Fire up the grill

Commentary: April 2010 – Springtime, when it truly arrives in earnest, is usually heralded by trees sprouting their first buds, gardeners gleefully getting their knees muddy for the first time in months, snow blowers and lawnmowers switching places in their owners’ garages, and the rich, meaty “thwap” sound that baseballs make when they land true in leather gloves as pro baseball players head to spring training and their fans head outdoors to have a catch and talk about their hopes for the upcoming baseball season.

Photo by Alan P. Van Dyke

Locally, the farmers market vendors gear up to return from their wintertime hiatus, and the first fruits and vegetables of the season will be greedily picked over by folks who crave the kinds of fresh produce that can only be found here.

On particularly warm and sunny days, the first sunbathers might even take to College Green Park in their bikinis, and the first car accident usually follows shortly thereafter when a distracted driver lets their eyes wander just a little too long as they admire that seasonal beauty’s first appearance.

Fraternities and sororities start having their first pub crawls, or at least the first ones a passerby can identify by the T-shirts worn commemorating them that are no longer hidden under bulky coats and sweaters. Shirts worn only once and then donated to second-hand clothing stores who–knowing they have no resale value whatsoever–will in turn donate them to aid agencies that distribute clothes to desperately impoverished and war-torn areas of Africa, where entire villages may wear nothing but third-hand pub crawl T-shirts. Surely something that will confuse anthropologists several millennia from now as they puzzle over why bars in Iowa City were once such a popular destination for large swaths of that continent.

On the evening of the first 40-plus degree day in an almost-state-record 94 day span where the temperature didn’t break break the 40-degree barrier, I was walking downtown to meet some friends when I saw two college-aged guys wearing T-shirts and shorts who had climbed through a window and were sitting on the roof of their porch drinking beer.

They both looked a little cold from where I was, but they were out there nonetheless and seemed to be enjoying themselves quite a bit. This showed either a tremendous dedication to the concept of spring or a tremendous amount of faith that the mercury would soon rise even further. Of course, they could have just been drunk and locked out. I don’t know for certain as I didn’t stop to ask; I just kept walking, impressed by their faith and dedication to the season.

Once downtown, waiting in a long line on the stairwell of the Blue Moose to enter the wildly hyped and sold-out debut of Iowa City’s new burlesque troupe wasn’t the nerve (or teeth) rattling test of endurance it would have been just a few weeks prior when the temperature could easily have been 20 or 30 or even 40 degrees colder.

Rather, the almost-balmy air acted as a sort of aerosolized mood-elevating drug and everybody waiting in line was more than happy just to be outside talking with old friends or making new ones.

The legs and shoulders and cleavage I saw peeking out from the stylish dresses worn by many of the women waiting in line (and one man too, if memory serves) were as sure a sign that spring had arrived as any of the trees just begining to sprout their first leaves.

After I claimed my ticket from will call, I took a walk around downtown to kill some time before the show started. I saw clumps of smokers and their friends gathered outside of bars smoking cigarettes, sometimes even two or three in a row. Was it because their conversations were simply too interesting to cut short by going back inside a noisy bar? Possibly, but more likely because having the opportunity to see a lot of their friends all at the same time and place was just as big of a reason why they came downtown as the drinks being sold inside and–as long as it was so damn nice out and their friends were all there with them–what was the point of going back in? Their drinks would still be waiting for them whenever they did.

The show was a blast and the many contented smiles I saw on the faces of the folks ambling leisurely home afterward, drunk on the warm air (and, possibly, other things as well), were far more beautiful than any spring flower I’ve ever seen.

The next day my friends and I played our first game of Ultimate Frisbee at Happy Hollow Park in nearly four months. Someone driving by might have mistaken us for a very casually dressed team of forensic investigators as we walked 10 abreast the entire length of the field dutifully scanning the ground while pausing occasionally to delicately scoop things into plastic sandwich bags.

We weren’t hunting for clues though, only the many well-preserved and now thawed-out piles of dog poop left behind over the course of the winter–buried out of sight and out of mind under the snow by people who rudely ignored the fact that while snow may be an effective alternative to personal responsibility, it doesn’t last forever. Not around here anyway.

After our game, while washing down ibuprofens with water from the garden hose at one player’s nearby house, the subject of a post-game meal came up and various cheeseburger options were discussed. The merits of one establishment were weighed against those of another until the smartest person there simply said “Why go anyplace at all? We should just grill here.”

And so we did. And even though their grill was only just barely bigger than the Frisbee we had just tossed around–I think it came attached to a keychain–and there were eight of us looking to eat, we cooked in shifts and made it work and we had a far better time and far better burgers grilling outside for the first time all year than we would have had we gone downtown and eaten indoors and not spent that time together preparing our own meals.

An impromptu, spur of the moment BBQ like that is just one of the many treats that you can find buried deep in the Easter basket of an Iowa City springtime. I expect that we’re going to keep digging through it until every last morsel is devoured, as we build up our strength and whet our appetites for the arrival of summer just a few short months from now.