Tuesday, May 27, 2008

The Skinny on Dipping

There are two kinds of people in the world: pool people and beach people.

This past Memorial Day weekend here in Chicagoland, one could hear the call of marine mammals migrating to their native habitats: "Pool passes or beach passes?" they cried. It was a welcome sound, heralding the arrival of summer.

I grew up in Michigan, which is bordered by four of the five Great Lakes and boasts 11,000 inland lakes and more than 3,200 miles of shoreline. We spent every summer of my childhood playing in those lakes on those beaches. How, then, did I become a pool person?

First, you can trust a pool. You don't have to worry that the bottom will suddenly give way to muck or rocks. There's no sand to get stuck in uncomfortable places, like contact lenses or bathing suits. And you don't have to rub against slimy fish or seaweed. Plus, packing for the beach is like packing for vacation: coolers, chairs, umbrellas, blankets, toys — the list is endless. All you really need for the pool is a towel and some sunscreen.

Evanston, where we live, has six beaches, but no outdoor pool. Since moving here, I have bought beach passes exactly once. The first time we went, the beach was covered with dead alewives and live, biting flies. That was also the last time we went. Fortunately, the city has made a deal with a couple of landlocked suburbs, so we can go to their pools and they can come to our beaches.

The constant closing of area beaches due to "unacceptable" levels of E. coli is not a big draw for me, either. According to the EPA, Cook County's 55 beaches closed an average of seven times last summer, and that was a good year. To be fair, I can't even count how many times our pool closed due to some toddler's potty accident.

It's not just swimmers who are divided between the pool and beach; it's sunbathers, too. At first blush, you might think they would have a clear preference, but I know sun worshippers of both denominations. Beach buffs come with those funny little chopped-off chairs planted in the sand, while a pool-side tanner will head straight for the chaise lounge. They both worship from spots that offer maximum exposure, devoutly rotating every so often to promote even bronzing. And though neither type of tanner may ever touch one toe in the water, both are passionate about their choice of watering hole.

Through friendships and marriage, I have learned that émigrés from the East Coast are the true fanatics of this watery debate. One summer, we took a trip to my husband's beloved Jersey shore. Ah, the Ocean! (Capital "O".)

"Isn't the boardwalk great?" he asked. Sure, if you like splinters and the smell of tar. "The sand is completely different," he marveled, picking up a handful. Sand is sand. You still have to watch out for cigarette butts and pop tops. Excuse me, soda can tops. "Now those are waves," he exalted, watching as our children emerged choking from the salt water, only to be smacked down again. Like they say, it's a nice place to visit.

We Midwesterners take umbrage to this narrow-minded ocean view. After all, when they called them the Great Lakes, they weren't kidding. These are BIG lakes, true inland seas that form international boundaries. You can't even see across them! We have sand, we have white caps, but according to the sea snobs, Great just isn't good enough.

Long after I became an adult, my parents bought a lake house — not on a Great Lake, but on a pleasant lake in Michigan. Sandy bottomed, with no public access, the lake is big enough for ski boats, but small enough to keep out the riffraff. My kids practically live in the water, which is bathtub warm by mid-June. Even I have been known to swim out to the sandbar now and again. That was until ... the leech incident.

That day, my son had been playing peacefully at the water's edge. During one of many sunscreen pit stops, he looked down and said: "Mom, I've got blood." I followed his glance to an enormously engorged leech attached to his leg. Not wanting to disturb his calm, I swallowed my panic and hit the leech off with a stick. Turns out, that's not the best approach. It took wads of paper towels and four bandages to stanch the bleeding.

On our next visit, when my dad invited me into the lake for a swim, I was somewhat less than enthusiastic. "Come on!" he coaxed.

"I'll pass," I said. "The whole leech thing has me pretty grossed out."

"God invented leeches, too, you know," he said.

"Not my God," I retorted. "My God is the God of indoor plumbing; the God of cell phones and hot tubs. My God is the God of caffeine-free diet beverages."

"The lake is caffeine free," he replied.

Right. I'll stick to swimming pools.

How about you? Pool pass or beach pass? Or perhaps you are one of those sea snobs? Dive in by clicking here or email me at 2KoPeople@gmail.com.

Photo credits: beach thanks to Maltaguy1 via morguefile.com; pool thanks to wipeoutpdr via flickr.com.


Crazy Horse said...

I will always miss and have a yearning for the Ocean.
Susan you are very creative and ingenious writer. Kenn

Seth said...

...I can't decide, but I found type-os!(And Type-O was his name-O!)
I'll show you them later...

Maybe beach... but I haven't gone to the dark side yet...


beerman2k said...

"Evanston, we where live, has six beaches, but no outdoor pool"


fun to read as always.

2KoP said...

That's what I get for posting in the middle of the night. Thanks for the sharp eyes. I'll have to fire my proofreaders, who shall remain nameless (Molly! … Mom!) The correction has been made.

Peter Rozovsky said...

I shall henceforth never be able to think of summer as other than the season of E. coli and rotting fish.
Detectives Beyond Borders
"Because Murder Is More Fun Away From Home"

2KoP said...

So sorry Peter. That was definitely not my intention. Think of cool blue waters instead, with colorful spinnakers skimming the horizon. There. All better.

Peter Rozovsky said...

Please don't worry; that was a joke on my part, a salute to two of your surprising images. And surprising images are good. In fact, your piece also made me think fondly of the trip I will take this summer to the Outer Banks of North Carolina and also of Toronto's surprising urban beaches on Lake Ontario.
Detectives Beyond Borders
"Because Murder Is More Fun Away From Home"

Mona said...

fun post 2kop! i'd have to say i'm a beach person. i've been a swimmer my entire life and being around a pool makes me feel like i should be doing laps/working out. and man, if you haven't been to the virgin islands, you may just change your mind about the pool v. beach debate. trust me. the jersey shore is a toilet in comparison (and i have relatives from there so i can say this). thanks for stopping by my blog the other day. i always love having new visitors. cheers! -m

2KoP said...

Mona, I couldn't agree more about the Carribean. I love the BVI. Scuba diving in warm, crystal clear water and playing along those white sandy beaches is an entirely different experience, although you still need to be wary of the sea urchins.

Peter Rozovsky said...

I once said after an idyllic trip to the Dominican Republic that the only thing I had to worry about was that a coconut might fall on my head while I was relaxing under a tree.
Detectives Beyond Borders
"Because Murder Is More Fun Away From Home"

Scribbit said...

Oh pool person here. Or more specifically hot tub person. DOes that make me in a class by myself? :)

2KoP said...

Ah, hot tubs, a wonderful invention. My friends bought a house in Northern Michigan with an outdoor hot tub. Even in winter they sit toasty warm under the stars.

Ardis Berghoff said...

Give me the constantly changing light, the piney breeze and mysterious islands of Trout Lake in northern Wisconsin any day. . . .but I ALWAYS check for leeches when I get out of the water!