Today, as I walked to and from work, I smelled the scent of summer. That’s because Third Street has just been repaved, and I was taking in the black, tarry aroma of asphalt.
I reflexively associate asphalt with summer because we lived on an asphalt street when I was a kid. After a rugged Akron winter, come spring the cracks and holes in the street would be patched with more asphalt and a layer of tar. When the hot summer months arrived, the asphalt would reach scorching temperatures and sprout tar bubbles, and the smell was as rich and heady as the sulphur fumes belched out by the rubber factories downtown. You got tar on your sneakers, tar on your bare feet, and tar on your bicycle tires.
Ever since, the dark smell of tar says summer to me, just as much as the eye-watering odor of chlorine in the local pool or the mouth-watering bouquet of burgers sizzling on the grill when the Velveeta cheese is just starting to melt and drip onto the hot charcoal. It’s as integral to the summer experience as the tinny sound of Turkey in the Straw played on the cheap loudspeaker on the roof of the ice cream truck or the smack of a fastball hitting the catcher’s mitt.
I took a deep whiff of that instantly familiar smell and barely succeeded in resisting the temptation to take off my shoes and stroll the asphalt in my bare feet, as in days gone by. By the time I got home, I put on my shorts and sunglasses and let summer know that I was glad it was here, and ready for it, too.
It’s the Friday before the Memorial Day weekend, the first big three-day weekend of 2016.
The Martin Luther King Day and President’s Day three-day weekends don’t really count, do they? They come during the winter when the weather stinks and it’s not much fun to go outside. The Memorial Day weekend is different. Now, people want to get outside and get going. The traveling types want to hit the road, even though they know the traffic will be a pain, and get to their destination at the beach or the mountains or the national park as quickly as possible. The stay-at-homers are looking forward to partying with friends and family, grilling out, playing catch, and swimming at the public pool on its opening weekend. And everyone, whether they are staying or going, is looking forward to donning sunglasses and putting on shorts and drinking a cold beverage in warm sunshine.
We’re on the verge of the unofficial beginning of summer. You can feel it in your bones, and today you’ll feel it in your workplace, too, as you walk past lots of empty offices and darkened cubicles and overhear co-workers talking about their fun weekend plans and see them anxiously looking at clocks and watches and cell phones .
I’ve always thought the Fridays before the Memorial Day weekend and the Labor Day weekend are two of the toughest working days of the year. If you’re smart and have the seniority, you take a vacation day and enjoy that magical four-day weekend. If you’re a marginal employee, or worse, you wake up this morning and somehow convince yourself that you can plausibly call in sick on one of the days when workplace absenteeism undoubtedly is at its peak. But if you’re a solid, responsible adult like the rest of us, you show up for work today, accept that it’s part of the job, and feel like a kid on the last day of school, just waiting for the bell to ring telling you that you can run out the school doors without coming back for three months.
I look at it this way: working on the Friday before Memorial Day just makes the three-day weekend all the sweeter.