That grill at the park
today at 6:56 am
Nothing says summer like that old grill at the park. The one that’s been there for 200 years. The one that was assembled from used railroad tracks.
Every park, every town in America has at least one of these grills. It’s always on a bit of a slant. The grates are far from clean but I take comfort in that layer of char. Each dinner is seasoned by generations of summer bar-b-qs.
That grill at the park runs on charcoal, but I’ve seen someone light a pile of tube socks and it worked just fine. The only acceptable meats are burgers and hot dogs. If someone brings a marinated organic chicken breast, you can hear the grill laughing. Veggie burger? The grill starts coughing and devours the patty in a cloud of smoke.
If you’re out of hot dogs, no problem. There’s usually one buried in the charcoal dust. And it’s somehow perfectly preserved.
When the burgers are served, friends and family ask each other, “Does yours taste like the late 1800s?”
That grill at the park is a right of passage. Not everyone’s ready for it. I’ve heard about guys who had six or seven kids but claim they didn’t truly become a father until the first time they used that grill. You’ll see families gathered together at the park, the dad’s 50, grandpa’s 75, but they still defer to their 100-year-old great-grandpa who doesn’t even use a lighter. He just smacks the grill five times and it’s ready to go.
You can tell who the rookies are because they bring a meat thermometer. The seasoned vets know there’s no science to that old grill at the park. The burger is either raw in the middle or burnt to a crisp. If you’re lucky, you end up somewhere in between, but it’s all based on how the grill’s feeling that day. You have to respect the grill’s decision.
In the summer of 2020, people started asking their local park rangers what sort of safety precautions were instituted due to COVID-19. “COVID-19?” the park rangers replied. “We’re still checking these things for cholera.”
My favorite feature about the grill has to be the chained brush. Was brush theft ever a problem? Was it just a guy on his way to Bed Bath & Beyond who decided to save $7? Was someone re-selling these things on eBay? Maybe using ’em as an intense shower brush?
I love that grill at the park. It’s indestructible. Pretty sure it could survive an atomic bomb. Especially after a summer like this one, the gap year summer, the one that came and went, we all need that old grill serving as our charcoal light. Because sure, June and July 2021 feel like they’re a long way away. Covid-19 still feels like Groundhog’s Day. The masks, the hand sanitizers, the Zoom calls. I have this general feeling of, “Come on, enough already. Why isn’t this chapter over yet?”
And so I think about next summer. Going to the park with family. I think about piling up the charcoal, dousing it with lighter fluid, throwing on the burgers and hot dogs. I’ll look down at that old grill, the one that served George Washington long ago, and breathe a sigh of relief.
Summer’s here again.
Today’s blog was a throwback to old school Medium Rare posts. Over the last several months, I’ve been using the Medium Rare blog with a different format, featuring local restaurants around Chicago. These also drift into a little bit of philosophy and stories from my own life. To catch up on some of the posts and read about great local spots, here they are below:
- Chicago, Argentina (Part 1)
- Chicago, Argentina (Kierkegaard intermission)
- Chicago, Argentina (Part 2: The Family Behind Tango Sur)
- Chicago, Argentina (Kierkegaard Finale)
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