July 12, 2011, Washington, DC: High on my list of criteria for what makes cities livable is the ability to get outside. That's part of what I love about Capital Bikeshare and running watching fireworks by kayak. But on days like this with a heat index of 104, there's no other option for outdoor recreation than the swimming pool.
Today I added the pool at East Potomac Park to the long list of pools in my life. It may not have been the cleanest pool in the area today, but it's a 50-meter outdoor pool that's free for city residents. The pool at Capitol Skyline Hotel is another good bet on weekends when I'm ready to pay a $15 entry fee, lounge and drink cocktails. But this evening, swimming laps at East Potomac Park is just my speed, and I'm reminded that no matter where I am, a summertime swim makes a place feel that much more like home.
Pools have been a significant part of my hometown memories for as long as I can remember. I remember learning to swim and my first jump off the high dive at Arlington's Overlee pool; maybe there were earlier dips in the pool as an infant on Dorval Island just outside Montreal. Summertime swims certainly bring to mind memories of Baltimore's Hampton Pool, once my second summer home. Community and comraderie were key elements of the summer swim team and there was nothing better than being dropped off at the pool early in the morning and being picked up waterlogged after dark. We'd beg to take one last dunk when the underwater lights came on.
Ever since, even absent the spirit of a summer swim team, going for a swim has remained a way for me to make a place feel comfortable. Whether a workout in the Aquatic Park of San Francisco Bay or at the University of Queensland's Olympic training facility in Brisbane, I feel at home in the pool. Upon moving to new cities, a swim makes me feel like I belong -- like I finally live there.