By Jonathan Pitts, The Baltimore Sun
July 30, 2011
The temperatures may no longer be topping records as they were for a time in mid-July, but with the dog days of August and early September looming in Anne Arundel County and elsewhere, few are forgetting the importance of finding ways of keeping chill.
Take "Kona Chris" O'Kieffe of Edgewater. A year ago, he concluded that the old-style ice cream trucks he'd loved as a boy were a dying institution.
A dad himself, he says the trucks have come to seem less than clean, even a little secretive. "And people have been hearing those same ice-cream jingles through bad speakers for 50 years," he says.
Today, if you see him coming, it's likely at the wheel of the rolling, multicolored beach shack he bought in June. The county's first franchisee for a five-year-old company, Kona Shaved Ice, O'Kieffe, 42, has staked his future on updating the image of the old-time Good Humor Man.
A faux thatched roof sits atop the truck, Caribbean-style steel drum music pours from Bose speakers and kids from Edgewater to Severna Park have been lining up for the chance to pump syrup (20 flavors) into cups stuffed with slivers of ice.
Luckily, it's not necessary to sink your savings into staying cool. The Baltimore Sun found 14 other ways to slip the heat — some tried and true, some strange and new, some no more pricey than a trayful of Kona treats — all but one without leaving the county.
A few might might even leave you feeling as giddy as Kona Chris in July.
"When the weather's like this, I'm every kid's hero," he says.
Ice cream and more
The county features ice cream aplenty, from four Stone Cold Creamery stores to the familiar independent shops on Main Street in Annapolis, but it's hard to top a few even cooler things.
A year or so ago, the Annapolis shop in which Christina Akay was working closed, and she had to come up with a new line of work. A lover of healthy desserts, she decided to take a sugary summer staple and make it tasty and sustainable. She started POPular Pops, an operation that serves up gourmet popsicles in flavors like watermelon mint, peanut butter and jelly and pineapple basil, all made from natural ingredients.
They're available at the Westfield Annapolis Farmers' Market, between 10 a.m. and 2 p.m. on any summer Sunday, at, ahem, $2.50 a pop.
What's cool: Akay uses produce grown on local farms. She recently peeled 40 pounds of peaches from Shlagel Farms in Waldorf to create the ginger peach flavor.
The lines can be as long as an Arctic trail at Menchie's, a do-it-yourself frozen yogurt shop that opened in Annapolis Town Centre last year. The flavors, from pomegranate and cake batter to red velvet (all customer favorites), rotate daily, with 10 or so available from six serving stations at any given time; you can swirl two flavors together if you wish.
Owners place no limit on the quantity of toppings (cheesecake bits, Lucky Charms, fresh fruit) you may pile onto your theoretically low-fat treat.
What's cool: It's kid-friendly, featuring hula hoops and a big chalkboard.
And for those with monster appetites, Chick and Ruth's Delly in Annapolis — perhaps best known for its gut-busting sandwiches — serves a chilly colossus known as the Six-Pound Milkshake ($16.50). Served in a hurricane glass, it's so massive at 110 ounces that if a customer orders one carry-out, it fills three extra-large containers.
The restaurant sells about 60 per day during hot summer weekends; employees say only about 5 percent of those who face the beast alone complete the mission.
What's cool: Customers must sign a waiver vowing to visit the bathroom if things get shaky. "You laugh, but we have to work here," manager Nancy Trudeau says.
Taking to the water
Anne Arundel famously boasts more than its share of million-dollar yachts, but you needn't belong to the upper crust to take to the county's cool waters.
At Paddle or Pedal, based in Annapolis' Quiet Waters Park, you can rent anything from a singe or twin kayak to a family-friendly pedal boat that seats four. Rentals range from $15 for an hour's use to $60 for a whole day.
Maneuver your way across tranquil Harness Creek or, if you're more nautically experienced, onto the much busier South River; return any time you wish, so long as it's before 5 p.m.
What's cool: Try a stand-up paddleboard, a 12-foot-long surfboardlike vessel you paddle as though you were upright in a canoe. "You may not realize it at the time, but it's a good workout for your core," says manager Lauren Devin, who will offer pointers free of charge.
For nearly a decade, little buccaneers have loved Pirate Adventures on the Chesapeake, a seafarers' delight based in Annapolis that offers a choice of six 75-minute voyages every summer day.
Their faces painted Blackbeard-style, guest brigands seek sunken treasure, puzzle through messages in a bottle and even fire one of the ship's 14 high-powered water cannon, should the crew's arch-enemy, Pirate Pete, pull his craft up alongside.
"On really hot days, [Pete] shoots back, and he's a devil with a Super Soaker," says co-owner Emily Tomasini, adding that the old brute is "the stinkiest, most rotten pirate on the Seven Seas."
What's cool: Guests generally send Pirate Pete to Davy Jones' Locker and return to shore with a few bold tales to tell, all for less than $20.
Everyone from birthday partiers to bachelorettes can enjoy aquatic opulence with S.J. Koch Duffy Electric Boat Rental and Sales, a family-run operation whose 10 boats depart from sites in Annapolis, Baltimore and Washington. Ten people can comfortably fit on the lavishly outfitted, battery-powered vessels ($125 per hour, $750 per day), which owner Sally Koch says are quiet enough not to disturb the region's wildlife and clean enough to leave little footprint on the bay.
Come an hour early to get your DNR-approved operator's license. Take your craft anywhere you like, and keep an eye on the battery meter.
What's cool: Operators will pick up guests anywhere it's legal to dock; some restaurants will deliver meals before launch.
Making a splash
Those who want to get into the water, not on it, also have plenty of options.
Guests at the North Arundel Aquatic Center in Glen Burnie can brush up their butterflies and breast strokes in any of eight 25-yard competitive lanes. But they can also splash, slide and get themselves soaked in a separate water park that boasts a waterfall, a vortex pool and a set of automated buckets that scoop water, climb in the air and dump a few gallons onto often-surprised guests.
For most, though, the highlight is a curling, 134-foot-long water slide that drops riders (often screaming) into a catch pool deep enough to manage the severest of splashdowns. "We have kids who go up and down, up and down, until they just wear themselves out," says facility manager Jackie Herman.
Water park sessions last two hours and sell out quickly. Come by early to make in-person reservations.
What's cool: Only those under 48 inches tall may use the preschool slide.
Fifteen miles to the south, swimmers at the Arundel Olympic Swimming Center in Annapolis, also a county facility, don't have waterfalls and slides, but the center more than makes up for it with an Olympic-sized, temperature-controlled indoor pool; a pair of 3-meter diving boards; a spa big enough to hold 17 people; a kiddie pool with a zero-depth entry point; and a slew of fitness and swimming classes for kids and grownups.
What's cool: Space is reserved for adult lap swimmers between 4 p.m. and 8 p.m., three days a week.
It costs $3 per person to get in even though it's a public park, and you must always keep an eye out for jellyfish and shark's teeth. But the beaches at Sandy Point State Park, 59 years old this year, offer swimmers one-of-a-kind views of the Bay Bridge, the red-brick Sandy Point Shoal Lighthouse and the waterfowl of the Chesapeake estuary.
Even on summer weekends, it's easy to score one of the 12 shaded picnic benches if you get there early enough. Those who tire of swimming in the chilly tidal waters can rent a rowboat or motorboat, fish off a rock jetty or take to the hiking trails without ever leaving the 786-acre park.
What's cool: The park hosts the 44th annual Maryland Seafood Festival on the weekend of Sept. 10-11.
How's this for a summer destination? A place where 14,000 gallons of water have been turned to ice, temperatures always stay at about 63 degrees and you can plenty of exercise without ever applying sunscreen.
The Gardens Ice House in Laurel — technically in Prince George's County, but just across the Anne Arundel line — is one such place. Here you can play hockey, learn to figure-skate and even, at times, take lessons driving the Zamboni on two full-sized rinks.
What's cool: Public sessions are only on Saturdays during the summer, but under-12 ice hockey newbies can learn the normally pricey game for a nominal fee in the "Let's Play Hockey" program, which provides skates, shin guards, elbow pads and helmets free of charge, not to mention a Capitals jersey for first-time enrollees.
Frigid times also await at the popular Piney Orchard Ice Arena in Odenton, where public skating sessions ($7 for adults, $6 for kids, $3.50 to rent a pair of skates) are scheduled at least five days a week through September.
What's cool: The rink features an award-winning figure-skating organization for youth, including training in synchronized skating.
The only ice at Wheels Skating Center in Odenton is the kind you get in your Coke at the snack bar, but if you're looking for an air-conditioned place to get some exercise, this roller rink — the only one in the county that sponsors competitions — is a good destination. With its old-school, polished maple floor, skate rentals for $2 (four-wheelers) and $4 (in-line), and six-day-a-week public sessions, it can rival ice rinks for summer fun. And the snack bar serves hand-dipped ice cream.
What's cool: The facility's artistic skating club, which hosts an annual tournament, has members between 4 and 80 years old.
Come to think of it, ice in a cup can itself be a tonic. The size of the granules may vary, but snow cones and similar treats always refresh on a summer's day.
It wouldn't even feel like summer if she didn't have a snow-cone machine up and running every day, says Theresa Engblom, a staffer at Dick and Jane's Farm in Harwood. The treats have been a warm-weather staple at the friendly roadside stand for a dozen years, and locals say if they couldn't stop by to sample the 32 flavors (everything from egg custard to tiger's blood), take a perch in the shade in the covered produce area and hang out a while, it wouldn't seem like August in rural southern Anne Arundel County.
What's cool: Engblom, who doesn't care for the tropical taste of tiger's blood (a strawberry-coconut blend), knows many of her regulars' flavors by heart.
Five miles north, on Riva Road, a sign hangs at the top of the hill near Davidsonville Nursery: "Snowballs," it says. "People stop in all the time and ask, 'What kind of plant is a snowball?' " says owner Shawn Stallings with a laugh. In fact, Stallings and his staffers serve 40-plus flavors of the icy indulgence to go with native plants, herbs and a variety of landscaping services.
It's a surprisingly good part of his summer business, Stallings says, in part because there aren't a lot of other stands in the area, in part because he makes sure to use real sugar, not corn syrup.
Plenty of people come in just for the treats — mostly for old standbys like cherry, but also for the weirder flavors like watermelon, pina colada and sour apple.
What's cool. Visitors come from as far as Bowie and Upper Marlboro specifically to visit the stand.
Then there's O'Kieffe, who just took on his new identity as America's 174th Kona Shaved Ice man this summer.
He's still learning the ins and outs of the business, he says — what neighborhoods to visit and when, which businesses to serve, what swim centers to make part of his route. (Adult swim time is best, he says, since children flood from the pool.)
Those kids like his product so much they're starting to learn his name, and vice versa.
However the venture turns out, he figures he's getting well paid. "The smiles on their faces are so cool," O'Kieffe says. "It makes me feel like a rock star."
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