Summer Guide: How to salvage the season 

Summer Guide: How to salvage the season   
Noah MacMillan

It might seem like due to the coronavirus, summer might as well be officially canceled. There are no music festivals. Movie theaters are closed, and summer blockbusters have been postponed or rerouted to video on demand. Art fairs are off.

The good news is your summer's not completely wrecked. It can be salvaged. In fact, you should take this opportunity to work on yourself, your pad, or see your city from a different perspective.

Sure, this summer is going to look a little different. But just like sunscreen and sunglasses are essential warm-weather protection, it seems easy enough to add a face mask, hand sanitizer, and/or a healthy dose of social distancing to your seasonal arsenal. 

So here are multiple lists of things you can do this summer to get out of your house and into the outdoors or another building to have some fun (and possibly have your temperature checked by a stranger).

Build up your garden

You can get fresh air and sunshine this summer without going to a Tigers game. If you're lucky enough to have a little land to call your own, this is the summer to start a garden or get one set up for next year. And while flowers are pretty and often contribute to happiness, you'll feel like the king of the world if you build out and grow a robust food garden. Now that we're all slowing down a bit and taking the time to appreciate where and how we get food, there's no greater feeling than planting a seed, tending to it, and then later pulling your own homegrown food out of the ground. Lettuce, herbs, and root vegetables are all pretty easy to grow, making them the perfect items to start in your brand-new garden. If it's already too late in the year to grow your favorite fruits or veggies, you can still spend some time building your raised beds and getting your soil ready for next year when you become a SuperGardener.

Build a damn pool

For the fun of it, let's say you're pretty rich but not a planner. The creeping heat of summer has sneaked up on you, and you'd like to find a little relief in the form of a cool dip in a pool. But you don't want to swim in the plaguey waters of a communal pool, and you don't already have a pool because, as discussed, you're not a planner. You're already screwed. Even for a wealthy person like yourself, it's going to take a construction crew two or three months to build you a personal swimming hole. That's a lot of miserable summer to endure.

But let's say you're a regular dude, not too pretentious, not too concerned about what the neighbors think. Good news: You can be floating by Friday. The solution is a backyard hay-bale pool. Affordable and well within a layman's skillset, the hay-bale pool can be assembled and filled in an afternoon. Make it as big as you want: maybe four hay bales long and three wide. Double-stack them if you want it a couple feet deeper. Here's how you do it: Arrange the bales (about $7.50 each from Lowe's, about half that if you know farmers) in a rectangle and drape with heavy-duty plastic sheeting ($15-$20), making sure to leave enough slack to press it against the interior walls and tuck under the bales on the exterior. Cinch it all together with a rope ($10, with plenty of leftover rope) around the perimeter and fill it with water. Enjoy with an ice-cold PBR and jorts.

Learn how to build a fire

This is a great skill to have not just for a low-key, socially distant backyard bonfire but also in case civilization collapses — and let's face it, that feels more and more like a possibility every day. OK, first things first is to pick a site that's far away from trees or your house, because you don't want to burn your neighborhood down. Next, lay down some tinder — dry leaves work, or old issues of Metro Times — and kindling, like dry branches and twigs. Next, you'll need some firewood — look for dry branches about the size of your arm. Start creating a teepee of kindling, and then encase that in a teepee made from the bigger logs. Then, light the tinder on fire with a lighter or match and — voila! Add larger logs as they burn to keep the fire roaring. Be sure to keep water on hand to use to extinguish it when you're done.

Fix up your bike (so you can ride it)

No more excuses — you literally have nothing better going on. It's time for you to dig that rusty old bike out of your garage for a tune-up. First, give it a good cleaning, using degreaser on the chain and jockey wheels, and checking to make sure your chain is in good shape. Next, pull the brake levers to make sure the brake pads are working, and give the wheels a spin to make sure they aren't hitting the pads; if it takes a lot of force to make the brakes work, use an Allen key and pull the cable to tighten things up. Flip your bike upside-down and give the wheels a spin, checking for any wobbliness; you can fix this by using a spoke wrench to increase or decrease the tension of the spokes. If you're really feeling handy, you can even take off your pedals and ball bearings to lube everything up. Make sure all your gears are working, pump up your tires, and hit the road.

click to enlarge The DeQuindre Cut makes for some prime bike riding. - Hannah Ervin, Detroit Stock City
Hannah Ervin, Detroit Stock City
The DeQuindre Cut makes for some prime bike riding.


When quarantine started back in March, you thought you were going to come out of it a better person. You had big plans: You were going to read all those books you never even opened, bake sourdough bread, and get ripped. But to the surprise of absolutely no one, you accomplished jack-shit. All you read is Twitter, all you eat is frozen pizza, and all you do is sit on your ass. Look, don't beat yourself up over it — just staying sane with the modern-day equivalents of the 1918 Spanish Flu, 1929 stock market crash, and the 1968 summer of civil unrest all happening at the same damn time is kind of a tall order. But you should reconsider the not-exercising thing. As many of us all know but choose to forget, exercise can relieve stress and reduce anxiety. Hell, some people even get high from the release of endorphins after a good workout. Start small, going for a 20-minute jog or doing some crunches, and if summoning the energy is hard for you, consider getting it over with earlier in the day while your energy levels are highest. Trust us, you'll feel a lot better.

Create your own quarantine cocktail

"Quarantinis" have become a popular trend for drunks spending more time in their homes this year, and there's no reason for that trend to stop now that the weather has gotten nice. A unique twist on a mojito or a mai tai would make for a delicious summer beverage, but there are endless ways to flex your creativity in the world of mixology. Just to get your creative juices flowing (and your mouth watering), we thought we'd share our favorite homemade cocktail, the "2020-tini." Step 1: Get a rocks glass and some of your favorite whiskey (we like Evan Williams, but anything brown should get the job done). Step 2: Fill that rocks glass up to about one-eighth of an inch from the top. Step 3: Add ice — in order to do this without overflowing, you'll want to drink enough of the beverage for said ice to fit. It should be noted that ice is optional, though. And you're done! Pairs best with a second 2020-tini held in your other hand.

Learn an instrument

Specifically, learn to play the double contrabass flute, a 15-foot-long mass of twisted metal tubing that retails for $38,000. Why the double contrabass flute? Because there are enough guitarists in the world, obviously. It's time to think outside the box.

Finish those home projects

Now's the time to finish the projects that you never had time to finish before when you were super busy and doing things like going to work and visiting the grocery store without a panic attack. Since you've spent so much time at home by now, you know what needs to be done, and you know which issues you can keep ignoring. If you fix that dripping sink or spend some time re-caulking the tub, you'll feel accomplished and proud of what you've done for yourself during these strange times. Don't forget to do those beautifying chores, too. Now's the perfect time to sand and repaint your front door or install some new decorative bookshelves. If your home is welcoming, you won't feel as tortured while stuck in isolation.

Clean out your basement

Heck, clean out everything. The summer is the perfect time to hide away from the heat in your cool basement and get some serious work done. Decluttering has been all the rage lately, and while you're stuck at home you might as well improve your home and make it a space that you don't mind being stuck in (as much) during this weird time. Cleaning out the stuff you don't need makes more room for canned goods or flashlights or whatever survival things you've been thinking about hoarding in advance of the second wave of coronavirus. If you're looking to find a good home for all the stuff you don't need anymore (without sending it to a landfill), your local freecycle organizations can be a great place to unload a ton of stuff without the accompanying guilt.

Make a relaxing outdoor space

Nature has been our salvation during this entire pandemic. It's pretty, it's peaceful, and if you go just a bit into the woods you're not likely to find other humans or their cooties. But since you can't spend every day wandering around a state park, it's wise to set aside a little bit of outdoor space as your own relaxing little nature preserve. Take an unused corner of your yard and add some flowers, a hammock or a little fountain. Spending just 10 minutes a day there will do wonders for your worries. If you seek a clear mind and relaxed shoulder muscles, slip away to your outdoor oasis where the birds are singing and the sirens sound far away.

click to enlarge The Wretched is a Michigan-made horror movie that has been attracting unexpected attention this summer. - IFC Films
IFC Films
The Wretched is a Michigan-made horror movie that has been attracting unexpected attention this summer.

Take in a drive-in movie

Movie theaters are closed due to you-know-who, but you can catch a movie from the safety of your car at old-school drive-in theaters. Your local drive-in has probably made some changes for safety — lower capacities, social distancing, mandatory masks if you're waiting in line for concessions, etc. — so check to make sure what the new rules are. If you're looking for movie recommendations, may we suggest checking out the Michigan-made indie horror The Wretched. Thanks to being marketed as a drive-in flick, and due to being pretty much the only game in town, with the major studios postponing some of the season's biggest blockbusters due to the pandemic, the low-budget movie became the top-grossing movie in America in May, recently surpassing $1 million at the box office. Not too shabby for a couple of brothers from Michigan.

Hike your city

The outdoors are one of the few pleasures that social distancing left us. If you've got access to forests and trees, by all means, go for it. But there are plenty of adventures to be had without leaving the city, and walking the metro from one end to the other is one. Map out your route ahead of time. Think thru-roads with landmarks, changing neighborhoods, and maybe a midway spot to buy lunch. If you do it with a partner, you can park one car at the end for the ride home. Alternatively, walk to a public transit stop or choose a circular route. Average walking speed is three to four miles per hour, so plan accordingly. And then start walking. If you've never truly walked your city, it's eye-opening. You'll see things you never noticed speeding past in a car or bus. The neighborhoods will roll out in front of you like changing landscapes. Climb staircase mountains, wander through downtown canyons, and watch the street lights awaken like a starry night.

Become a porch musician superfan

Who knows when concerts will return to normal? Everything from outdoor festivals to DIY punk shows have gone quiet. Into that depressing silence has stepped the porch musician. More of a loner than the much-celebrated garage bands of Gen X rom-coms, the porch musician nonetheless has emerged as one of the heroes of pandemic lockdowns. And lucky you, there's probably one within walking distance. Get to know that hopeful performer. Learn their show schedule and start going to every concert. Tell your friends. Make a fan page. Post setlists. Create some merch. Until live music is back for real, this is your new favorite artist.

Walking happy hour

Sure, we've gotten pretty good at drinking at home. Our booze order is dialed in. We've experimented with fancy cocktail making out of boredom and returned to the standards out of fatigue and necessity. And we've realized the Zoom happy hour is about as glitchy and awkward as the Zoom business meeting. So it's time to reclaim a bit of the social element of drinking. If you're not quite ready for the bars again, the walking happy hour is a pleasant alternative. It's as simple as it sounds. Open a beer or pour a drink and start walking around your neighborhood. You're out of the apartment, enjoying the fresh air, chatting with neighbors. It feels sort of healthy. Feel free to put your drink in a thermos or opaque plastic cup if you're worried about legalities, but are open-container laws even a thing anymore? We've all got more important things to worry about.

Get to know your neighbors

Even if you do manage to get out a bit this summer, chances are the ongoing threat of COVID-19 will have you hanging around your own home more than you might have in summers past. Perhaps it's time to get to know the neighbors better! A camera with a long lens or a pair of binoculars will help a lot with this one. Post up at your, ahem, rear window and really familiarize yourself with those who dwell in your neighborhood. Wow, the lady across the street sure can dance! And that fella down the way is really quite an amazing pianist; it's beautiful to hear him play. Gosh, somebody should do something about that dog over there, though — always digging away at the garden. Wait a minute, was that somebody screaming?

Bring the beach to you

For decades now, the music of the Beach Boys has been synonymous with "summer" — practically its official soundtrack. So who would better know how to celebrate the season than the band's founder, genius composer Brian Wilson? Take some cues from his approach during his recording sessions in the mid-'60s. Bring the beach to you by filling your living room with sand. Purchase thousands of dollars' worth of marijuana and LSD. Blast "Good Vibrations" on repeat. Descend steadily into madness. Your friends might express concern, but at least you'll have a smile on your face.

Wander around in some abandoned buildings

Detroit has no shortage of collapsing buildings — schools, churches, malls — and nothing says "social distancing during a pandemic" like the near post-apocalyptic feeling you get while wandering around inside them. Just make sure to follow proper urban-explorer etiquette: Don't take anything, don't break anything, and for the love of all that is healthy, watch your step.

Become a trained storm spotter

There are few things more thrilling than a Midwest summer storm. And with a little extra time on your hands this summer, you can devote a couple of hours to becoming a trained storm spotter for the National Weather Service. After attending just one two-hour class, the NWS will take your reports more seriously than the silly amateur next door. They'll teach you the basics of thunderstorm development and storm structure. These classes are multimedia experiences and make you feel like you're watching an action-packed documentary. After learning how to categorize and anticipate storms, you're deputized to send helpful information to the NWS whenever you'd like.

Dig a hole

You ever just dig a hole just for the sake of digging? Likely not, because what purpose would that serve, right? Well there's no better time than now to find out the answer to that question. Pull out a shovel, head to the backyard, and get some earth moving. Don't bother calling Miss Dig to check for utility lines or anything — those killjoys will probably pooh-pooh the idea, and you'll find those lines on your own anyway. Don't stop until you hit magma. Please report back with your findings.

Befriend a murder of crows

As anyone who has seen the 1994 cult classic The Crow can attest, crows are, like, really cool, and good to have around as friends, given that they have the ability to raise you from the dead and also peck out the eyes of your enemies. On top of that, they are intelligent creatures who are able to recognize and remember human faces, and if you feed them, they are even likely to bring you gifts. Shiny rocks, coins, and pieces of metal are often the form these gifts take, though if you could somehow convince them that paper money is your jam, you'd have yourself one hell of a racket going. What we're saying here is: Spread some bird seed on the ground near your home, then start shouting "caw" sounds while rubbing cash all over your body. If the birds find you before the mental-health professionals do, you're in business.

Build a guillotine

Now that the weather is nice, it's a great time to get started on some projects around the house. Why not, for example, build a guillotine? A marvel of engineering that is nevertheless within the crafting capabilities of your average Joe, a guillotine is a device that has many purposes, from slicing baguette sandwiches in half or also for, er, very effectively registering one's dissatisfaction with a ruling elite, as the people of 18th-century France learned shortly after the actions that led to the celebration of Bastille Day in the first place. Best of all, the approximate cost to build one, according to a quick Google search, is $1,200 — the exact amount of money each American was given in a round of stimulus checks distributed earlier this year. With the government currently considering a second round of similar checks, even those who had to spend the first one on things like food and rent will have a second opportunity. Thanks, government!

Embrace sprinkler life

Buy or borrow one. Hook it to a hose somewhere. Run through it like a little kid.

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