Growing up in Cabrini Green as I did, the 4th of July would start the period of summer that my mom would call “the long hot summer.” That was her way of looking at the next eight weeks until school started back. Those hot summer days filled with young people with nothing to do always was the perfect recipe for trouble. And mind you, I am going back to the 1960s-a time when every church held a bible camp, when summer school was available for free. When if you couldn’t do anything else, there was always the museum to go visit.
One of my favorite things to do was visit the Museum of Science and Industry. It was always a place where you could wander for hours, learn something and spend time doing something. The major hindrance in getting there was bus fare. As times changed, that museum as well as the Field Museum of Natural History, the Shedd Aquarium, the Planetarium and the Art Institute all went from being free to charging a fee. As every last one of those museums sits on Chicago Park District property (code word for land paid for by Chicago taxpayers) they are required by law to offer free days to the public.
Now that “the long hot summer” days are upon us, and we see our community filled with young people without a job, do you ever wonder why they don’t go to the museums? Or if you are a working parent and finally off for two weeks’ vacation with a tight budget, aren’t the museums a great way to spend the day?
Well, last year I had a house full of relatives visit for several weeks. Now I admit to being thrifty (cheap), so the first thing I thought of was a visit to a couple of the museums. Trying to entertain six people in Chicago is not easy if your finances are limited. Great America for 6 people was over $300. So I decided to mix costly entertainment with “free” entertainment.
There are nine museums on Chicago Park District property. Since I am a taxpayer, I wanted to enjoy the museums and take advantage of what I am constantly being taxed for every time the tax bill comes out. I made grandiose plans for which museums I wanted to attend. My children and cousins weren’t going to be sitting around doing nothing during those “long hot summer” days. I was going to give them things to do.
As I mentioned at the beginning of this column, those museums sit on taxpayer land and have to give free days by law. In the past, those museums would offer one free day per week. But guess what? The rules have changed, thanks to our state legislators. Instead of offering one free day per week, those museums now offer 52 free days a year. And guess when the majority of those days are? No, not during “the long hot summer” days. Most of the free days are in November, January and February!
The law says they must have seven free days during the period of June through August. Bet you can’t guess when those days were! Cause if you wanted to take advantage of them, they’ve already passed. This year, the Field Museum and Adler Planetarium held free days June 17-22. The Museum of Science and Industry’s free days were June 3-8.
As we enter into “the long hot summer,” our young people have even fewer places to go and things to do than when I was a child. So beware the politicians who jump on the soapbox and berate the parents following any tragedy involving young people up to no good-99.99% of the time, they have contributed to it!