There's nothing better than a dip in a cold swimming pool to bring your core body temperature down a handful of degrees on those sweltering days we're likely to see for the rest of this summer but, unfortunately, a swimming pool's not something I'm likely to own myself for reasons of finance, lot size and maintenance requirements.
Good news for me, you and presumably everyone in reading distance of St. Louis, though: the city maintains three public, outdoor swimming pools for you to jump right in, and the price (100% free) is definitely right. Thus, of a recent, sunny Saturday afternoon, I packed up my towel, SPF 15 and pool partner and scooted down to the Marquette Pool in south city.
As a kid growing up in Memphis, I spent many a summer afternoon at the city pools there, mostly at the Willow Oaks pool (R.I.P.: Memphis closed most of its public pools a few years ago), where you slid fifty cents under the slot of the window and in return got admission and a wire basket to hold all your belongings. My mom was something of a sun-worshipper: once, she was featured in a prominent, above-the-fold photograph on 1A of the Memphis Commercial Appeal, stretched out in her glory on her webbed lawn chair lounger, her head and face entirely wrapped in a giant t-shirt. It was always easy, in other words, for a group of neighbor kids to convince my mom to take us to Willow Oaks. Once there, it was generally packed, and you had to be early (or quick to move when a vacancy opened up) to get a group of chairs.
These were the visions in my head when I remembered, recently, that St. Louis still maintains a few public pools: one at Marquette, one at Fairgrounds Park and one in Chambers Park. And though I've known about them for many years, I had never been to one, nor did I know anyone who had ever talked about going. I'm guessing many of you may not have ever taken the opportunity, either.
So, some words of advice if you're going to the Marquette Pool: though it has an attractive, historic-looking entrance building, that's not how you get to the pool. (That door is locked, at least the Saturday I visited.) Instead, tromp around to the right side, though some weedy grass, and you'll find a gate in the chain link fence where you enter. A gaggle of lifeguards, a security guard and various hangers-on was clustered there, and one informed us that we had to shower before entering the pool so we each trudged back into the building's men's and women's changing rooms. These were facilities built for big numbers: the women's side has changing stalls for at least 50 people. A quick splash under the open shower, and I grabbed one of the mesh bags designed to hold your stuff and hang along the fence; then, I was back outside, ready to hit the water. Unfortunately, water starting hitting me, in the form of fourteen drops of rain that fell from a clear, blue sky. Still, it was enough to the lifeguards to start whistling maniacally and clearing the pool, their instructions punctuated with profanity and drill-sergeant-like warmth: "Get OUT of the pool! Hurry up! Get out of the fucking pool! Do you speak English? Why are you still in the pool? Get out of the pool! Some people ain't movin' fast enough OUT OF THE POOL!!"
Kids (and the few adults) huddled around the lifeguard stands, or under the trees near the gate, but pretty quickly most of them gave up the cause and started heading out towards home, towels wrapped around them or wet, baggy t-shirts nearly dragging the ground. I asked the nicest-seeming guard what was up, and he said the pool would reopen in about ten minutes.
That gave me some time to take in the scenery. The pool itself is huge, an L-shaped facility that moves from about 3 feet to 12 in the roped-off deep end, plus a kiddie wading pool to the side. The most glaring feature, though, is the absolute lack of any amenities outside the pool: within the fence, no benches or chairs or seats of any kind, no shade. You can either get in the water or sit on the hard, sunbaked concrete. No one had lawn chairs, and I tried to call later to find out if they are allowed, but the phone number on the pool's website has been disconnected. Flotation devices, though, are strictly prohibited per the website.
So get in the pool, already! The water was fantastically cold, and with about 50 swimmers in that immense space, you can bob a long way before having to alter your path. A freeform game of Nerf football, in which we were briefly involved, ranged throughout the water.
It's not the place for you if you need coddling: it's a vision of what would happen if teenagers ruled the world, in that there seemed to be a vague but rigidly enforced set of rules that could change at a moment's notice. About half an hour after the pool reopened, we all had to clear out again for a "chlorine drop" (the pouring in of a giant bucket of chlorine) that absolutely, positively had to happen at 3:15 p.m., and kept the pool free of people for another half an hour.
Rather than wait it out, we decided to call it a day. Refreshed, entertained and rewarded by our city pool curiosity, we tramped back through the dirt and home, chlorine stinging in our eyes. Ah, summer.
The city pools remain open until August 20. Amanda Doyle plans to visit the Marquette Pool at least once more this summer.