40 Pools

Celebrating a Big Birthday with 40 Swims

#79: Marcus Garvey Park Pool

Marcus Garvey PoolLocation: Harlem, Manhattan

Configuration: 8 50-meter marked lanes (no lane lines)

Fee: Free

The Pool Tourism Club convened on a warm, humid evening last week for a visit to Marcus Garvey Park Pool‘s night owl session. The pool and locker room had definitely been well used during the day, so we weren’t seeing the facility at its best, but it was still enjoyable. Evening is the only option for lap swimming, since this pool has no early bird session.

This park–formerly Mount Morris Park–is so central to Harlem that it sits smack in the middle of Fifth Avenue, interrupting the street grid for a few blocks south of 125th Street, the main drag. The pool is nicely perched atop a small rise, so the view was twilight settling across tree tops and apartment windows. Sound effects included the hip-hop Romeo n Juliet performance from the adjacent amphitheater.

Janet, Lisa Lisa, Piezy, and AmandaWhile not nearly as crowded as some other lap swim venues, there were far more than 8 people, and yet the concept of circle swimming with more than one to a black line seemed foreign, and people narrowly avoided collision in the cloudy water time and again. Janet, Amanda, Piezy, Lisa Lisa, and I staked our claim to a “lane” near the far end of the pool. Even as we stopped to chat between laps of twirly breaststroke and corkscrew, people mostly got the message that it was ours. As we were leaving, however, we were both complimented for looking like a flock of wild sea birds and chastised for swimming as a “pack.” How better to insert five people into a busy pool is beyond me.

Aside from the views, the most interesting thing about swimming here is the whirlpool effect part-way down the lane. I’d experienced it more severely in the past in another lane, but it was still quite noticeable here. Basically, there is one point in the pool where–try as you might–it’s impossible to hold your line due to the force of the water coming in. Between that and the lack of clarity, it was good open water training.

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#78: Lewisboro Town Pool

the long viewLocation: South Salem, New York

Configuration: 6 25-yard lanes for lap swimming; also option for 6 50-meter lanes

Fee: Oops, was I supposed to pay?

Had I known about the Lewisboro Town Pool during the two summers I lived nearby, it would have been my hangout. Somehow I only learned about it now, half a lifetime later, and it’s still a delightful discovery.

DSCN1359_lewisboroUnlike New York City outdoor pools, which embrace all lined-swimsuit-wearing, lock-carrying masses yearning to swim free, Westchester County keeps a tight grip on who gets in. At least that’s what they’d like you to think. My dad, a Lewisboro resident, was confident about our chances, but I was prepared for the worst after reading the fee and ID requirements in the local paper. I needn’t have worried. We took the road less traveled on the way in and unwittingly bypassed the entry gate entirely. It wasn’t until we were leaving that we figured out the error of our ways, and we chose not to set the score straight this time. Dad hadn’t even swum, after all, and I didn’t want to risk being denied entry after already swimming!

me, Larry, BillThe 25-yard end of the pool was dedicated to lap swimming, and the etiquette seemed to be each to his own. Seeing my shadow ripple across the pool bottom through the clear water reminded me of the Panama City Beach Aquatic Center, which also has the luxury of space.

My swim buddies–in their own lanes–were my dad’s friend Larry (standing at right) and his friend Bill (in the water), both of whom are regulars. Other patrons on this Friday afternoon included day campers and off-duty lifeguards. Little kids splashed in the play pool, and fearless divers practiced from the high dive in a pool of their own. Dad cheered us on from the side and happily joined me for après-swim ice cream.

Meanwhile, neighbors are coveting the pool. New Canaan, a nearby Connecticut town that even Westchester people describe as extremely wealthy, is in search of pool space during its YMCA pool renovations. The Y has offered to at least temporarily winterize the Lewisboro pool–by installing a heated bubble and upgrading the open-air locker rooms–in order to have the pool at its behest. According to poolside gossip, the project is out to bid and may well happen, in which case Lewisboro could end up coveting its own pool. After the New Canaanites return across the border, Lewisboro would have to decide what to keep. Here’s hoping the bubble still has a way in for scofflaws!

Larry, me, and dad

Larry, me, and dad with the dive pool behind us.

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#77: Astoria Park Pool

Miriam, Janet, HannahLocation: Astoria, Queens, New York

Configuration: 9 50-meter lanes for lap swimming in 50- x 100-meter pool

Fee: Free

At long last, outdoor lap season is here! It’s made for a busy week, with a thwarted attempt to swim at Red Hook on the Fourth, some good workouts at my newly adopted home pool of Thomas Jefferson Park, a social swim with the hordes at Lasker, and a Friday pool tourism outing across the river to Astoria Park Pool. Miriam and Janet met me there on this beautiful summer morning for early bird lap swim.

DSCN1322_astoria loooong pool

This is one of the closer outdoor pools to my apartment as the crow flies, but as the cyclist travels it involves two bridge crossings with a dip onto Randalls Island Park in between. The journey is perfect for contemplating master pool builder Robert Moses’s empire, which was headquartered in his Randalls Island hideaway. Astoria Park Pool was one of his glories, and the RFK Triborough Bridge (upper left) another. In fact, they opened within days of each other in 1936. I caught glimpses of the cool, blue pool water poking through the trees as I made my way across the span to Queens.

I arrived just in time for the 7:00 a.m. start, checking in alongside the tattooed, pool-crazed masses. Although the pool is 100 meters long, the lap lanes are squished into the south end of the pool. Is black paint so hard to come by? I grumbled to myself through some crowded laps. Later, I realized that the rest of the pool rises so shallow as to preclude lap swimming.

Despite the volume of swimmers, everything was orderly, and people self-sorted based on pace and fondness for aqua-jogging. Everyone was friendly, and I was impressed with the number of speedsters gliding through the deliciously cool water.

The park is situated between the Triborough and the majestic, magenta Hell Gate Bridge. While you can get great pictures of these landmarks from various vantage points on deck, the view isn’t quite as good from in the water. Still, it’s about as close as we can get to confusion with the lovely North Sydney Olympic Pool, which is nestled underneath the Hell Gate-inspired Sydney Harbour Bridge.

entryway and SWIM posterAstoria Park Pool is one of the city’s WPA treasures, and it still feels very in tact to me. Beautiful brickwork and massive locker rooms with layouts from another era, such that you can almost picture the swimsuit-rental stand, are some of the highlights. A giant WPA swim poster–at once progressive and racially charged–adorns the north interior tower for good measure.

The pool’s opening event was none other than the 1936 women’s Olympic Trials, which selected swimmers and divers to represent the United States in Hitler’s Olympics in Berlin. The Trials returned to Astoria with both men and women in 1964. Competitive pool standards have changed considerably since then.

diving well

The diving well hasn’t seen divers in some time, but the 32-foot, triple-tiered platform remains thanks to landmark status. A 2012 plan to convert it to a performance space has not yet been actualized, and the bottom of the diving well now hosts a small meadow.

former Olympic torchTwo Olympic torches, since repurposed as fountains but dormant during my visit, serve as further reminders of Astoria’s Olympic glory.

My first trip to Astoria Pool was in 2006, not for swimming or its historic merit, but rather to see the plumbing. A Parks & Rec pool filtration expert opened up the innards for infrastructure geeks during Open House New York weekend in October. I wish I remembered more from the tour, but about all I can tell you is that the pump rooms are enormous and the entire volume of water circulates through many times a day.

The plumbing excitement this time around came in the form of a busted shower in the women’s locker room. Because there were male plumbers working on the fix, Janet and I could not access the locker room after our swim. We milled around and commiserated with some other female lap swimmers, procrastinating using the shower-free “family locker room.” When the kids’ swim lessons ended, the throng of mothers and children overwhelmed the attendant who had been diligently shooing everyone away. The repair was called off and we got to shower and change.

It was a different plumbing problem that prevented my Red Hook swim the previous Friday. Something to do with the pool’s circulation needed attention, and after an hour of waiting for a repair that may or may not have been in progress, we gave up. The effort to keep these behemoths going certainly is impressive, and I’m glad the City had the wherewithal to get them started in 1936 and keep them going (more or less) up until today.

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#76: Hopkins School Pool

Amanda and me at the Hopkins poolLocation: New Haven, Connecticut

Configuration: 6 lanes of 25 yards

Fee: Free as visitor to Hopkins Masters Swim Team

In addition to the California trip during my time off in May, I took the opportunity to visit friends and cats in New Haven. Amanda had long been lobbying for me to join her for a masters swim there, and I was glad to finally do so, even if it was more of a hot cocoa kind of day than you’d expect after Memorial Day.

She used to do morning workouts at a certain Ivy League college but decamped for an even older school: Hopkins, home of the Hilltoppers. Founded in 1660, Hopkins moved to its current location atop a hill on the west side of town in the 1920s. Students here follow a traditional curriculum including the study of Latin. My friend Karen is an alumna, and she said the smell of chlorine at a recent reunion instantly evoked her school days.

Amanda’s first dip there was last November. “The pool is beautiful, water temperature is perfect, the coach was lovely, and the workout was challenging without being impossible,” she reported. All of this proved true. The evening masters workout with Coach Bob was nicely tailored to the various goals of the small, friendly group. We used three lanes, and the Hopkins girls’ team zipped around in the other three. The pool somehow reminded me of my own school training grounds: Poughkeepsie Middle School. Perhaps it was the shape of the room, the position of the bleachers, or the corner door to the outside.

pace clockThe real curiosity, though, was the clock. As Amanda described, “the coolest thing (I thought) was that they program the entire workout, including rest, into the digital clock, so you don’t ever have to keep track of where you are on the intervals. The clock tells you which set and repetition you’re on, so you just leave at the appropriate time.” My photo does not do it justice.

I have never seen such a thing and didn’t fully grasp it. As Coach Bob said, it’s idiot proof but not fool proof. You still have to know the number of repetitions and the interval for your set. If, say, you’re in lane 2 doing 6 x 100s on 1:30, you’ll use the second row of the clock. The rep number displays in the second column, and the time ticks away to the right of that. When the clock shows 1:30, you take off, the time switches back to 0:00, and the rep changes to 3. It requires the coach to plan ahead–even the rest between sets is preprogrammed–but that groundwork means that swimmers do not have to calculate intervals.

Little did we know that my swim was especially well timed. Soon after my visit, Amanda up and got herself a job in New York that starts next week. She’ll really miss Coach Bob and the hilltop pool, but she’s glad to be returning to the Big Apple after an eight-year exile. Carpe piscinam, as the Hilltoppers might say.

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