Monday, May 26, 2003

Chasing the last remnants of winter



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Pay no attention to the calendar. Forget about the weather.

Summer starts today.

Memorial Day traditionally kicks off the season of hot fun in the summertime. But, this year, summer can't start too soon.

Spring's been a steady diet of cool temperatures, thunderstorms, and threats of floods and tornados.

Winter was a disaster. The 15th snowiest in Cincinnati history.

"I felt cooped up all winter," says Mike Lemberg. He had cab fever.

Lemberg drives a salt truck for the city of Cincinnati. He spent "way too many 16-hour days" behind the wheel of a dump truck loaded with 10,000 pounds of salt.

"I'm ready," he declares, "for summer."

This summer, there's no shortage of new places to visit in Cincinnati. Great American Ball Park. The Cincinnati Wing of the Cincinnati Art Museum. The Contemporary Arts Center.

There's a slew of stand-bys. Places where it isn't summer until you go. Riverbend. The Museum Center at Union Terminal. The Cincinnati Zoo. The Root Beer Stand. Taste of Blue Ash. West Fest. Farm markets. Church festivals.

Coney Island's Sunlite Pool.

"It's another world out here," says Krista Howard. Sunlite's head lifeguard sits poolside on a weathered wooden bench reserved for members of her 90-person crew.

"The pool's so relaxing. It's hard to realize people are working in offices while you're at the pool having fun," she says.

Howard's entering her 18th summer at Sunlite, which opened Saturday, and her fifth year in charge of the pool's lifeguards.

To her, summer at the 80,000-square-foot pool is "seeing the older folks, some with canes, come back to their spot in the shade. Summer's seeing the little kids race like a bullet to the water and jump in, no matter if it's warm or cold."

Young and old, they're enjoying a Cincinnati tradition that began on May 22, 1925.

Come to the Cone

Compared to Sunlite Pool, the Cone is a young whippersnapper. The 30-foot fiberglass replica of a four-tier vanilla soft-serve ice cream cone has been dispensing decidedly smaller, but exceedingly tastier versions of itself for just nine summers. In fast-changing West Chester, that's an eternity.

"People swear we've been here 20, 30 years," says Keith Wren.

He and his family have owned and operated the Cone since he and his dad, Ken Wren, helped put up the programmatic building.

"Little kids," Ken Wren says, "are always asking their parents to hold them up to lick the building."

Kids know best. The Cone says summer to them. By licking the building they're chasing away the last remnants of winter.

Terry Green watches her 4-year-old son, Trey, patting one of the Cone's ice cream cone-shaped garbage cans.

"We've been dying for summer," she says. "Staying inside most of the winter and spring has been torture for us."

Trey, Terry, husband Mike and daughter Ashley have season passes to Kings Island. Terry hopes the weather cooperates so her family can make good use of the passes.

"We had a really bad winter and a rainy spring," she says, "maybe we'll have a early, warm summer."

Maybe, predicts Tim Hedrick.

"This is not my official forecast," Channel 12's chief meteorologist cautions. "But things tend to even out over the course of a year.

"So, with a fairly cool and wet spring, common sense tells me we're going to see a warm, dry summer," he says. With a good chance of sunny skies and good times.

"Summer is born out of the spring and winter out of the fall," Hedrick says. "So, how could winter be anything but nasty and summer be anything but delightful?"

Happy times

That poetic prognostication brings a smile to Paul Sebron. He's the owner and chef at Stenger's/Mr. Pig Too, next to Over-the-Rhine's Findlay Market.

Sebron tends the coals barbecuing chicken, ribs and chops in the steel tank outside his restaurant. Even though he's always working in three-digit temperatures, he loves warm weather. It reminds him of summers gone by.

He remembers watching his parents and grandparents "at backyard barbecues where we lived in Evanston. Folks would be laughing. Kids running around. Everybody eating. Having fun."

Stress was not on the menu. Trouble never got an invitation. Only happiness was welcome.

When he barbecues, Sebron maintains that family tradition.

That helps put Old Man Winter in his place. Starting today, he's just a faint memory, making summer taste that much sweeter.

Cliff Radel, a native of Cincinnati, writes about the people, places and traditions defining his hometown. E-mail: cradel@enquirer.com.

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