It happens every year just as summer officially arrives, and we get our first sustained stretch of good weather – as we did last week. It usually occurs when I’m sitting out under the stars on a near-perfect early summer evening during a Festival Theatre production in Austin Gardens. The surroundings give birth to a recurring illusion: I’m no longer living in an urbanized suburb just outside a major metropolis. Instead, I’ve suddenly been transported to a summer resort town.
True, the aircraft screaming overhead or the train racket rumbling past or the ambulance sirens broadcasting disaster do their best to burst my bubble, but it’s a powerful illusion, with plenty of evidence to reinforce it.
Last Friday night’s delightful dalliance with Talley’s Folly was followed the next morning by nine holes of golf with my son and an old high school buddy, plus Mack, an Austin resident who completed a very pleasant foursome. As usual, I shot my age, which is what I expect to shoot, then we enjoyed breakfast outside at Poor Phil’s (minus Mack, who decided to play another nine holes).
Granted, we missed Farmers’ Market, but there will be other Saturday mornings. In June they stretch before me like a limitless chain of possibility. This coming Saturday, I plan to buy a bunch of brilliant gladiolas from the flower vendors, and if I haven’t had my fill, I can gaze at other people’s flowers on the self-guided Oak Park-River Forest Garden Walk, an annual fundraiser hosted by the Conservatory and Garden Club. Later, I might wash off the pollen with a dip in one of our two outdoor pools, then lounge on the sundeck. Or pedal around both suburbs on my bike. Or join the parade of pilgrims from all over the world wandering past Frank Lloyd Wright and sundry Prairie school masterpieces. Or join a bird walk at Trailside Museum. Or browse the sidewalk sale in The Avenue business district. Or watch the dogs cavort at the Longfellow Park Canine Carnival. Or, for real entertainment, catch a T-ball game at Maple Park. Or take refuge from the heat at the Lake Theatre, where there is any number of “threequels” to choose from.
Yes, work counteracts the illusion, but vacation is more a state of mind than exotic locale. Dining on the Avenue Ale House rooftop or in the quaint cobblestone gangway next to Pasta Plus, it’s easy to imagine you’re on a cruise or in some European city.
And if I want to extend the boundaries of my fantasy, I can jump on the Green Line “inbound train toward the Loop” to Millennium Park for a free concert most Wednesday, Friday and Saturday nights. Navy Pier has fireworks on two of those nights if I choose to linger.
Or I can wait for the local pyrotechnics on July 4th at the high school stadium, plus the parade up Ridgeland Avenue earlier in the day. There’s also the Harry Potter extravaganza later in July, which adds to the resort ambiance – as do the brightly painted carousel horses on Oak Park Avenue.
As resorts go, Oak Park and River Forest – and surrounding environs – are pretty good places to spend the summer. You can hear live music most any night at FitzGerald’s on the Berwyn side of Roosevelt Road, and the weekend after next is their big American Music Festival blowout. This coming Tuesday night you can sing along with Carmina Burana, part of First United Church’s Summer Sings series. Alas, you already missed Gilbert & Sullivan. You still have one weekend left to catch a full-fledged opera (Madama Butterfly) at Village Players. And if, beforehand, you choose to eat outside at New Rebozo just down the street, O my God!
Thursday nights, you can purchase your own progressive dinner (four courses for $12), picking and choosing among the Downtown Oak Park restaurants while street entertainers attempt to pay their respects to the late, lamented Marion mall. Or peruse the galleries on Harrison Street and if you coordinate, you might catch some live music at The Buzz Cafe.
Martha’s Vineyard may have better light, but for a few golden weeks each summer, Oak Park and River Forest rival any resort. At any rate, it’s lovely to think so.