DIANE MAKAR MURPHY Summer fun doesn't have to break the bank

What I love about summer is being able to leave my car in the garage. I thoroughly enjoy walking almost everywhere. Sure, I can trek in the other seasons, but it's just not the same. I don't have as much free time. I certainly don't have the promise of such good weather, and I wouldn't have the sounds of summer -- kids playing and laughing, voices from behind screen doors, cranked car radios, scooters on the pavement.
It's funny because when I was in my early 20s, living in Georgia, the freest sensation I could imagine was driving by myself to Florida in my '69 Cougar with the windows rolled down (we called it 470 air conditioning -- four windows, 70 miles an hour), music on the radio, time on my hands.
Now, I have a fairly jazzy Dodge Stratus with a sunroof, tinted windows and a JVC stereo system that, if I ratcheted up the bass, would rattle windows. I'd rather travel around in my Payless tennis shoes.
I get a true sense of freedom these days only when I'm on my own two feet. Since I live within a mile of Boardman's hub (the mall, Shops at Boardman Park, Wal-Mart), I can enjoy the ultimate in freedom -- an entire day's entertainment with no more than my feet and a few bucks:
The $3 "power" walk ... Walk through my neighborhood, past kids in bathing suits, families on bicycles, old women weeding down on their knees, men watering lawns, grills casting smoke and smells into the air, backyard swimming pools and laughter. Wait an eternity for the light to change on Route 224 and run across the street.
As the sweat starts to trickle down my forehead, step through the double doors of Barnes and Noble and feel the cold air envelope me. Start at the very first aisle of the bargain books. Read about what to do with 101 dead cats, what Zen Buddhism is really all about, or the truth behind Princess Diana's death.
Finally discover what Monet's paintings look like. See a photo essay about the Twin Towers. Drool over recipes for cranberry walnut muffins or raspberry scones. Find a comfortable chair and balance a 6-inch thick book of Pulitzer Prize winning photographs on my knees. And drool over that, too.
Next, wander back into the CD area and clunk onto a wooden chair, place a headset over my ears and stare at the wall of CDs I can preview. Punch in #111 Norah Jones, #121 Santana or #136 Native American Flute. Let time escape as I find new favorites I never knew existed.
When my ears start to hurt and my hair is dented, it's time to leave for my second destination, what my family affectionately calls the & quot;dollar movie & quot; -- Cinemark Movies 8. A glance at the movie posters and times tells which films are in the running. The best movie starting in the next 15 minutes wins. I spend my first dollar of the day and sit in an air conditioned palace for the next two hours, at best, transported to another place and time, at worst, a buck poorer having seen a Hollywood flop.
Finally, my feet carry me over to Panera, where I truly splurge, buying a cup of tea and a bagel. I'm broke, but since I don't have a gas tank to worry about, it's OK. I can make it home just fine.
A guy once told me he could have a great time for just one dollar. He proceeded to buy a marijuana joint. We parted company.
The only altered state I need to have a great time is a free day, a brisk walk, and a bit of entertainment. Really, to tell you the truth, just the walk would do.
One day, Hannah and I were strolling by the utility strip that runs behind a lot of Boardman homes. It ran beyond sight in both directions. & quot;If I was a kid, I'd follow that till I got to the end, & quot; I said.
& quot;And then you'd call for a ride home, & quot; Hannah said.
Maybe. Maybe not.

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