Staring at the doppler radar report all morning, Accuweather and Weather.com were no match for the almighty power of the National Weather Service. The thunder boomed and rain fell but I held firm in my resolve to throw a Memorial Day lakefront barbecue. Some friends tried to persuade me earlier in the weekend that the rain would be terrible on Monday but my main dilemma was which was worse: throwing a BBQ in the rain or changing plans at the last minute? Given that over two dozen people had skin in the game with their Facebook RSVP, I decided that throwing a BBQ in the rain would be better than telling everyone to swap out plans.
The rain and thunder came down and I loaded up a cooler and cooler bag with beer and meat, a backpack full of utensils, and another bag full of blankets. One of my best friends was a bit hesitant to come help set up but he was a good sport and found my grill and we loaded up his car with all of the gear. On the drive to the lakefront there was the unceasing rain making me uneasy, but this is what we signed up for.
Seeing so many people already out at the lake made me feel better about dragging everything out in the rain for a good old American barbecue. Families pitched up tents and canopies while we started unloading all of our gear under an unclaimed tree. The rain was a light drizzle and the text message bombardment ensued. Some people let me know via text that there was too much rain to consider going out, others asked how many people would actually show up for a rain-filled barbecue. My response was always the same: these were the times that tried mens souls, a direct challenge on our personal resolve and we would triumph over the human condition!
Given our limited resources, we tied a tarp to a tree but didn’t have enough rope to tie all four corners. We MacGuyered a solution and used a public garbage can as a support structure for our ill-begotten tarp. While the tarp was limited in its effectiveness, it was way better than nothing. There was a comedy to it, especially while we were envying the other groups that had canopies, other tarps, and giant tents. Most other people were already grilling meat and we were a step behind but that didn’t pose too much of a problem given that the rain got worse and there weren’t that many people there.
A few more friends showed up and we huddled under umbrellas and the tarp. I started checking the doppler and the storm moved too slowly for anyone to be optimistic about the prospects of improved weather conditions. I’m sure my friends were hungry, but we didn’t want to do anything about it until the rain relented a bit. The police drove by more than several times looking for illegal activity and likely were also trying to slap on extra parking tickets in the parking lot. Our morale was low, but our resolve high as we were determined to ride out the storm.
The change in weather also brought in a change in luck. While the rain decided that it was tired of us, a kid from one of the families under the canopy came over suspiciously and told us that his family brought too much stuff and they wouldn’t be able to load the canopy back into their car. The deal seemed too good to be true, so I asked, “How much do you want for it?”
“$10,” he answered.
Faster than he could finish his sentence, I dug out ten singles from my wallet and gave it to him. Someone else offered to pay for the canopy and someone else gave him another $2, but I declared, “Deal!” and we got him his $10. The family packed up their gear and we kept an eye on the canopy to see if they would actually leave it. The tables, chairs, and grill were gone and we swooped in under our much bigger canopy providing maximum protection from the rain. While the canopy was slightly broken, it wasn’t anything some duct tape couldn’t fix up.
Ironically, after I bought the canopy the rain stopped and we were able to break open the grill. Some delicious steaks were popped onto the grill with some burgers and hot dogs and people emerged from the woodwork ready to eat, drink, and play. Some delicious mango salsa arrived while we munched on tortilla chips, buffalo kettle chips, and ate food off the grill. More families arrived to the lakefront and the sun finally broke through. We ate some marinated shrimp and jerk chicken while soaking in the rays and having a great time celebrating Memorial Day.
Was the juice worth the squeeze? While I sit here with a wicked cold probably gained from standing in the rain a bit too long, there are few things better than grilling delicious food on the lake with good friends. I will always remember that raggedy tarp we hung on the tree and the family that hijacked it after we abandoned it for a bit too long. Rain or shine, Chicago lakefront BBQs are where it’s at!