Of drug tests and parades


Swimming season is almost here!

Yesterday I went for the drug test that all City of Philadelphia lifeguards must pass to work at our pools. It was at the City health center at 19th and Fairmount and generally the same as last year. Then, having to perform jumping jacks and squats for a doctor while wearing only a paper gown – to make sure I wasn’t concealing any pre-peed, drug-free urine on my person – took me a little aback. But not this year! I chatted with my fellow lifeguards as we waited around in our crepe-paper outfits, picked up some of the City’s handy free condoms while I was there, and after a mere hour and a half was again on my way.

Larry and Thelma are training new lifeguards at Sayre-Morris most days of the week. Rec leaders all over town are hounding their pool staff for paperwork (in addition to the drug test, lifeguards need documentation of a doctor’s physical, an FBI clearance and a PA state police background check). And I, for one, am breathlessly awaiting opening day.

I’d love to celebrate our pool openings with parades, the way NYC Mayor Fiorello LaGuardia and Parks Commissioner Robert Moses did back in the 30s. As Jeff Wiltse describes in Contested Waters:

Laguardia and Moses organized extravagant opening ceremonies for the pools. Each ceremony started with an afternoon parade through the local neighborhood that ended at the pool. With thousands in attendance, a local priest blessed the water, and Olympic stars and circus clowns performed swimming exhibitions. The climactic event occurred at nightfall, when LaGuardia flipped the switch to the innovative underwater lights and declared “Okay, kids, it’s all yours!” The sudden illumination never failed to mesmerize the crowd. Some of these dedication ceremonies attracted as many as 40,000 people and were described as “the most memorable event in the history of the neighborhood.”

These events celebrated not just a season’s opening day but the first-ever unveilings of New York’s WPA-funded swimming pools. So priests and circus clowns might be overkill for Philly this June. But neighborhood parades? That’s the least our pools deserve!


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