Forget what the calendar says. Summer in Philadelphia officially starts on Monday, June 17, when the city’s outdoor public pools start opening on a rolling basis.
There are 70 of them, including a long-overdue new $3.7 million beaut at Bridesburg Recreation Center, where the city is to hold the 2019 pool season kickoff ceremony at 2:30 p.m.
The Parks and Recreation commissioner is expected, of course. As is the mayor and a council member or two. Phillies Hall of Fame third baseman Mike Schmidt will donate sunscreen dispensers for numerous pools through an initiative he’s been part of since going public about his battle with melanoma.
As far as I know, no one will be taking a ceremonial plunge, a la bare-chested Ed Rendell when he was mayor or even a fully clothed Councilman Mark Squilla, who in 2017 surprised everyone, including himself, when he jumped in at the opening ceremony at Murphy Recreation Center in South Philly.
But this is Philly, so keep your towels handy.
I’ll be there, too, to kick off a summer of pool pop-ups. Since starting the @NotesFromHel pop-up newsrooms in December, I’ve grabbed a borrowed company banner, some @NotesFromHel branded chocolates and pens, and hit the road, asking people to share their stories where they live — at a school, a barbershop, a clothing program, and a peace rally. In keeping with the season, my growing list of places I want to “pop up” includes the city’s time-honored block parties.
But the city’s public pools seemed a no-brainer, as did the wonderfully ridiculous branded sunglasses I ordered up for the occasion. C’mon, you know you want a pair...
Besides offering a seasonal opportunity to meet a lot of people having a good time, a much-needed palate cleaner from my usual fare, it’s also a prime spot to hear and share stories that mean the most to people I might not ordinarily meet.
Pools are about sun and fun, but they’re also about friends and family and memories that stick. Talk to a Philadelphian about them, and you’ll quickly see they are community touchstones that can tell a lot about a city and its residents.
Just ask Mike Groves, assistant recreation leader at Bridesburg, where he took a few precious moments on Thursday afternoon to reminisce a little about the neighborhood friendships that were cemented into lifelong ones over long, hot city summers at the public pool.
So, here’s where you guys come in, because if you haven’t figured this out, I can’t do these pop-ups alone:
I want you to tell me which pools to hit and why?
Already I know there is a family of lifeguards that I want to meet. And some dedicated longtime and colorful employees and volunteers, sometimes a little of both, including Bridesburg’s own Jackie Desanctis, known by pool-goers as Miss Jackie.
Also, did you know that Bridesburg Rec supervisor John McBride does voiceovers? Yeah, I didn’t have a chance to get the full story when I stopped by, but I will. My colleague Tommy Rowan already beautifully told the story of Oktavia Cherry, the director of Athletic Rec Center at 26th and Master Streets who reaches into her own pockets to buy bathing suits for kids in need. But I know she’s not alone. Tell me about the hero at your neighborhood pool.
As excited as Bridesburg is to replace its 60-plus-year-old pool, there are other communities that wish theirs got more TLC but do whatever it takes to keep them up and running; I want to talk to them, too.
Over the next three months, in between other columns, I’ll hit as many pools and share as many stories as I can. Sometimes in my printed column in The Inquirer and Daily News, sometimes in that running conversation we have on social media.
So, grab your towels. We’re going in.