Jun 11, 2013

Successfully surviving a party in hell

It was hell, all right. Or so it seemed at 108° Fahrenheit, the result of some kind of freaky high-pressure situation that hit the San Francisco Bay Area last Saturday. For a week or 10 days we'd had below-normal temperatures, and then wham! Saturday, the 8th of June, was predicted to be sizzling, tortuously hot, sheer hell.

And it was. Especially in the Sacramento Valley, home to the college town of Davis, where 50 or 60 family members and friends were gathering. It was a can't-miss and don't-wanna-miss occasion, too: an outdoor celebration for my niece, Melanie, who had graduated from high school that week and will soon be leaving the nest to enter U. C. Santa Cruz.

But thanks to some good planning by my brother Rick, and a lot of generous pitching-in by others, the party was a happy success. The heat was there, certainly, but we were able to keep it at something of a remove and didn't allow it to spoil the fun.

If you find yourself in similar circumstances this summer, here are a few "survive hell" tricks I learned on Saturday:

1. Hydration is paramount. We had about 15 large coolers arranged in a semi-circle, each filled with lots of ice and specific beverages. One cooler held bottles of plain water; others held sparkling water, fruit drinks, beer, sodas and so on. I spent most of the day clutching ice-cold Perrier, with a couple of side trips that included some lovely Mumm Napa (drunk from a red plastic cup, it was even more delightful than usual) and a very nice Rosé from Lodi's Borah Vineyards.

2. Cool-downs save the day. A big plastic tub was filled to the brim with ice and water, and decorated with a few sliced lemons. Then dozens of inexpensive terry cloth towels--you can buy them in lots of 50 at places like Home Depot--were rolled up and submerged in the icy water. The point was to squeeze out a towel and wrap it around your neck. Every once in a while you'd return to the tub, re-submerge your towel in the ice, and re-wrap. It was heavenly! 

3. Spray bottles work wonders. Half a dozen spray bottles filled with cold water were always in action. Kids, especially, liked walking around with them and offering to spray the air beside you. That spray really cools you off. 

4. Shade is vital. This party took place in a wonderful park tucked away in a leafy neighborhood. There was plenty of shade. Tables, chairs, and the caterer's portable kitchen -- all were set up beneath old, large trees. Everything was in shade. If you can't find such a location, hang canvas drop cloths or borrow camping/portable gazebos. 

5. Provide icy treats. In this instance, Rick hired an ice cream truck to spend the day with us. The owner pulled his truck into a clearing beside us, and dispensed his treats to all guests at no charge (well, no charge to the guests). Ordinarily I never even think about ice cream and probably hadn't had any for a couple or even three years. But on Saturday I made two trips to the truck and loved every minute of my frozen choices. If hiring an ice cream truck doesn't fit your needs, fill a cooler with dry ice and pack in enough popsicles for everyone at the party. 

6. Invite fun and interesting people. It really did help to have so many great people around, with good conversation and ideas distracting us all from the fact that it was 108°.

Do these people look like they're suffering? No way!

Here's to a great summer!

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