Beating the summertime blues

Our experts—a cop, a professor, an activist and, of course, Herky the Hornet—reveal survival secrets of the season

Photo By Larry Dalton

Summer survival in Sacramento—here’s the checklist: Water. (Note: Drinking beer is not the same thing as replenishing fluids during hot summer days; alcohol is dehydrating.) Central air. A lot of ceiling fans. Air-conditioned vehicle. (Note: Never leave kids or animals in the car—“even for a minute.”) Sunblock.

Did we mention air conditioning?

Really, that’s about it.

But what if you want to do more than merely survive those triple-digit days?

What if you’d like to hit September with your mind, body and spirit intact, rather than feeling like that sweat-soaked T-shirt currently balled up in the corner of the utility room?

SN&R’s assembled panel of experts—including a professor who earned his doctorate in the field of leisure-behavior research, a veteran cop, a local activist and a hometown mascot—tell us it is possible, given some planning and the right attitude.

A first step Sacramentans can take in creating a positive summer mind-set is to get over the idea that “recreation” and “leisure” are synonymous and that either has to involve strenuous physical activity. Such misconceptions can cause us to unwittingly forego the benefits that occur from engaging in regular leisure-time pursuits.

Leisure, in fact, is more a state of being than a specific activity, according to Ernie Olson, a professor of recreation and leisure studies at California State University, Sacramento (CSUS).

“The state of being I’m describing as leisure, you have to contrast with boredom and anxiety,” Olson said. “If we’re doing something pleasurable, it changes the brain’s chemistry. We use the term ‘intrinsic satisfaction’—where you’re performing at a level of optimal physiological arousal, or stimulation.”

Entering this state of mind, Olson said, produces positive psychological, emotional and even spiritual outcomes.

“Optimal arousal refers to the range where things flow better, where you perform better,” Olson continued. “If you’re in that zone, you enjoy life better.

Capt. Jim Hyde adocates iced mochas and forgiveness.

Photo By Jill Wagner

“One of the great values of leisure is that it plugs balance into our lives. It helps us compensate for those times when we feel least in control or experience the most distress. It is during leisure we feel free to make decisions that enable us to have feelings of joy and happiness.”

But Olson acknowledged that summers pose a special challenge to folks who have allowed themselves to get into a rut during the fall and winter months. It’s even harder for those who aren’t naturally enamored with outdoor activities and think “recreation” only applies to those who are. Because everyone has different passions, desires and interests, Olson said, it’s important not to limit oneself to a certain genre when thinking about leisure.

“Drama and music, poetry, gardening, taking courses at the community colleges, arts and crafts—it doesn’t matter what you’re doing,” Olson said, “as long as that activity gets you into that optimal zone. When you start to recognize that leisure is a very big umbrella, it makes it easier to select an activity.”

One way to get out of a rut, or just discover something new, is to view oneself as a visitor to Sacramento—what Olson refers to as a “leisure explorer.”

“Whenever you have a block of time where you have the opportunity to program some recreation or leisure into your life, it’s good to give yourself permission to be a leisure explorer,” Olson said. “When you do, you’ll see that Sacramento is filled with marvelous opportunities.”

Olson recalled a quote from Betsy Edwards, a leisure counselor whose job it is to assist people in making good decisions about how they use their leisure time.

“I heard her say, ‘It’s not the hardening of the arteries that kills us; it’s the hardening of the attitudes,’ and I really think that relates to what we’re talking about here,” Olson said. “Having fun is closely associated with attitude. So, if you approach the summer with a good attitude, you can have fun in even the most uncomfortable of conditions.”

Finding the perfect balance between anxiety and boredom also allows people to connect with their spiritual side more easily, Olson said, adding that such connections typically are made when “we’re surrounded by nature or engaged in creative endeavors.”

“In that way, we begin to sense our place in the universe,” Olson said. “That’s one of the great payoffs from leisure. It’s the yin and the yang.”

Helping others also may keep the summer doldrums at bay—or, at the very least, keep one’s mind off the heat for a while.

“I realize this is totally self-serving,” said Peter Feeley, executive director of the AIDS Housing Alliance, “but one way to keep one’s spiritual and moral compass is to donate your time to an organization like ours. Sometimes, if you temper how you’re feeling with someone who’s much worse off, you feel better.”

Herky the Hornet shows an alternate use for ventilation holes.

Photo By Jill Wagner

Activism can go hand in hand with recreation, Feeley said, adding that the summer is a perfect time to begin training for events such as the Sacramento Valley AIDS Walk, which is held in September, or participate in the plethora of other charity walk/run events that take place seemingly every weekend in the Sacramento region.

Feeley, an avid downtown dweller, also added this bit of advice: “If you work downtown, move downtown. You’ll save the air. You’ll be 10 degrees cooler because of the trees, which will matter in a month or so. And if you’re not spending all that time in traffic, your mood will be better, and your health will be better.”

Though the daily commute will remain a reality for most, knowing the terrain and being prepared can make the difference between keeping your cool and blowing an internal gasket on the roadway, cops say.

“The heat wears on people,” said Capt. Jim Hyde, commander of the Sacramento Police Department’s 911 call center, “especially at the end of the day. Their patience is shot. Then they go out into the blazing inferno and want to get home to an air-conditioned environment at any cost.”

So, how do you keep your temper from spiking along with the temperature and other people’s antics?

Hyde suggests setting the scene to make the drive home as pleasant as possible: Listen to peaceful music in your car, stop for an iced mocha before heading into traffic or change into more comfortable clothes. If you can wait out the heaviest traffic times, it’s all the better.

“And be forgiving of your fellow man,” Hyde added. “Act like an adult around people who are acting like children. Set the good example.”

Setting a good example—especially in the area of having fun in the summertime—comes with the territory for Herky the Hornet, CSUS’ mascot. There are no sporting events for Herky to cheer during the summer, but he still keeps busy with community events such as jog-a-thons, school fund-raisers and other local appearances.

Although the name of Herky’s human form remains a closely guarded secret, we can reveal this: There are as many as three people ready to don the costume and persona of the beloved insect as needed during the year.

The body of the costume is of a stretchy, velvety consistency, allowing virtually anyone to play the part. The suit itself weighs about 20 pounds, but the head is considerably heavier—at least three times heavier—and much hotter.

“It was really hard to breathe, so we put more ventilation holes around the mouth,” said one of the mascots currently in rotation. “What’s not fun is when sweat gets in your eyes and you can’t use your hands to wipe them. You have to wear a bandanna.”

So, how well does Herky tolerate the heat? The Herky to whom we spoke said veteran mascots can last an hour or more, and first-timers may need to rest after 20 minutes.

“You have to build your stamina,” Herky explained, adding this aside: “I’m a wimp; I can only go about a half-hour.”

Though Herky’s suit is unquestionably hot, the famous insect doesn’t let the heat get him down. His time-tested advice for Sacramentans?

“Find shade, take as many breaks as you can and drink lots of water,” Herky said. “Most of all, buzz around and let the air blow beneath your wings.”