THE POOL – This, being the usual Houston summer, means there is heat, humidity and swimming pools. Where’s my rubber ducky? And my beer? Ah, yes, here is my summer survival equipment. By ordinance, every other house in Houston must have a backyard pool. Which brings us to Ashby’s Axiom of Summer: Better than having a pool is having a neighbor who has a pool. That way, you have all the advantages and none of the disadvantages, rather like having a good friend who hates to hunt, sail or drink alone.
My neighbors, who do not appreciate my axiom, can be sneaky. The other night, I was at a small party across the street and glanced at the backyard. There was a really nice swimming pool, but no one had told me – or invited me.
Once, when the Goodyear Blimp was based here, I took a ride and asked the pilot to fly over my block. Peering down, I could see all sorts of fenced-in yards with wonderful swimming pools. Somehow, they never invited me over for splash day, word on the block being that I would leave a ring around the pool. If pressed, I would have brought my own beer.
Only when a house here in my neighborhood of Running Rats Acres goes up on the block does the For Sale sign have a little addition at the bottom: Pool. Recently a brick wall was replaced along a street near my house. This included tearing down the old wall. Half the exposed backyards had pools. People living in the other half simply went next door.
It has often been said that Houston is the most air-conditioned city in America. This city may also have the most swimming pools. That is as impossible to prove as Houston being the fattest city, but clearly our sub-tropical location means this is a good place for pools. The Houston Yellow Pages list 19 pages dealing with swimming pools, lessons, maintenance, etcetera, compared to 14 pages for churches. There is no double listing for walking on swimming pools.
True, we’ve got hurricanes and a few homicidal evacuees and mosquitoes the size of golf balls, but from about April to October, we’ve got pools. And if you can afford the gas price, a hot Jacuzzi can go year round. If the fuel cost is more than your mortgage payment, there is a cheap yet simple way to keep your hot tub hot in January: Just slowly lower a small electric heater into the water.
Up till now, we’ve been discussing only private swimming pools, but that is just a small part of the horizon. Every motel, hotel and apartment house has a pool. Some even have indoor/outdoor pools. Country clubs have swimming pools, but they are reserved for members. As with the Case of the Cold Jacuzzi, that’s no problem. Just explain to the lifeguard that you are with the City Health Department and are making the mandatory testing for chlorinated Maalox hydroxide – a test which, as everyone knows, requires that you actually be in the water with a beer. Be sure to take along a clipboard and occasionally jot down notes. If anyone objects, slowly lower your small electric heater into the water.
Then there are the city swimming spas. You’ve paid for these swimming pools; you might as well use them. (See the accompanying box for what to do with your kids on a Houston summer afternoon when they are driving you crazy.) We have about 3,800 active commercial pools/spas, including Harris County and HISD pools. You need a permit to build a pool/spa in Houston. Pools/spas require annual permits – $85 in Houston. We have pool inspectors – pools/spas are inspected for annual permit renewals and also when the city health department receives complaints. Pools/spas are designed and constructed per state design and construction standards. Finally, you should know that the City of Houston pool ordinance and state regulation require fencing around pools with a minimum height of 48 inches.
At one time, the swimming pool at the Shamrock Hotel was considered the biggest pool afloat. There were photographs of a motor boat pulling a water-skier around the pool. That made waves, so to speak, around the nation. Today, big pools are no big deal. Nor are we limited to one. Rockets’ owner Les Alexander lives in a nice house in the Memorial area that has two pools. Maybe he picked up His and Her pools in a Neiman’s Christmas catalogue.
In pre-air conditioning times around Houston, kids and even some adults would go swimming in the bayous (which is French for “alligators”), but today that is generally frowned upon by health authorities, the EMS and EquuSearch. However, swimming in such holes is endorsed by most alligators. Then, we have for swimming purposes our nearby lakes, the San Jacinto River and, of course, the Turning Basin. The latter may leave a ring around you.
Now we know all there is to know about where to swim in Houston, except, of course, during Allison, when we could swim on most freeways. If only someone had remembered to pull the drain plug.