I swam and swam, longer and further than I thought I would, turning my face to the sun each time I flipped over for some backstroke. Then I sat in a hot tub and worked the jets over my tight calves, shoulders, back, feet. From there I repaired to the sauna, lay back and went from pleasantly warm to luxuriously hot. It was the tail end of January. Noon on a Friday. I wasn’t on vacation. I was at the sparkling new Rainier Beach pool in the middle of southeast Seattle.
For five dollars and 25 cents, I swam, soaked and sweated away my cares and woes, along with a rainbow coalition of fellow south Seattleites. When I arrived, the locker room was swarming with toddlers and moms who had just finishing swim lessons. When I left, the seniors were on their way in, slow and graceful, like tortoises who’ve lived for decades on a beach the rest of us just discovered.
“You just turned 68? You’re a baby. I’m 87!” one of them said to another.
“87?” said the 68-year-old. “That’s a blessing, to be 87. That’s a blessing!”
“It sure is,” said the 87-year-old, as she moved, one step at a time, behind her walker. “It sure is.”
I had not been to the Rainier Beach Pool for many years, not since long before it was torn down and rebuilt. I remember one summer, taking my children there for swimming lessons; walking in was like entering a steamy, mildewed concrete bunker. What a transformation! The sweeping wall of floor-to-ceiling windows; the skylights; the not one but two new pools—one for lap swimming and the other, featuring a tubular slide, for “leisure” swimming.
As I stroked away in the lap pool, I thought: this is one pretty great example of our tax dollars at work. This is an oasis and it’s open to all comers: a place to exercise, learn to swim, relax, socialize or be blissfully alone, in the middle of a neighborhood where many people lead busy, stressful lives but don’t have a lot of money for health clubs, let alone vacations. To spend an hour at the Rainier Beach pool felt like the best mini-staycation ever.
Remember “staycations?” Where you go on vacation but stay home? It was a turn of phrase that took hold in 2009, when we were all trying to keep our spirits up while the economy was in free-fall. Staycations were a terrible idea, from the travel industry’s point of view, and as a travel lover, I sympathized, especially with the owners of small hotels, cabin resorts and restaurants. But when you’re broke, you’re broke, and there was something wonderful about seeing people find ways to treat themselves well without leaving town or spending money they didn’t have. People including my own family. We started doing a lot more camping, hiking and backpacking, and that has brought us unexpected joy.
Meanwhile, the city broke ground on some of the public projects that had been planned long before the recession. One of them was the new Rainier Beach Community Center, including the new pool complex. Though it meant the neighborhood was without a pool for two years, I’m here to say it was worth the wait.
And it’s not just about the value of an hour-long staycation. Learning to swim is a public health issue. Studies have consistently shown that more Asian-Americans and African-Americans are nonswimmers, which puts them at much higher risk for drowning, especially in a city like Seattle. Swimming lesson scholarships and discounts are available at all Seattle public pools. So visit Rainier Beach pool—or your local pool—and celebrate: public money, well spent.
Can’t stop thinking about that Superbowl win? Here are a few great takes on it: Kim Mayer’s view from A Little Elbow Room, Lindy West’s on Jezebel, and Suzy Strutner’s on The Huffington Post. Gotta say: it’s a pretty sweet week in Seattle, even for those of us who are not nuts about football!
Radio lovers: you can hear the Restless Nest commentaries every Tuesday at 7:45 a.m. on KBCS, streaming online at kbcs.fm and on the air at 91.3 in the Seattle area. Podcasts available.
Here’s nest artist Kim Groff-Harrington’s website.
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