COVID-19 has us stuck in limbo. We can’t plan ahead. So we are left thinking about the things we miss now, or may miss, this summer. In Philadelphia, we are already missing a lot of what makes living here so special. What does the summer hold? Can we live standing six feet apart?
Start with the fact that since the pandemic broke out in spring, even our weather has been stuck in limbo. The trees and bushes all look beautiful, but the cloudy, cold days have taken away much of their promise of a warm and shining summer. Which then reminds me of baseball — the Phillies, of course, the true harbinger of spring in Philly and soundtrack of the season.
By now, I probably would have been down to the ballpark to catch a game. That first smell of popcorn, Bull’s Barbecue, beer, and pretzels would bring a warm familiarity in knowing that all is right in the world. That first crack of the bat sending the ball to the outfield, where the cheers go up as Bryce Harper comes down with an assured catch and then takes a bow to the shoulder-to-shoulder cheering outfield fans. And what of the Phillie Phanatic? When he launches his air gun-propelled hot dogs into the stands, will fans still be able to crush together desperately lunging out to catch one? Doesn’t seem likely.
Will Pop’s Homemade Water Ice in South Philly, my favorite postgame stop, be open for my cool-down after I’ve managed to peel my thighs off the hot ballpark seat? I’d miss the flavors, and the sounds: “Yo, you got any root beer and mango left?” the kid in front of me yells, while heads in the line behind me crane forward to get a look inside. Can the water-ice business stand up to the pressure of the crowd when they’re also being pressured to stay six feet apart?
Also lost has been the sound of baseball at home. Starting in April, my TV usually has a Phillies game playing in the background. The Phillies are my multitasking friends. I can read, eat, tweet, or text with the game on. Hearing Tom McCarthy, the Kruker, Scott Franzke, and LA with their comforting baseball banter, often interrupted by the actual game, assures me that it’s summer in Philly.
Let’s not forget the loss of our own local softball leagues, where my suburban team of mismatched ladies from age 21 to middle age kick dirt off our worn cleats and where the smell of cut grass hits my nose like the line drives I tend to bobble.
Will we be free by Independence Day? Fourth of July in Philadelphia means parades, Fairmount Park cookouts, the packed Benjamin Franklin Parkway daylong festival and evening fireworks launched from the Schuylkill. How can we miss celebrating America’s 244th birthday together? We’d still be under British rule if the Founding Fathers had to stand six feet apart.
And what of the Philadelphia Zoo? What better sound is there than excitedly screeching schoolkids on their spring and summertime pilgrimages to our beloved zoo? Plus the zoo isn’t just for little kids, at least not in my family. That stinky blast of earthy animals that welcomes you inside, when you reach the llama, goats, and sheep, brings back memories of when I was one of those little kids. I’ve already missed welcoming the new baby sloth bear, Keematee in Bear Country. Will the baby be a teenager by the time we get to meet?
Oh, of course, I’m worried about the Shore and boardwalk in Ocean City. Say goodbye to those irresistible free samples of Steele’s Fudge that we used to grab with our hands, sometimes going back for seconds, or in my son’s case thirds. Smells of fried foods and Johnson’s Popcorn, mixed with the salty air, combine for an irresistible pull to the beach. Will I be able to sit under an umbrella this summer when the early morning crowds stake their claim at the water’s edge before the late-morning arrivals try to nudge our way in?
Anticipation is sometimes the best part of life. We are lucky when we are happy and healthy enough to make plans. But this summer, we may have only memories to share, not plans to make. Philadelphia, I already miss you.
Tina Isen Fox is a freelance writer in suburban Philadelphia.