball, three flies in, SPUD and step baseball and punchball. And now we wonder where all these outdoor contests have gone. Gone to video games, every one of them.
We went to the nearest drug store to get a chocolate snowball and tried to eat it slowly enough that we didn’t get the dreaded brain-freeze.
We went to Saturday afternoon double features at the Ambassador Theater — or the Crest, Uptown or the Forest — because they had air conditioning. And we sat there through two movies, previews of coming attractions, MovieTone news of the week and 14 cartoons. And then we walked out, realizing it was still 92 degrees outside.
We went to Knocko’s poolroom at Liberty Heights and Garrison Boulevard, or Benny’s poolroom on Reisterstown Road near Belvedere, and heard guys mutter, “Nice shot, Minnesota Fats,” whenever somebody missed an easy shot. Thus was born the art of adolescent sarcasm.
We went to Leakin Park for the three great sports played there — baseball, tennis and wondering which car trunks contained bodies.
We spent 12 cents and got a coddie and a Coke at Read’s, and it tasted better than the house specialty at the Prime Rib.
We listened to old-timers tell us, “You think this is hot? This is nothing! You should have been here in the summer of 1920! Now that was hot!”
We sat on front porches and had after-dinner conversations with neighbors. What a concept! Conversations! With neighbors! The grownups talked politics and public school issues. They talked about dem O’s. They talked about where to find the best crab cakes. And they watched their children at play and knew the names of every kid on the block.
And it felt as if nobody was alone, a comforting thought in our summer of virus-enforced isolation.
A former Baltimore Sun columnist and WJZ-TV commentator, Michael Olesker is the author of six books. His most recent, “Front Stoops in the Fifties: Baltimore Legends Come of Age,” was reissued in paperback by the Johns Hopkins University Press.