Since the beginning of July, drivers have slowly cruised by this Carol Stream parking lot, searching for summer. This time they stop.
"It's the first day, so a lot of people are excited about it," explains Alec Lamoureaux, 21, keeper of the sweet corn at The Farm vegetable stand on the west side of Gary Avenue just south of St. Charles Road.
Some say summer starts on June 21. Some say Memorial Day. Some say the Fourth of July. Then there are those folks who think summer starts on the day that sweet corn arrives.
"I've been coming here for many years," says Gene Ortaleza of West Chicago. He buys a bag of 13 ears picked this morning for $5 but promises he will be back on Saturday, when he plans to buy five or six dozen ears of sweet corn.
"We're having a reunion. People from all over the world are coming," says Ortaleza, who grew up in the town of Cabatuan in the Philippines. Does his native land have sweet corn?
"We do, but it's not as sweet as this corn," says a smiling Ortaleza, before adding that his homeland excels at other crops. "Mangoes. We do mangoes."
There is something special about the first corn of the season, even to the people who sell it.
"I bring it home all the time," says Matt Weide, 19, of Carol Stream, who works at The Farm stand with Lamoureaux when he's not working his other job at a local restaurant.
"His grandma was by earlier today, so I'm sure he's eating corn tonight," says Lamoureaux, who studies business management at the University of Illinois.
The wait for corn can be frustrating.
"I was just hoping," says Cindy Beck, a Glen Ellyn resident, who pulls into the lot with optimism that Lamoureaux and Weide aren't just a couple of guys ducking into the shade of the stand to get out of the sun. "I've been coming here at least 10 years, and we have a garden."
She buys corn for dinner. "It's the best," Beck says, explaining how everyone ("My dog, she likes corn") loves sweet corn. But fans disagree about the proper way to eat it.
"I go around in a circle," Beck says, explaining how she rotates her ear of corn until all the kernels are gone at one end before moving on to a new section. "But not everyone in my family does that."
Lamoureaux eats "circle" style, too. "I don't do the typewriter," he says.
As a newspaper guy, I favor "typewriter" style, eating my corn the way I write my columns. I start at the far left end of an ear, eat in a straight line to the right end of the cob, wait for the ding in my head, and then start a second line back at the far left end. I suspect people who read Arabic, Hebrew or Farsi do the same, only right to left.
"I start at the middle and do side to side," Weide says of his modified typewriter style.
In spite of our differing eating styles, we all can agree that people who take random bites off the cob in no discernible pattern probably are serial killers.
Diners boil, roast, grill and microwave corn on the cob, and Weide and Lamoureaux admit to eating corn raw at times. But they disagree on the subject of condiments. Lamoureaux's proclamation of "No butter, no salt" draws an immediate rebuttal. "I douse it in butter and put a whole container of salt on there," Weide says. "It brings out the flavor. The more, the better."
Speaking of more, "on a busy Saturday, we'll sell 12 bins of corn," Lamoureaux says, noting that each bin holds about 25 bushels and each bushel contains about 50 ears of corn, for a total of 15,000 ears. "Whatever we don't sell, we donate to charity."
The Farm, which started in 1963 and now is run by brothers John, Bob and Jerry Smits, sells from stands in Carol Stream, Westmont and Westchester and has plenty of devoted fans who wait for the first day of corn season. "We don't sell anything that we don't pick that same day," says Grace Smits. The Farm has a modest website (thefarmwestmont.com) and a Facebook page.
"The corn kind of talks for itself," Lamoureaux says, explaining how customers often talk about how they grew up with farms and remember eating corn at family gatherings in their childhood. "Eating corn is like eating memories."