Monday, February 23, 2009

My calvario or the 10 steps needed to join a public pool

In the Latin world, an arduous process is called un calvario, which means it´s like the stages of Christ´s progress from arrest to torture to crucifixion.

In the end, he rose from the dead. And I eventually got my pool pass. This is the story of my calvario.

People in Latin countries admire the efficiency of the Germans and Americans and try to imitate them by setting up all kinds of rules meant to establish order. I wish that they imitated the way Americans and Germans run pools.

Olympic pools are simpler
In order to swim in the Olympic pool in Munich where Mark Spitz won 7 gold medals, I simply entered, paid a small fee and jumped in. In order to become a year-long member of the pool in Baltimore where Michael Phelps trained to win his 8 Olympic golds, I signed a form, paid a modest fee, had a photo ID produced on the spot and could swim any time, any day from 6 a.m. till 10 at night. Even when Michael was there.

Medical exam required
It´s not so simple here at the public park near our apartment. First you need a medical examination to prove you won´t die in the pool and that you´re not covered with infectious scabs.

And you can´t get the exam from any of the evidently untrustworthy private physicians or private hospitals, which might be subject to undue influence by their clients. You have to go to a Red Cross or Green Cross facility, staffed by efficient, incorruptible public servants.

There you pay about $25 for an intern to ask you whether you have any skin diseases (of course not) or heart condition or diabetes. Four copies of the form are produced and stamped authoritatively with resounding thumps.

Only certain days in one specific hour

Then I take the exam to the pool´s cashier, who first claims that my exam is invalid because I had used a private hospital. I argue my case with a brashness I´m ashamed to use in English, and I win.

Then I learn that I have to pick the days I will swim under this pool membership (it´s a state-owned pool, remember, not private). Either M-W-F or Tu-Th. Swimming all 5 days costs more than the two plans combined, illogically. And I have to choose a specific hour to swim. So for the year that I am a member, I can only swim from 6 to 7 p.m. I can never show up at 9 or 10, never at 4 or 5. Only that chosen time slot.

So I opt for the M-W-F, 6-7 p.m, for $22 a month plus a one-time initiation fee of $12 and another $3 for a photo ID. (I had to come back a second time because you have to produce the photos yourself).

Insurance against something

Oh, and I have to buy accident insurance for another $10. I wonder what it´s like to try to make a claim on it, and I wonder which crony´s company has this contract.

The first day I try to use the pass, the gatekeeper tells me that it´s no good on Wednesdays. Turns out they mistakenly stamped my pass for Tues-Thurs. I make another trip to the cashier´s office on the opposite side of the park. My pass is authoritatively stamped again.

At the pool, I am told that I must show I can swim 25 meters each of crawl, breaststroke and backstroke. I pass and am now approved. Oh, and I have to wear a cap.

No rules on the weekend
The wonder of all these regulations is that on Saturdays and Sundays, anyone can use the pool by paying $2.75. No medical exam is required, no photo ID required, no cap, no proof of backstroke and no stinking insurance required.

This all makes sense to someone. But I´m just a stranger here in these parts.

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