Paved paradise all over again


My academic specialty is eschatology, the study of what different societies believe about the last times and the end of the world. It’s especially fascinating to look at societies that believe the end of the world is imminent–and even more fascinating to look at societies that believe that, in a certain sense at least, the end of the world has already come.


Now I think all of us to a certain extent can identify with that end-of-the-world feeling.  “Why do the stars keep on shining, why do the birds still sing,” we ask ourselves. There’s Feb. 3, 1959–the day the music died–the day that left Don McClean feeling like the end had come.


There’s November 22, 1963–the day President Kennedy was assassinated, and a day lots of us felt as if the world was coming to an end.  And then there’s August 21, 2005–the day they closed Southside Pool for the last time.


Southside Pool was one of my favorite places on earth. Eight lanes, 50 meters, and FAST–the best workout pool anywhere. But what I loved most about Southside is hard to explain. There was something special in that combination of trees and fencing, sky and cement, brick and water.  A spell of cool weather and a bit of a breeze left the water cold, crystal clear, and sprinkled with elm leaves: perfect!


And then there are the memories. Memories of teaching my kids to swim and dive, memories of talking to friends as our kids played in the baby pool or splashed around in the 3-foot end, memories of lifeguards past, each with a brick to commemorate their years of service. Memories of Fun Day, of pool movies and of tube water polo, memories of hot showers on cold days, memories of my dad doing a gainer off the board–at 65! And then there are all the associated memories, memories of the similar pools I used to swim in as a kid, the big municipal pools that are almost all gone now. They don’t make them like that anymore.

There weren’t many of us left when that long last whistle blew. Bernie Wells, Southside’s most faithful lap swimmer, was just finishing his 2000 meters–perfect timing. Two dozen kids. Me. We made waves and whirlpools and played a bit of Marco Polo. My son Michael did his underwater handstands.  I practiced a few turns, did a couple of sprints across the deep end, and bounced off the bottom of the pool for a while, trying to make the most of every one of those last precious moments.


They say that all good things must end someday. Autumn leaves must fall. But it wasn’t even close to autumn yet–and certainly not the end of swimming weather. My kids and I were still swimming in Lake Minne Eho more than a month later.


After the pool closed, I’d drop by the pool from time to time, standing outside the fence and remembering. And I’d drive by Southside every once in a while. One more look. One more chance to remember.


It’s all gone now–except for a bit of cyclone fencing.  My wailing wall, I guess.


Goodbye, Southside.


Don’t it always seem to go that you don’t know what you’ve got till it’s gone? They paved paradise and put up...well, maybe what they’re going to put up is a paved paradise.                                             


The curious thing about eschatology is that what people call the end of the world is seldom really the end of the world: it’s more often the beginning of a glorious new world. And, although I’m really going to miss old Southside, it helps to know that we’re eventually going to get a glorious new Southside.


As the Roman poet Catullus most certainly would not have said, vale atque ave.


 Goodbye, Southside. And hello.