Summer in the suburbs

One of the summer activities we look forward to each year in our town is the Central Park Music Series.  (Yes, our town really has a Central Park. And it is central, right next to the downtown shopping blocks. And it’s lovely with a large playground, group picnic area, baseball field, mini train, and even a Japanese tea garden.)

For eight Thursday nights, residents walk or drive to Central Park, stake out their area with blankets or lawn chairs, bring snacks or buy dinner, and enjoy live music from bands that range from jazz to bluegrass to rock. The city police are lenient about concert-goers bringing wine, making the weekly concerts an al fresco cocktail party event for many groups.

Our family has been attending the summer concerts since we moved to this town – when we had just one daughter and pieced together a blanket raft with several other families we knew from school, when I was pregnant with twins and walked to the park on swollen ankles, when we pushed a double-wide stroller, and now when my husband and our oldest daughter are working at the concert.

We’ve seen attendance grow over the years so that the concerts had to move from the small grassy area to the large grassy area – and the audience still spills back across the road onto the playground!

We’ve seen the addition of a dance floor and then a second – so the many exuberant children wanting to jump up and down with the music or run around in circles won’t knock over the serious middle-aged couples practicing their swings and salsas.

We’ve seen food booths erected, giving concert-goers an alternative to preparing a picnic or grabbing a hasty snack on their way to the park. Leave the office early, pick up the kids from day camp, and buy them a slice of pizza at the park while mom and dad feast on Chicken Marsala or prime rib sandwiches.

One of the things I love most about the Central Park Music Series is that it brings together all facets of our community.  Groups of families like my own meet up at the park and the parents chat over a glass of wine while their children wind their way through the sea of blankets to the dance floor, or beg free samples of fruit and chocolate sauce from the fondue restaurant’s booth. Small clusters of teen-agers – boys with their baggy pants hanging low carrying skateboards and girls with their long, straight hair and too short shorts – shyly socialize on the periphery. Organized mid-life couples, unencumbered with young children, stake out the same spot week after week and pull gourmet boxes of crackers and cheese and expensive bottles of wine from their picnic baskets. Bikes and strollers dot the lawn. Tattoos and piercings abound.  This week I sat next to a man, at least ten years older than me, with a flat-top died bright blue. Dogs of every shape and size (yes, there is a concert-going Great Dane!) are tethered to their owners’ lawn chairs and strain at their leashes to sniff out the salami being sliced on the blanket next door.  Frail, white-haired seniors, pushed to the park from the retirement apartments next door, are parked on the path around the green, where they sit in wheelchairs, hands in their laps and heads bowed, appearing to doze but presumably enjoying the fresh air and commotion around them.

Our town has a somewhat coastal climate and by evening, as the fog rolls in 15 miles to the west, it brings a cool breeze.  Central Park, however, seems to be sheltered,  and the evening air remains comfortable.

And when the sun starts to set, it turns the palm trees golden and the band begins playing its final tune. Picnic baskets are repacked, blankets are rolled up, children are collected, friends hug good-bye, and it’s time to wander home.  Until next Thursday.

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