Fleeting love in the city

Want to see a new Sacramento? Try an old summer fling.

A group of high school kids are crammed in a red booth at Rick’s Dessert Diner, their old-school Vans matching the black and white checkered floors. They devour one banana split with six spoons, the boys teasing and the girls shoving them on their shoulders, flirting.

One girl stands, her spoon in one hand, iPhone in the other. She holds it up to show her table the message. Suddenly, everyone else is up, too—pausing for the girls to adjust their short jean shorts—and then they’re gone. From my booth across the restaurant, I see them running down J Street to, I assume, the next best thing. Two take it slower, walking behind. After an uncertain pause, one reaches for the other’s hand.

And then there’s another hand, this time on my shoulder. It’s my own summer fling, smiling at me, sitting down. We split a slice of cherry pie that’s unworthy of Rick’s four-and-a-half star Google reputation, but neither of us care about food. Mostly, we just want to hang out together, like all the other infatuated flingers in this city tonight.

Walking back to our cars, the evening breeze surrounds us like a blanket—a reward for the 99-degree day we endured earlier. Leading him back home on I-80, I celebrate it by shamelessly listening to New Country 105.1 with the windows down.

Summer flings are intense and obsessive, and yet somehow more casual than other relationships, because there’s no real clarity required. It’s just understood: You’re needed by the other, desperately, for the next few months. Most likely, you’ve become bored with life, in whatever city you’re in, but you’re not leaving anytime soon. You know summer is best spent with somebody else, someone who might make a place you’ve lived in your whole life feel like somewhere exciting, and completely new.

“The summer I spent in love in Sacramento came to define the city for me,” wrote Sarah, a high school friend, over email. “We adventured to the State Fair, where as a child, I focused on the cotton candy and the rides. He pulled me along to the art galleries and the livestock exhibits, which I had never given thought before. We would float down the American River on a hot day, and park his pickup at the drive-in movie theatre.”

The fair, the river, the drive-ins—these are just a few places summer-lovers go. People are making out at “Heaven,” a romantic spot to park under the stars looking over the lights of El Dorado Hills, Folsom and downtown Sacramento. They’re holding hands walking along the I-Street bridge, and going to the lush green bluffs in Fair Oaks for hikes and bike riding.

They’re meeting at Café Dantorels for a Sunday brunch of pancakes, crepes and conversation. They’re going to the Crocker Art Museum’s outdoor screen-projected movie nights or seeing jazz jams at Shine. They’re eyeing each other at Pops in the Park, dancing to Ideateam.

They’re seeing Sacramento like never before—through another’s eyes. And that’s what’s most compelling about summer love in this place. One person, one love, can redefine the entire city, and for the late high-schoolers, make it somewhere they might not be so eager to escape anymore.

“Sacramento became my hometown, not because it is the place I am from, but because I had finally made my own memories in it,” Sarah said. “Before that summer, I had always looked for a reason to leave, but now I find myself searching for ways to come back.”

But summer flings aren’t something new since Sacramento’s finally gotten cool. Young couples I meet at bars proudly tell me they’ve just moved to Midtown. The sexy breeze has been blowing since the city was mostly farmland. Summer love is everywhere, and always has been.

“On our first date, I picked him up in my 1955 Ford,” Lela, 70, told me over coffee.

“It just fit better on old roads, and I liked sight-seeing. I discovered all these little towns on the Delta, that always kind of pulled me. It became a perfect tour for us.”

Lela took her guy through her New Orleans-feel tour of Locke, Isleton, Walnut Grove and Rio Vista, pre-planned with multiple stops. They’d look at and walk over the interesting river bridges, shaped like massive grasshopper heads. At the Del Rio hotel bar, they laughed over a parrot named Gilligan who would repeat the order of a woman in her exact voice, trying to confuse the bartenders. Another stop was at the old Grand Island Mansion, surrounded by cypress trees and giant columns, like somewhere out of the deep South, or the Mediterranean.

Sometimes sight-seeing had its challenges. But that didn’t stop these lovers.

“There was a ferry boat driver who wouldn’t work on the weekends … unless you brought him a pint of vodka!” she said.

While that summer romance turned into something much longer lasting (this couple is still married today), this is not always the case—or the point. It’s why we call them flings, of course.

But stories like this have always stirred a feeling of hope in me. And maybe that’s where the real romance of a summer fling lives—in that secret, corny hope that it doesn’t necessarily have to end.

Back at the house, my fling and I walk through the gate to the pool. I lower myself in from the edge and go under, the water like a cool sheet. I touch the bottom with my toes and press up for air. I get on his shoulders. I fall back in.

Outside in the driveway, I stand wrapped in a towel next to his car before he heads back to Davis, the outdoor cat weaving through my feet as we say goodnight. He says we’ll get Temple coffee tomorrow, and maybe see a show Friday. He’ll see who’s coming to the Punch Line. I watch the garage door slowly meet the ground, declaring the end of another night—one less day of summer.

Now it’s almost September, and the feelings of people everywhere are changing, leaving many sad, confused and lost—though if it was truly summer love, can there be any regrets?

With the understanding that the fling stands for something much greater than you and this person, there won’t be. Because maybe it’s not so much about this fling, but the city the two of you have immersed yourself in, made memories in and felt a part of. You can live in summer for the rest of your life, with or without them, in a new Sacramento—a city through another’s eyes.