Francis is the name of the pool. Nice name, neighborly.
She sparkles, ample and relaxed. Trees around her perimeter offer shelter from the sun, block the noise from the city streets. Halfway between Dupont Circle and Foggy Bottom, she's made the whole idea of summer in the city bearable.
Her baby pool has been a blessing to visitors like Natalie Avery, mother of calm 11-month-old Vivi and 3-year-old Jackson, an expert at beach-ball kicking and splashing. "All sorts of neighbors" are here, she says, "the ones that look like you and the ones who don't, the ones who live like you and the ones who don't." Avery orders Jackson to apologize for hitting a passerby with his inflatable ball, but he is too busy.
In the dog days of summer, when color-coded heat advisories were broadcast, Francis gave the city a chance to laugh at the weather, to jump into her cool, inviting calm and watch the rest of the world hustle and swelter. She eased the crankiness of summer.
It kept him going, says Alex Angert, 23, who roller-skated to the pool this summer and always brought along "books, magazines, or people." The amenity is "very important, especially for those of us who don't have pools in our buildings."
Ashley Pope is the pool manager for Francis. She started out as a lifeguard six years ago. Now she is in charge of the lifeguards, the payrolls, even the chemicals that keep the water clean and clear. That chlorine smell triggers pool memories. Pool memories tend to be good ones.
At the cashier window, people show IDs to get in. Sometimes, if their driver's license is from out of town, they bring a letter addressed to them to show they live in the District. Admission used to cost $3 per adult resident, $1 per child, but halfway through the summer, the city made it free for all residents, and Francis and the 18 other D.C. public pools became even more popular.
Summertime, that was the best.
The end of the season, that's the hardest.
This was Felix Shapiro's first as a lifeguard. He is 15, with short hair and a friendly and efficient smile. He was trained in CPR but didn't have to use it. Mostly, he kept order, watching, in 15- to 30-minute shifts called "pushing," in lifeguard terminology. No running. No jumping or hanging on to other swimmers. No eating.
A quick blast on his whistle is all it usually takes. He can say "no running" in several languages, and demonstrates: "No correr por favor! Ne courez pas, s'il vous plait!"
From where he sits, what would look to some like misbehavior he calls "just being kids."
Nine-year-old Ronkedra Brown, with braided hair and green swimsuit, got her first and only timeout this season for jumping into the pool. She had to sit out for five minutes. "I'll never jump in again," she says, closing her eyes to avoid the splashing of her friends.
Late in the season, the pool staff is down to five lifeguards, with two or three people to do the cleaning. Most of the staff are high school and college students, and when they start going back to school, "it's crazy," says Pope.
The rule of 50 people per lifeguard has meant that the deep end must remain closed some days.
At the peak of the season, nine lifeguards watched kids from up to five summer camps a day, plus the racing kids with plastic masks, the splashing toddlers in the baby pool and the serious swimmers. Now, even with the free admission, the racers, the campers and the lappers have dwindled.
At 6:45 p.m. the growing shadows from the trees envelop the deck. Sunbathers leave. Only the swimmers, the real swimmers, those who wear caps and goggles and do laps like robots, remain. You hear only the batting of arms and legs, the splashing water, the distant cheering of the softball game beyond the wire fence.
At 8 p.m., the lifeguard blows her whistle. "Pool's closed! All out!" she shouts.
The few remaining swimmers stop their laps and get out of the pool in silence. The small waves gently disappear and the water is flat as glass.
It looks sad under the white lights. One can imagine that same image in a couple of Mondays. It will look the same. The quiet waters, the silence.
The end of Francis's season.