To us St. Louisans, our city's summers are the stuff of brutal legend. We brace ourselves for them every spring. We warn people about them before moving here. We read countless stories in the Post-Dispatch that blather about just how hot it is. One thing we don't do often enough? Find ways to get the best of the sweltering heat before it gets the better of us. You can count the number of outdoor public swimming pools operating within St. Louis city limits on one hand and still have three fingers left over. God forbid we actually went swimming or boating in, near or around the Mississippi. Heck, we don't even have a great selection of ice-cream parlors and frozen-concrete stands to at least cool our palates.
With a little creativity and ingenuity, though, it is possible to uncover a panoply of unorthodox cooling-off techniques, methods more fun than just taking refuge in malls or movie theaters. Next time you feel yourself nearing the boiling point, try one of these tricks for beating the heat.
Rent, borrow or buy a convertible
Driving with the top down doesn't just take the edge off the thermometer. As any convertible owner or enthusiast will attest, it takes the edge off your day, too, serving as the vehicle (pun intended) for both physical and mental chilling out.
Says renowned St. Louis man-about-town Steve Smith -- who bought his first convertible, an Oldsmobile Delta 88 Royale, for $700 when he was seventeen and now drives a ragtop El Dorado: "I feel more connected to my surroundings. I can easily chat up other people from the car as if I were walking down the street. People get really excited just to see the car go by. I get lots of thumbs-ups, smiles and people yelling, 'Can I buy it?'"
Renting a ragtop, unfortunately, is not the easiest feat. Most of the national rental-car chains only keep a few convertibles (Mustangs, mostly) on their St. Louis lots; Avis has three at its Lambert Airport outpost (314-426-7766) that go for $60 to $70 per day on weekends, while the local convertible count at Hertz (314-426-7555) is low enough that they get reserved up to four weeks in advance -- and pricey enough that a weekend rental runs more than $200.
Your next-best option might be making friends with a convertible owner, as many of these folks are only too willing to take you for a ride. Says Maria Suarez, who bought a 1999 Chrysler Sebring convertible last year: "I'm still having a love affair with my car, so I'll be out cruising on any nice day, and company is always welcomed -- no car wash, oil change or other payback necessary."
And if your fling with a convertible, whether rented or borrowed, leads to a life-altering romance, Daniel Schmitt & Co. Classic Car Gallery (3345 North Lindbergh Boulevard; 314-291-4441) will happily sell you one of its several pre-owned Corvette, Mercedes or Porsche convertibles for about $45,000.
Join a nudist club
Take your clothes off and you increase the amount of skin in contact with the air, which allows your body to adapt to heat more quickly. Of course, then there's the question of what to do with your face, which is turning beet-red from embarrassment.
Or maybe not. After all, some 250 members of the Forty Acre Club (www.fortyacreclub.com), the oldest nudist camp in Missouri, have no problem swimming, fishing, playing horseshoes or otherwise socializing in the buff. During the summer months, members can stay in the camp's weekend or nightly rental cabins or just park their trailers on the FAC's grounds (based in Lonedell, about an hour west of the city).
The group gets about a dozen new members a year, says FAC treasurer David Barnes -- most of them nudist novices. Membership is bestowed by the couple, including couples with children, and is obtained simply by submitting an application, paying about $450 in yearly dues and withstanding a first-year probationary membership, after which the group's board votes on whether to grant a lifetime membership. Most everybody gets in, says Barnes, and inappropriate behavior is hardly ever a problem: "If you're a smart, friendly person with your clothes on, chances are you're going to be a smart, friendly person with your clothes off."
Sneak into a hotel pool
With public pools so scarce in St. Louis, pool-sneaking is both an art and a necessity. Any sneak worth his salt knows that hotels are the most lenient environment for taking advantage of a pool (unlike, say, a health club, where I.D. or membership must be shown). A halfway-decent sneak knows to stride through the lobby with calm and confidence, poolside accoutrements such as towels (white towels, to match hotel linens) and sunblock tucked away in a bag casual enough to look like you just stashed a few things in it from your room. And the ninja sneaks know which hotels to hit: The Central West End Best Western (4630 Lindell Boulevard) is widely considered an easy target, though only a so-so pool; a number of the downtown hotels are too bustling with visiting conventioneers for anybody to pay attention to you, plus many of them boast rooftop pools; and the granddaddy of hotel pools is that at the Chase Park Plaza (212 North Kingshighway).
Go ice skating
Feel like reenacting Adam Sandler's and Julie Bowen's pas de deux aux glace from Happy Gilmore? While in the movie Happy had to go to the rink after-hours and pull some strings with the Zamboni guy to get the place to himself, you can do that practically any day during the summer at one of the area's almost-25 ice rinks that offer open skating sessions, even in the summer, and stay a cool 50 to 55 degrees year-round. Says Craig Strohbeck, interim director of Brentwood Parks and Recreation, where the town's recreation complex boasts an indoor rink, "It's surprisingly not crowded in our rink during the summer, which I think makes it an ideal setting for a birthday party or any sort of large get-together." Not only that, it's cheap: Admission plus skate rental runs only $4.50 per person at Brentwood. The Brentwood rink (2505 South Brentwood Boulevard) holds daily open skating sessions during the summer; call 314-963-8689 for specifics.
Visit the penguins and puffins
What's cooler than being cool? Ice cold! Which is the state of things at the Saint Louis Zoo's year-old Penguin & Puffin Coast. It's a frosty 45 degrees every day in there; it's also a hoot watching 100 penguins and puffins bobbing about among the rock faces, nesting chambers and 22-foot waterfall. Many of the zoo's out-of-town visitors don't realize until they get in there that neither the birds nor the biting chill are kept behind glass, says Michael Macek, the zoo's curator of birds, which can also make for a fun dose of people-watching as the unaware get hit in the face with that first blast of cold air. And most visitors, says Macek, can't stand more than ten minutes inside Penguin & Puffin Coast before they're too cold and ready for another round of roiling heat. Here, the St. Louis summer has certainly met its match.