Sweet, sweet summer

I don’t think I’ve ever before been so sorrowful at the end of summer. Isn’t summer marvelous? It’s the best. Long days, warm nights, sunny trips to the beach. There’s a distinct freedom to the season, a sense of limitless possibilities and promise. But you know what really made my summer? I mean really made it? Kelly Pool.

Allow me to explain. A running club friend of mine told me long ago of this elusive destination, a free, outdoor, Olympic-sized swimming pool tucked away next to a children’s museum that I pass every day on my way to work. With lap lanes and grassy space and all. After a long absence from Philly in the midst of summer travel, I finally made my way there. And it just about revolutionized my past month.

I’d go there many days after work, or on weekend afternoons, with roommates or friends or alone. Sometimes I’d come in and out without speaking to a soul; often I’d make new friends with lifeguards or triathletes. I perfected my flip turn and grew my lung capacity and learned that I could continue on my lap-swimming way with a little water up my nose. I learned the art of putting on a swim cap (my first—it really does make a difference) and the goodness in wearing a long-sleeve shirt to increase drag. I observed the pool etiquette that so fascinates me, complete with passing and waiting and checking in to ascertain fellow swimmers’ preferences.

And I witnessed some major drama. There was a tall, slender, tattooed man who seemed to have difficulty getting along with his lane mates. One day, I watched a spirited conversation he had with a woman in his lane, garnering the attention of a few lifeguards. He kicked me! she cried. No, she kicked me! It was like watching cranky toddlers in a crowded sandbox. Every time you come here, the lifeguard pronounced to the angered man, there’s a problem. They eventually settled their dispute, or at least went their separate ways, and I watched as some other goggled women gathered around the bully’s victim, offering moral support and validation in the aftermath.

But then.

Not long after, I returned and soon recognized the instigator in an even rowdier dispute. This time, at least a dozen swimmers crowded around, offering claims of past problems with the pool’s perpetrator, voicing their disapproval, or simply standing side by side in silent, watery support. All the lifeguards were on high alert. And then, just like that, they threw him out. He didn’t leave without a fight, but leave he did. When the leading lifeguard returned from his uncomfortable duty, the gathered swimmers clapped. Our hero! one woman exclaimed. Justice reigned again.

Despite the drama, Kelly Pool has most definitely claimed the spot as my favorite summer hangout. The belligerent man notwithstanding, I spent some of my most delightful summer hours poolside. At Kelly Pool, I indulged in the perfect mix of vitamin D, endorphins, and summery joy, and I have the chlorine-infused skin to remind me.

Yesterday was the last day. I swam laps for over an hour, savoring the final moments in my favorite place, stopping once in a while to chat with the friends who’d joined me. It was a quiet evening, the clouds and cool, breezy air deterring usual pool-goers and reducing my company to the more dedicated. Back and forth, freestyle and flip turns, pruney fingers and crusty hair. And while I mourn the loss of such a place, and look ahead with some dread to frequenting an indoor pool, what with its fluorescent lights and stale air and echoing walls, I know: there’s always next summer.




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