Summer evenings whisper of memories. Clouds of pine pollen filtering the twilight over ridge lines of the Bitterroot. The San Francisco Peaks glistening in the aftermath of a summer monsoon in Arizona. A Middle Fork float drifting well into the hours past sunset.
For me those are all memories of adulthood. I grew up a SoCal boy, and the memories from childhood are different from those formed since I started wandering the West. I grew up in Riverside, California, but despite the name it’s actually a city carved from the desert. Summers were blisteringly hot and water sports were miles away. The big respite was the lower Colorado River, which required a long trek across the Mojave Desert.
So my summer water sport activity centered on the backyard pool. When you’re a kid summering where triple digits are the norm three months of the year, you grow to love the burning sensation chlorine-laced water sears onto your eyes and sinuses.
There were soundtracks to those summertime festivities. There’s Led Zeppelin and the classic rockers of my teen years, followed by the post punk bands we adopted as we became “serious” thinkers in our college days. I get regular flashbacks 30 years later thanks to satellite radio. Jim Ladd was the DJ we listened to in high school. The signal from LA-based KMET was a little sketchy, but I absorbed his freeform act almost every night as I fell asleep. Later, as corporate radio took hold, Ladd refused to conform to playlists generated from headquarters and he bounced around the SoCal radio dial.
Richard Blade is another blast from the past. He worked at the alt-rock station KROQ. Both Blade and Ladd have extended their careers due to satellite’s subscription-based business model, which favors the creativity of old-school DJs rather than the canned playlists.
But there’s another radio soundtrack to summer, one I too seldom revisit unless I’m visiting home as you can’t find Vin Scully on satellite radio. Scully has been announcing Dodger baseball for 65 years. I know it is 65 because I was back home recently, and instead of listening on the radio, we drove into town to catch a game in person. That night they were handing out commemorative microphones to mark the occasion.
It was a perfect summer night for a ball game, the kind that makes me question my decision more than two decades ago to leave Southern California for life in Montana. It was 74 degrees at the first pitch just after 7 p.m., and four hours later as the Dodgers wrapped up the win, it was 71. The tall palms beyond the outfield pavilion were hardly bothered by the summer breeze.
Back in the 1950s when the Dodgers first came to California, fans brought transistor radios to games so they could listen to Scully and better follow the action in the Olympic-sized Coliseum. I lent a modern twist to that tradition on my recent visit, using the MLB app on my iPhone. Listening to the greatest baseball announcer ever was such a joy I didn’t mind that the app delayed the broadcast and Scully was calling the game about one pitch behind the action.
Scully’s understated storytelling drew me back to the pool and the summer nights of my youth. It was hot and we’d be in the water late. Through the open sliding glass door we could hear the Dodgers simulcast drifting out into the night. “Hi, it’s time for Dodger baseball,” the golden voice would announce as we practiced backflips off the diving board. Inside, my Dad decompressed after a hard day. As an asbestos worker who died from lung disease, he killed himself at work, literally, making sure we could afford a nice backyard with a pool though he rarely dipped a toe himself.
And I remember he would usually fall asleep on the couch well before the game ended.
That’s what summer evenings whisper to me, even when I’m floating the Middle Fork.
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