2010: Everything in New York City is expensive, and with such cost, you have come to ordinarily expect obnoxious and massive crowds, which 9.9 times out of 10 result in a subpar experience that makes you question why you live here in the first place. Consequently, as a New Yorker, your mind doesn’t have to venture so far to wonder what something free and in Brooklyn would be like. You think of the worst thing in your life and multiply it by three hundred and ninety nine. You are then relegated to thinking that quality summer fun without having to spend fees on “memberships” could only be had in the Caribbean, California, Florida, or essentially anywhere else but in this god-forsaken City.
But don’t despair, my cynical New Yorkers. There are pockets of good to genuine good in the City that makes you believe that not only can the City work, but that government in this damn City could work. It’s a mind-blowing concept. And particularly mind-blowing when what we’re talking about here are public pools.
I think even before a dentist, a public pool in New York City is the least likely place that a rational New Yorker would want to visit. Thoughts of piss and other substances in the pool. Teenage thugs with wild, rabid pitbulls roaming the deck. A multitude of painful and violent crimes waiting for those not in the right gang in the locker room. Just all around unsanitary and unsafe conditions that would even make Kurt Russell in Escape from New York uncomfortable.
Enter Red Hook Swimming Pool, located on 155 Bay Street (between Henry and Clinton Streets), in Red Hook Brooklyn (or to people who just nod but don’t know what the fuck I’m talking about, a fifteen minute walk from Ikea or Fairway Supermarkets [and if you can't walk for fifteen minutes, really, should you be swimming?]; and to people who don’t know there was either an Ikea or Fairway in Red Hook, or even where Red Hook is, stay in New Jersey, and Hoboken, New Jersey, is still New Jersey). This is the epitome of New York City government efficiency that puts the more fearful conceivable myths you have about NYC public pools and throws it down the drain.
1) Is there piss in the pool? No, there’s no piss in the pool. In fact, the water is extraordinarily clean. Surprisingly clean. Amazingly clean. It doesn’t smell overly like chlorine, like some pools, that are simply compensating for the lead and uranium in their water. There’s also no crap in the pool.
2) So, the pool, what is it, ten feet by ten feet? The pool seems bigger than an olympic size pool. No kidding. You would need a fisheye lens just to get all of it. I was there on one of the hottest days of the summer so far. There were about three hundred people in and around the pool. It did not at all seem crowded. It took five minutes for me to walk from the locker room to the opposite side of the pool.
3) How many lifeguards? There are lifeguards everywhere. And they’re professional lifeguards. Not lifeguards who are just checking out the bodies. The lifeguards here actually look like they can swim. They all wear recognizable orange uniforms and carry those floating devices like the ones on Baywatch.
4) It must be a madhouse in and around the pool, right? Wrong. It kind of has the vibe of a senior citizen’s pool but without the senior citizens. It’s quiet but not deathly Long Island or Westchester quiet. It’s respectful. It has the sounds of summer innocence, when you could play basketball from dawn to dusk without having to worry about drug dealers, where the Sports Illustrated swimsuit issue was the most hardcore mainstream media that you saw, and Michael Jordan was still trying to win his first championship. People are kept in check by the multitude of workers walking around. There’s also security around the pool. No music playing. No shirt wearing in and around the pool unless it’s a white t-shirt. No smoking. No bags. No food. No drinks. No shoes (slippers only). No profanities. No horseplay. No diving. No jumping. No long pants. No street clothes. No bandanas. No weapons. No bums. No crack addicts.
5) Is there a place for kids to swim? The pool doesn’t get any deeper than four feet. That means Greg Louganis wannabees or those looking to win the next cannonball contest will be nowhere near that pool. On one end of the pool is for lap swimming. The other end of the pool is for general swimming. You know, where people just wade around and bounce around and hide their pasty white and often fat bodies underneath the crystal clear water. Then there’s a separate gated off section for toddlers. The water is less than a foot. There’s sprinklers and lots of colors so that your toddler or newborn can feel comfortable. And this, too, is big. It’s not like wading in one of those inflatable pools at a summer picnic in Bayridge or in Rego Park or in Jericho. This is the real deal. Most importantly, if you don’t have a toddler or a newborn, or if you are not a toddler or a newborn, you are NOT getting into this section.
6) Okay, where can I store my stuff? You can’t get in without a lock. You must bring a lock. There’s a bodega a few minutes away where you can buy one if you forget to bring one. The locker rooms are open and airy. The lockers are square cubby holes and were probably made in the McCarthy era. But their solid, operational, and unless you have a chainsaw or a degree in the CIA, you’re not getting into these lockers without anyone noticing. To get to the pool, you have to walk through the locker room. There are continuous wooden benches that are wide enough to sit or to change your toddler’s diaper without worrying about him or her falling off. There are locker attendants. They are not there to offer you towels, because you had to bring your own towel. They are there to answer your questions, and they do so politely and in English. The locker room is well lit and well ventilated. It’s never crowded but never completely empty. You will feel safe. The first time you go, you will not believe that you can actually feel safe at a public pool in New York City.
7) Where do I take a shower? There are showers. After you walk through the locker, you walk through the shower area. And because nothing is closed off, the showers are open. Thus, there’s not going to be a lot of privacy in the shower if you decide to take a shower, but then again, you won’t have that trapped feeling like Jason is watching you from a hidden corner ready to slice your throat or well, you saw Oz, right?
8. But the bathrooms. They must be a disaster, right? If these were the bathrooms at the Hyatt, I’d ask for a refund, but this isn’t the Hyatt. Then again, it’s miles above the bathroom at Penn Station, and isn’t that bathroom how men’s bathrooms in the City are compared to? Bottom line is that, like the bathrooms, everything is open (well, the toilet stalls have doors). This means you will never have that trapped, I’m in a shithole and I can’t escape from that psycho/rapist/voyeur/robber hiding in the shadows. If you do have that feeling when you walk by the bathrooms, the moment is a fleeting one. Bottom line is that it’s clean and doesn’t smell. There’s not much else you can ask for.
9) So how the hell do I get to this place, by helicopter? It’s not as easy as going from your sofa to your kitchen sink, but it’s not difficult like going to City Island or something.
10) How much does it cost to get in? Nothing. No shit. Nothing. You don’t even have to give your name or show your I.D. like you would if you got a library card.
By bus, take the B77 to Lorraine and Clinton. Walk down Clinton (it’s a big and populated street for Red Hook), and make a right. A few minutes later and, voila, you’re at the pool. If you are not near the B77 bus, you can take the B61, which drops you in front of Ikea. See the instructions below on how to walk to the pool from Ikea.
By subway, take the F or G train to Smith/Ninth Street. The exit for that station is on Ninth. Look to your right and go there, because that’s where Smith Street is. Cross that street, walk to Court Street. Take a left on Court and keep walking until you reach Bay Street.
By car: Follow the directions on ‘how to get to Ikea.’ It’s a stone’s throw from there and takes the same route. You must pass the pool to get to Ikea. Also, if you don’t drive in Brooklyn, NY-27W or NY-28E is the Prospect Expressway.
By water taxi: Get it from Pier 11 to Ikea. Monday through Friday, it’s five bucks each way. But Saturday and Sunday . . . it’s free. And that’s probably when you’re going to go to the pool, right? When you get to Ikea, it takes about a fifteen minute walk to get to the pool. Or if for whatever reason you don’t like walking (and the walk is a nice and safe walk), there’s a multitude of respectable taxis at Ikea that will take you to the pool for a few bucks).
By Ikea shuttle bus: Take the F, D, M, or R train to the 4th Ave/Ninth Street station. Or take the 2, 3, 4, 5, M, or R train to Court Street/Borough Hall. There’s a free shuttle bus at these stations (including the one at Smith/Ninth Station) that will take you to IKEA. Follow the instructions above once you hit Ikea.
Questions: Call (718) 722-3211 (718) 722-7105. Believe it or not, someone answers.