Chilling Out

From pool-sneaking to nudist camps, we offer cool ways to beat the heat

"Summertime, and the livin' is easy," wrote Brooklyn-bred George and Ira Gershwin about life in Charleston, South Carolina. Clearly, George, Ira, Porgy and Bess never had to weather the weather here in St. Louis, where pretty much every day between Memorial Day and Labor Day is a dog day.

To us St. Louisans, our city's summers are the stuff of brutal legend. We brace ourselves for them every spring. We warn people about them before moving here. We read countless stories in the Post-Dispatch that blather about just how hot it is. One thing we don't do often enough? Find ways to get the best of the sweltering heat before it gets the better of us. You can count the number of outdoor public swimming pools operating within St. Louis city limits on one hand and still have three fingers left over. God forbid we actually went swimming or boating in, near or around the Mississippi. Heck, we don't even have a great selection of ice-cream parlors and frozen-concrete stands to at least cool our palates.

With a little creativity and ingenuity, though, it is possible to uncover a panoply of unorthodox cooling-off techniques, methods more fun than just taking refuge in malls or movie theaters. Next time you feel yourself nearing the boiling point, try one of these tricks for beating the heat.

Rent, borrow or buy a convertible

Driving with the top down doesn't just take the edge off the thermometer. As any convertible owner or enthusiast will attest, it takes the edge off your day, too, serving as the vehicle (pun intended) for both physical and mental chilling out.

Says renowned St. Louis man-about-town Steve Smith -- who bought his first convertible, an Oldsmobile Delta 88 Royale, for $700 when he was seventeen and now drives a ragtop El Dorado: "I feel more connected to my surroundings. I can easily chat up other people from the car as if I were walking down the street. People get really excited just to see the car go by. I get lots of thumbs-ups, smiles and people yelling, 'Can I buy it?'"

Renting a ragtop, unfortunately, is not the easiest feat. Most of the national rental-car chains only keep a few convertibles (Mustangs, mostly) on their St. Louis lots; Avis has three at its Lambert Airport outpost (314-426-7766) that go for $60 to $70 per day on weekends, while the local convertible count at Hertz (314-426-7555) is low enough that they get reserved up to four weeks in advance -- and pricey enough that a weekend rental runs more than $200.

Your next-best option might be making friends with a convertible owner, as many of these folks are only too willing to take you for a ride. Says Maria Suarez, who bought a 1999 Chrysler Sebring convertible last year: "I'm still having a love affair with my car, so I'll be out cruising on any nice day, and company is always welcomed -- no car wash, oil change or other payback necessary."

And if your fling with a convertible, whether rented or borrowed, leads to a life-altering romance, Daniel Schmitt & Co. Classic Car Gallery (3345 North Lindbergh Boulevard; 314-291-4441) will happily sell you one of its several pre-owned Corvette, Mercedes or Porsche convertibles for about $45,000.

Join a nudist club

Take your clothes off and you increase the amount of skin in contact with the air, which allows your body to adapt to heat more quickly. Of course, then there's the question of what to do with your face, which is turning beet-red from embarrassment.

Or maybe not. After all, some 250 members of the Forty Acre Club (www.fortyacreclub.com), the oldest nudist camp in Missouri, have no problem swimming, fishing, playing horseshoes or otherwise socializing in the buff. During the summer months, members can stay in the camp's weekend or nightly rental cabins or just park their trailers on the FAC's grounds (based in Lonedell, about an hour west of the city).

The group gets about a dozen new members a year, says FAC treasurer David Barnes -- most of them nudist novices. Membership is bestowed by the couple, including couples with children, and is obtained simply by submitting an application, paying about $450 in yearly dues and withstanding a first-year probationary membership, after which the group's board votes on whether to grant a lifetime membership. Most everybody gets in, says Barnes, and inappropriate behavior is hardly ever a problem: "If you're a smart, friendly person with your clothes on, chances are you're going to be a smart, friendly person with your clothes off."

Sneak into a hotel pool

With public pools so scarce in St. Louis, pool-sneaking is both an art and a necessity. Any sneak worth his salt knows that hotels are the most lenient environment for taking advantage of a pool (unlike, say, a health club, where I.D. or membership must be shown). A halfway-decent sneak knows to stride through the lobby with calm and confidence, poolside accoutrements such as towels (white towels, to match hotel linens) and sunblock tucked away in a bag casual enough to look like you just stashed a few things in it from your room. And the ninja sneaks know which hotels to hit: The Central West End Best Western (4630 Lindell Boulevard) is widely considered an easy target, though only a so-so pool; a number of the downtown hotels are too bustling with visiting conventioneers for anybody to pay attention to you, plus many of them boast rooftop pools; and the granddaddy of hotel pools is that at the Chase Park Plaza (212 North Kingshighway).

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