The sun was setting on Sam Aman and Kaylie Cullison as they waded in a narrow lap pool on a rooftop overlooking Chinatown. They clutched beers discreetly hidden in koozies in their hands.
“I’m not that much of a pool person,” Aman, 23, maintained as he leaned back against the tile and let the evening breeze wash over him. “I’m never like, I need to go to a pool right now.”
Cullison, 23, raised an eyebrow over her stylish sunnies. “He’s lying,” she said.
He’d called her at work at 4 p.m. on this hot and sticky Friday, desperate after a long day working on international policy. “I thought he needed something,” she said, imagining some major crisis. Instead, “he was like, ‘Will you come to the pool with me?’ ”
But in a Washington summer, pool thirst is a crisis.
The temperature is grazing 10,000 degrees. Two more months of agony await us. And so Washingtonians are slipping into our board shorts and precariously strappy one-pieces, sucking in the slight paunch from spending the spring in beer gardens, and seeking cool, chlorinated refuge, anywhere we can find it.
This is the season of the pool vultures — Washington’s host of sad, amenities-deprived people who will accept any invitation to sit at any pool, anywhere, anytime.
Friends-of-friends-of-friends crowding their own apartment pool, in fact, was what brought Aman and Cullison to the fortresslike 425 Mass, under the pretense of cat-sitting. Their pool, just across the street, had become “a frat party,” Cullison said, “where a million people are up on a roof.”
Once, Washington’s Young Turks escaped to Dewey Beach, the hedonistic getaway on the Delaware shore. They packed into beach houses along Route 1 like cast members of “The Real World.”
But millennials have made questionable life choices, smugly quitting cars in the name of urbanism. Only in the summer does it dawn on anyone that what they have also abdicated is the pleasure of jumping in the Honda and steering it eastward, toward the sea.
Now, we’re stuck here. And by here, we mean belly-deep in a lukewarm roof pool on 14th Street. With 16 fraternity brothers, one of whom keeps cannonballing into the water.
Pools are the new brunch.
On a recent blazing Sunday afternoon, you could see half the city sunning at the sprawling Upshur Pool, a public swimming hole that, if you squinted, glittered something like the waters of the Caribbean.
Never mind that it was a cauldron of squealing toddlers. Ringing the churning waters were dozens of lean young men and women in repose. Sprawled on pool loungers, staring into the Great Nothingness. Clutching the Dalai Lama’s “The Book of Joy.” Liberally spritzing themselves with Banana Boat Dry Oil. (Despite all the warnings, lounging in the blazing, cancerous rays of the sun remains in vogue. YOLO!)
Hotels, sensing the desperation, are here to gouge us. It costs $60 a person to dip your toes at the Washington Plaza for a single afternoon, and $30 at the Capitol Skyline. The tony Watergate and Dupont’s Embassy Row are filling their cool aquamarine waters, originally installed for guests, with adult-sized unicorn floaties and charging cover.
Others, like the Hilton, offer the privilege of more private pool-going for just a few months to members, as long as they pay year-round. On a recent weekday, the loungers filled with families and European tourists. The Carpenters played quietly in the background. No one blinked at the Speedos.
And then there are the apartment pools, the marker of the truly privileged.
Every developer of a new large apartment complex in Washington is at least considering putting in a pool, says Mark Franceski, who tracks residential trends as vice president of research for Bozzuto, a company that manages luxe apartment buildings across the region.
In Chicago, residents lust after hot tubs and saunas, industry watchers say. In Miami, it’s party rooms.
But here, it’s cold blue water. Even better if there’s a table to play flip-cup nearby. “Pools are basically No. 1,” Franceski says, “outside of parking or cleaning your clothes.”
The thirst to get into a pool is so strong that some apartments have wisely instituted a wristband policy to keep out crashers. But pool vultures always seem to find their way in. Cat-sitting and whatnot.
But never underestimate a desperate Washingtonian on a 10,000-degree day.