[096] Olympic Swim

ScarletSistersMy friend Myra MacPherson has a new book out, and it looks like the perfect summer read:

The Scarlet Sisters: Sex, Suffrage, and Scandal in the Gilded Age

A fresh look at the life and times of Victoria Woodhull and Tennie Claflin, two sisters whose radical views on sex, love, politics, and business threatened the white male power structure of the nineteenth century and shocked the world. Here award-winning author Myra MacPherson deconstructs and lays bare the manners and mores of Victorian America, remarkably illuminating the struggle for equality that women are still fighting today.

Myra is in town this weekend for the Los Angeles Times Festival of Books on the USC campus, and I was looking forward to catching up with her. When I looked at the FoB schedule this morning, I realized that I wasn’t going to make it to USC for her panel discussion. Rats. (Sorry to miss you, Myra… but I hope I sold a few books with this post!)


While in scheduling mode, I was wondering when to get in my swim today. Saturdays in my usual pool tend to get a little crowded with people I generously call “floaters”. Then, the part of my brain that was still at the Book Fest remembered that USC is next to Expo Park – which includes the Coliseum and the Los Angeles Swimming Stadium.

These were built for the 1932 Olympics, and called up for duty again in 1984 for LA’s second bite at the Olympic apple. In the ’90s, the whole thing got mothballed. But ten years ago, the Swimming Stadium was given a $30 million renovation. I’ve heard it’s a great venue for lap swimming, so I’ve been wanting to give it a spin.

Today was the day.


The two rounds of renovation tread very lightly on the original 1932 architecture and design of the Swimming Stadium, permitting this state of the art facility to keep its Art Deco bones. That’s a laudable achievement anywhere, but especially in LA – which hasn’t always put a premium on historic preservation.

LA Plunge

The Coliseum is decked out in USC’s red&gold as the home field of the Trojans.

swim stadium + coliseum

In the most recent redo a massive recreational pool was added (background); this is a godsend to us lap swimmers, as it siphons off the floaters. The 50-meter pool has a moveable divider (visible at left) creating a 25-yard pool at the far end (for diving, water polo and synchronized swimming) and the 8-lane lap pool in the foreground. 50 meters minus 25 yards = about 27 yards: 2 yards longer than the standard 25. So, the configuration of this pool makes you work a little harder for your lap count. But I took comfort in knowing I’d recess.icecream.truckget an 8% bonus at the end of my swim. Before I finish this love letter, let me just say that a six-foot-deep shallow end is a beautiful thing. All that for two bucks, and free parking! I’d swim there everygreentea.cone day if it weren’t a 20-mile roundtrip. But maybe it’s my new Saturday plunge.

Afterwards, I wandered through Expo Park, past the Natural History Museum and the California Science Center (now home to Shuttle Endevour) and over to the USC campus – which was still humming with book lovers. I stumbled upon a quad filled with food trucks, and suddenly felt famished. Funny how that works, eh? I scoped out the shortest line, and was happy to find myself at the very festive Recess Ice Cream truck asking for two scoops of green tea ice cream in a waffle cone.

As I walked slurpily away, I realized I couldn’t remember the last time I’d had an ice cream cone. Am I alone in this? Or have we all been denying ourselves one of life’s simplest pleasures for far too long??


Lots of collegiate red brick and blue sky provide a great backdrop for this flowering jacaranda, my view while I waited for my ice cream cone. As I made my way off campus, I bumped into this guy:


And I have to say, if there’s a competition among life-size bronze statues for Best Plaque… this one just might win:


Except for missing my friend at the book fest, today was not a bad day at all.
Olympic qualifying, in fact.

Day 096 #100happydays

Photo credit at top: Ryan Lochte by Martin Schoeller


The End (so far)

[013] The Photo You Don’t Take

The last call of the day for lap swims on Sundays is 4:30–6:00pm, and for once I was early. It’s nice to be able to do a marathon instead of a sprint; it’s just a different kind of workout.

The West Hollywood Swimming Pool is located in the newly redone West Hollywood Park, with parking at the adjacent West Hollywood Library. (And now you know why we shorten it to Weho.) Well, there was bit of a traffic jam at the 5-story parking structure, with a car just sitting in the entrance. I walked over to see if the driver was having an issue with the “Press This Button for Ticket” dispenser. Turns out, the maximum number of cars had entered the structure, and the smarty-pants automated dispenser was waiting for a car to leave before permitting another to enter. Makes sense. I’ve just never known a parking structure in LA to fill up! A sort of vertical gridlock. We all just patiently waited another minute or two for another car or two to leave, and our god-given right to park was restored.

I guess that’s all by way of saying what a gorgeous day it was to be in the park. The sport courts were full of people playing, uh, sports. The lawns were full of sunbathers and frisbee throwers and dogs a-fetching. The playground and picnic areas were packed with kids and their parents. Have you ever watched a bunch of kids in a playground? They’ve never met before, but one or two bossypants get everyone organized and they make up games and rules and play and have fun. And someone ends up crying. Just like real life. It’s similar to a dog park, where dogs of all shapes and sizes just… get along. Adult humans seem to lose this cooperative instinct somewhere along the way. (But that’s another post.)

As I walked from the parking structure into the park, I saw more than a few people pointing their smartphone cameras upward, and my eyes tracked along that trajectory. All those photos that were sunday cloudssnapped at that moment will never do justice to the skyscape that caught everyone’s attention – but here’s one anyway. (Little did I know that this was the before shot.)

Fast-forward an hour, as I’m slicing my way through the water. (I may actually be plodding through the water, but it feels like slicing. Let’s go with slicing.) The pool lies on a north-south axis, so every odd-numbered lap (on my way to 90 today; just sayin’) gave me an eyeful of western sky. And on one of those southbound slices – Holy Vesuvius, Batman! – the sky had burst into flame! It was breathtaking, luminous, blood red. So intense that for a few long moments I considered that Something Very Bad had happened to produce this effect. Like a meteor strike… or the Hawaiian Islands had gone off like volcanic Roman candles… or maybe Google had found a way to turn the sky into a high-def screen.

Then, for another long moment, I contemplated getting out of the water and drying off sufficiently to reach into my gym bag, pull out my phone and snap a pic of these artistic atmospherics. But I just kept swimming. With every other lap, more color had drained out of the sky until it had cooled to a dark ember of a cloud. The whole passion play couldn’t have lasted more than ten minutes. But what a show!

I don’t have a snapshot to share with you. But I can close my eyes now and experience what the setting sun did to those high, white clouds. It’s more than a visual; memory can function this way as a sixth sense. Or a sense in all five dimensions. Instead of looking at a static photo, my mind is reconstructing the entire experience, including the view through my goggles… the sound of the water splashing around me… the smell of chlorine… and tagging this memory with the thought I had that, sometimes, it’s the photo we don’t take that stays with us.

The photo I didn’t take today makes me happy.
Day 013 #100happydays

[003] Back In The Swim

West Hollywood Park swimming pool

West Hollywood Park swimming pool

My zodiac sign is Pisces. The Fishes. I don’t pay much attention to astrology, because I think it’s bullshit. Having said that, and meant it, I still must acknowledge that everything I’ve ever heard or read about Pisces is curiously on the mark with me. Lucky guess? There’s also that thing about fish. Sure, they’re tasty creatures. But as much as I’d like to think of myself as a cute and loyal golden retriever, or an aloof tabby – the truth is, I’m probably more in league with a grouper or fiddler crab. Maybe a pelican, if I can make that stretch.

Bodies of water hold sway over me. If I ever go missing, look for me on the beaches of the world. Or, if I’m only gone for an hour or so, check the nearest pool. I am happy when I’m near the water; happiest when I’m in it.

To my great good fortune, I can be in my favorite element and getting in a good workout at the same time. Healthy for my body and soul, simultaneously. I love swimming the way people love yoga. Or the way I once-upon-a-time loved to run. I’m not inclined to do yoga, because I have this deeply ingrained desire not to look foolish in public. That’s not an indictment of the downward facing dog. Maybe I’m even a little jealous that people can get into all those exotic poses. I just don’t want to be that exotic. As for running, all the endorphins in the world wouldn’t be able to put my knees back together again if I tried taking up that sport at this stage of the game.

So I swim. I grew up in a place with a beach at the end of my street, and learned to swim probably soon after I got the walking thing down. I loved being in the water and I never wanted to come out. It’s fair to say it made me sad to leave the liquid world and return to terra firma. One of my first jobs was as a lifeguard at our local beach. Getting paid to get a tan. I never really recovered from that shattered dream…

I never swam competitively or on a team of any sort. Looking back, I wish I had, as I suspect it would have altered the trajectory of my physical existence for the better. Not being able to change that now, I do appreciate the fact that my only association with water is pleasure. And that holds true, even when it comes to using the pool as my gym. I look forward to my daily dose of hydro-therapy – especially since I ditched my gym pool for the public swimming pool in West Hollywood’s park. The gym pool was full of prima donnas and rude, stupid people. I’d do my workout but leave aggravated, which really defeats the mental-health benefits of the swim.

The public pool, on the other hand, is given over to those of us who take our swimming more seriously. There are swim teams for young and old, classes for every ability, and ‘free swim’ times for the floaters and splashers. But most of the time, this pool is reserved for the lap swimmers. It’s so refreshing. Really not much different, I guess, from the treadmill-filled gyms. You swim in your lane, sometimes sharing the lane. There’s a mostly unspoken etiquette, rules of the road. You interact with your fellow swimmers in the locker room pre- and post-swim, but not so much in the pool. If you and your neighbor pause at the same end for a breather or a sip of water, maybe there’s a hello. You get used to seeing the same faces in the same time slots. There’s a rhythm to it.

I renewed my commitment to getting back in shape when I loaded up my ‘swim card’ with 50 visits in November. I tell myself I should take one day a week ‘off’ to give my muscles a rest. Quite frankly, these muscles have been on vacation for far too long as it is, so I don’t worry too much about that. In fact, there are days when I’d like to do morning and evening swims. I think that falls under the category of ‘portion control’ – but that’s another post.

Two+ months into my new aquatic routine, I’m making good progress. I aim for an hour in the pool every day, and usually get in at least 45 minutes of swim time. I’m up to at least a mile (72 laps), and if I’ve left myself enough time, there’s a nice little endorphin rush that hits at about the 60-lap mark that has been carrying me along like a wave to 90. I won’t be asked to model swimwear any time soon. But thanks to this full-body workout, I can feel things getting tighter and stronger in places I haven’t seen in some time, but have always believed were still there. I’ve got a wedding to go to in Maine this summer, and I want to be fit for those beautiful brides. Because nothing is sadder than way too much seersucker.

Getting back in the swim. Day 003 of #100happydays.