I swim in a community pool during a time of day that is dominated by the retired subculture* of a wealthy northern California suburb. Though I haven’t been swimming for long, I’ve come to realize that swimming is an extremely social activity in this suburb for these folks. There are regulars who know each others’ names and life histories. There is actual locker-room gossip. There are rules, some unspoken.
Here’s one of the rules that’s spoken:
Rule #1: BEFORE ENTERING ANY LANE ALERT ALL PERSONS ALREADY SWIMMING.
TRY TO FIND A LANE THAT FITS YOUR SPEED
If people pass you, move to a slower lane.
If you pass people, move to a faster lane.
If you are a jogger or walker, use the area scheduled for this activity.
The lifeguard will assist in finding the best lane for you.
The lifeguard will move swimmers into appropriate lanes, when necessary.
Do not assume you can use the same lane every visit.
Note that “the lifeguard” is in charge of dictating who is in what lane, not “the swimmers.”
Enter…Gloved Woman (known for her trademark backstroke, accent, and dark gloves). Gloved Woman (GW) practically lives at the pool between 6-9am every M-W-F. She takes frequent breaks to gossip about the other swimmers to the lifeguard, in a clear attempt to sway him. The lifeguard humors her. Last Wednesday, I was swimming in the slow lane and taking frequent breaks. During one of my breaks, GW (who was taking a gossip break) hollered over to another prospective swimmer:
“She’s leaving! You can split the lane with me.”
Me: “No, I’m taking a break.”
GW: “Oh, my mistake.”
GW then proceeded to glare at me.
Me: “I’m new to swimming.”
GW: “No you’re not. I’ve seen you here before.”
GW then tossed her hair back (or she would have, had she not been wearing a swim cap), and proceeded to continue swimming. On my next break, I overheard her talking to the lifeguard about how she tried to let that other poor swimmer in with us, but I wouldn’t allow it.
20 minutes later, I was ready to get out, and saw another woman approaching the lane.
Me: “It’s yours.”
GW overheard me and quickly swam up to the top of the lane.
GW: “Good.” Directing the new swimmer to my lane, she said: “Now, you take this side of the lane.”
The next time I went swimming, GW was thankfully in the “Medium” lane. I doubt this will be my last encounter with her, however.
*Yes, I said “subculture.” I have my anthropology prof from my D.C. internship to thank for that! It implies exclusivity.