When it comes to entertainment and leisure activities, I am almost always going against the grain. I don’t know why, it’s just the way my DNA is structured. For instance, in 2005, most movie industry honchos were complaining about how fewer people were spending their money to see that year’s films, and about overall quality of the films. I must have seen around fifteen movies, a one-year record for me, and liked fourteen of them.

Many communities, Forest Park included, hold various forms of ‘fests’. All these fests draw decent crowds because they have four things in common. In order of their importance they are beer, beer, food, and music. I have always tended to shy away from theses seasonal celebrations. In general I find the food overpriced, the beer overly pedestrian, and the people overly tattooed. Yet this year I already have four under my belt, with at least two more on the horizon.

On Memorial Day, my fiancĂ© and I decided to look at some vacation homes for sale in Paddock Lake, Wisconsin. We decided to couple the trip with a jaunt to Burlington, Wisconsin for Chocolate Fest. Nestle’s has their Midwest headquarters there, and it appeared on paper a great way to begin the day. After spending a total of $23 on parking and admission we received what was to be our only chocolate of the day, a free Nestle’s Crunch bar the size of my pinkie finger. The kind cheap people give out on Halloween. The only things that prevented the day from being a total bust was the fabulous performance by the University of Wisconsin Marching Band, and the fact that we left an hour before lightning struck the fest, injuring four people.

On June 10, we visited the area of Chicago where Damen Avnue, Lincoln Avenue, and Irving Park Road intersect for Ribfest. Right off the bat, the hosts got on my bad side by charging $5 a piece to enter. Being only three narrow blocks of Lincoln Avenue long, it seemed to be a bit steep. However, the food from most vendors was above par and creative. I did enjoy my first, and last, fried Snickers Bar. This event was highly claustrophobic though, and after two hours we were heading back to the ‘L” for the ride home, having given this fest a grade of ‘it was a nice day to try something different.’

This past Saturday we went to Taste of Randolph Street in Chicago, or I should say almost went to. After arriving at the entrance, we noted the ‘suggested donation’ of $10 a piece. Twenty dollars for the privilege of overpaying for food, and standing shoulder to shoulder with hundreds of sweaty people, none of them in our age group? No thanks.

Backtracking a bit, we spent the evening of June ninth on Madison Street, at Forest Park’s annual Summerfest. It was cold, and the threat of rain was ever present, and to my grumpy surprise, I had a great time. No entrance fees, no prison like fencing, and no attempt to outdo anyone else. I feasted on pork chops from Skrinechops, and pizza from Jimmy’s Place. There were wide-open streets to walk around on, and bars with open doors, which allowed me to track the Cubs game.

I think the key to our Summerfest success is the simplicity of it all. The organizers don’t try to make it be something it’s not. It’s not Taste of Chicago or Milwaukee’s Summerfest. It’s just a good time. This does not mean to take away from the effort of the vendors involved or the volunteers and village workers who make the event come together. Sometimes simple is better. Sometimes simple is more fun.

There are two more “fests” to go for me this summer. The annual softball tournament at the Park District in late July never fails to deliver a good time. Softball, beer, beer, softball. The Park has it down to a science by now.

This weekend is the Forest Park Relay for Life sponsored by the American Cancer Society, also at the Park District. A different type of ‘fest’ to be sure. At times somber, at times joyful. It’s been a struggle to get things together this year and the numbers will be down compared to past years. It is a worthy cause however, and it is a source of inspiration to hear of the advances in medicine and the courageous stories of cancer survivors. There will be games for young and old, a grill manned by Park volunteers, and early morning aerobics. Simple things to raise money to fight cancer.

I encourage everyone to stop by Friday evening. We will go into early Saturday morning. Sorry, no booze allowed, but tattoos are welcome.