An interesting turn of events has captured my attention in recent weeks and it appears to be a story about Flat Rock Creek that will continue to unfold over the course of at least the next year or probably longer. I plan to track it here because I believe I have much to learn about people in neighborhoods, communities, and government by all that happens when these entities intersect. And I’m pretty sure I may be gleaning an insight or two about myself just from events to date. So, here goes:
It started with an innocent comment my godson’s mother uttered to me in the checkout line at the grocery store right before spring break. If you read my post Get in Line, you already know what can happen when you’re standing in line anytime, anywhere.
She mentioned in passing that my godson, who works summers as a lifeguard for our city pools, had gotten word that the pool in my neighborhood was going to close. Not what you want to hear when you have barely survived a lethal winter of historic proportions and have yet to see the faintest sign of spring. Shutter Flat Rock Creek pool permanently?
At first, I felt a swoon coming on which dissolved quickly into a meteoric rise in blood pressure. I prefer not to have visceral reactions in public if I can help it. And I certainly didn’t want to put my cousin/friend, also named Mary (our relationship is a whole ‘nother story from Hyde Park yet to be told on these screens), or the unsuspecting cashier at risk by bursting into a rage, screaming and flailing my arms wildly, but I was definitely tempted. This news came out of nowhere. Permanently close our beloved public pool that has served our neighborhood so long and so well? But why?
The origin of the rumor made it more credible, so I called my city council woman immediately to check out its veracity. Sure enough, she reported that the city council had actually considered closing the pool. Fortunately, however, they had decided to keep the pool open this summer—after immediate and necessary repairs are made—but they were seriously considering closing it for good after that.
This councilwoman has been a diligent advocate for our area; I have spoken with her about minor concerns that have cropped up in recent years. She always shoots it to you straight and maintains the level head and exhibits the rational thinking you like to see in your elected officials.
She was not able to offer much by way of details as far as long range plans and encouraged me to attend an informational meeting of the city council where the parks and recreation director would share a summary report of the findings and evaluation by an aquatic consulting company.
She called last Friday on the eve of a last blast of winter snowstorm (8 inches dumped in my yard by Sunday) to tell me this meeting was scheduled for Tuesday evening. She had notified just the few other residents who had contacted her thus far because this was simply an informational meeting where no public input would be allowed.
She suggested we go to listen to the presentation, so we could then formulate a strategy for responding. The snowstorm kept me from getting around to any but a few neighbors to share the little I knew at this point. Those I contacted were thinking along the same lines and promised any and all support once I got back with some info.
The councilwoman phoned me again later to encourage me to read the executive summary of the park director’s presentation that appeared online in the e-goverment section of the city’s website and to let me know that a death in the family would prevent her from attending the meeting as she would now be out of town. Well, I thought, not great, but at least the other council person representing our area would be there.
I raced my daughter from track practice to volleyball practice then made a bee line to city hall. Its halls were silent at this hour but well lit and inviting. I walked to the council chambers at the back and entered as the consent agenda meeting was ending and the presentation on the pool was about to begin.
The council was seated on an elevated curved platform with a light wood front, each with a computer screen before them. Design-wise the room had a state of the art feel and was a circle of sorts, trimmed in light wood, with white walls and ambient lighting. The public sits in cushioned pew-like benches facing them with other city officials seated at tables directly in front of them.
I had spent the last couple of days trying to distance myself from my own emotional reaction to the prospect of the pool closing so that I could have the ears to hear the report to be rendered. That’s hard to do when you start with a simple rumor that paints with the broadest strokes what would be the worst case scenario: the pool will close.
That moment in the line at the grocery store felt like a sucker punch, inadvertant though it was. The news didn’t come through an article buried in the newspaper, a fleeting mention on an evening newscast, or even some nebulous form letter tucked in my front door handle that excerpted snippets of the voluminous data contained in the aquatic report. I am predisposed to absorb and digest this kind of information much better through such means. I can wrap my mind around the information slowly in the privacy of my home, chat with my husband and close friends, and both internally and externally process the ideas, checking my own reactions as I do.
I am unquestionably most vulnerable in those moments where I am blindsided by a rogue comment or random remark because my mind careens down the path of worst case scenario and conjures the undesirable images such a scenario brings: in this case, an empty, cracking pool with filthy flotsam floating on stagnant brown rain water that can’t slip past the dried leaves and twigs clogging the drain at the deep end where the diving boards used to be.
In short, I imagined the pure essence of blight and abandonment. Which would be the antithesis of what the pool looks like on hot summer days when kids fling themselves from the high dive with their hands clutching their shins, in spontaneous contests to see whose cannonball can pound through the undisturbed surface of sunlit water the most powerfully in order to create the splash that will shower the nonplussed teenage lifeguard scrutinizing their every move from behind mirrored Ray-Bans and from the height of a molded plastic seat on a pedestal rising out of the concrete on a chrome leg. Is there a better way to learn the laws of physics?
I struggled to reconcile the two images: summer of fun pool and winter of discontent pool, and to suppress my initial emotional responses as I began to listen to the presentation, legal pad in hand.
In my next post, I’ll give a full account of the city council meeting last night, including my own gut-wrenching feelings about extemporaneous public speaking opportunities that unexpectedly arise.