- Jamie Ramsay
Nothing says summer in Chicago like a refreshing dip in one of the Park District's 49 outdoor pools. Sure, they vary in quality—from inviting oases lined with lounge chairs and shaded by leafy trees to stark blue rectangles in slabs of concrete—but for many Chicagoans and their families, these neighborhood pools are a lifesaver on sweltering days. That is, if they can actually get in the water without drowning in rules and regulations.
First, there's the limited season. Inevitably it's for budgetary reasons, but the pools don't open until mid-June and only stay open through Labor Day, leaving merely two and a half-ish months to enjoy them. Chicago summer is already woefully short. Why can't the pools open after Memorial Day? Then there are the utterly confusing hours of operation, which vary by location. The Park District's website advises residents to check before stopping by to swim. Don't bother. The schedules are rarely up to date. Even if you do study them carefully to find that blessed 45-minute window when adults can swim, you'll likely show up to the pool and it'll be Family Swim (no adults admitted without accompanying a child 17 or under) or a day camp will have the run of the place or maybe the teen lifeguards will decide to do some random training exercises, during which time both swimmers and sunbathers must abruptly clear the pool area, stand outside the gate, and wait. There's a surfeit of waiting around Chicago pools, with staff members barking commands and ordering people form lines for no explicable reason.
At the end of last summer, after several failed attempts to make it to Adult Swim at Holstein Park (trusting the online schedule like a fool), I showed up on a hot August afternoon only to discover the pool in the midst of Family Swim. Again. "Where's your family?" the lifeguard asked. "There," I said, pointing to the mother and kids behind me. We'd spent 30 minutes waiting in line together and had bonded over the byzantine pool rules. The lifeguard eyed me skeptically. "I think you're lying," she said. But my sweet fam vouched that I was, in fact, with them. You might have to lie your way into a Chicago public pool, but on the bright side you might also get adopted. v