Hot Town, Summer in the City

Market Square Farmers' Market, Knoxville, July 2017
Fountains at the World’s Fair Park, Knoxville, May 2018

Is summer almost over? Am I the only one wondering? According to the calendar we are not quite a third of the way through. By the measure of a traditional school year — with June, July and August being summer vacation — we are over half way through. Don’t use that logic on a modern-day teacher, however: Knox County teachers report back to work July 29. Is that the Autumn beginning of the school year?

It’s not a new theme. The song of the same name as my caption was number one for three weeks in August of 1966. Still, it rings familiar as I walk around downtown these days:

Hot town, summer in the city
Back of my neck getting dirty and gritty
Been down, isn’t it a pity
Doesn’t seem to be a shadow in the city
All around, people looking half dead
Walking on the sidewalk, hotter than a match head
That about sums it up, doesn’t it? I find myself planning my route from one meeting or destination to another base on the position of the sun and the shadows. A pathway that leads through a parking garage? Score! A north/south walk in the morning or evening? Guaranteed shade on one side of the street or the other!
There’s a long history of study and concern about heat in the city. The phrase “urban heat island” is used to describe an area that is hotter than surrounding areas due to human activity. Mostly it involves removing trees and adding heat-absorbing surfaces, like pavement and traditional roofs. Who decided roofs should be dark (IE heat absorbing)? It’s counter-intuitive. White roofs and other reflective surfaces help mitigate the increased heat in such an area.
Market Square Farmers’ Market, Knoxville, July 2017
It’s not all bad, of course. Many of you probably love this time of year with its lakes and swimming pools. Maybe you like lying in the sun (insert Woody Allen line about skin cancer). I do look forward to some things about the summer. The Market Square Farmer’s Market is probably the top among them. I love Jazz on the Square on Tuesday nights. Life tends to slow a bit most summers.
Jack Neely of the Knoxville History Project gave a talk on Knoxville summers last night at Maple Hall. There’s a rich literary history on the topic, most notably Knoxville, Summer 1915but also including works by Nikki Giovanni and much of the action in Suttree. He noted Knoxville’s fondness for ice cream from an early stage. That still holds true, with four distinct types of ice cream available in a two block area of downtown: Soft serve (Cruze Farm), scoop (Kilwin’s), vegetarian (space head) and more elaborate confections like banana splits and sundaes (Phoenix Pharmacy).
He also noted that Knoxville was one of the early adopters of the new game of baseball. According to Jack, it was the most popular sport in town for about sixty years. Maybe we’ll start another run of baseball popularity in the near future, but it’s unlikely to supplant that other locally favored sport. Speaking of which, college football kicks off in five weeks and a day. Feel that chill in the air? I thought so.
Larry Fabian Vincent, Scott and Amy Simmerman, David Slack and Keith R Brown, Jazz on the Square, Market Square, Knoxville, May 2019
Another cost of summer, which might surprise you, is the drop in business for our local merchants. Almost universally I hear that July is a tough month and that this July seems tougher. Think about that during Prime Week. Whether it is the heat or the rains we tend to get, merchants suffer a little during this month.
It’s not all bad, of course. Any season commonly associated with words like “vacation,” “break,” “romance,” “read,” and “trip,” can’t be all bad. There’s also a certain “cool” factor amid the heat. Cruising around on a summer night, hanging with friends on a roof top bar or outdoor patio. There’s something to say for that.
I’ll leave you with my favorite summer song (and there are many great ones) and just encourage you to try to stay cool and support your local merchants. Enjoy and have a great weekend.