Sunday, June 14, 2009

How the Deck Was Won

As we head into the outdoor swim season now, parents find themselves challenged with a fundamental shift in the viewing situation. With indoor swimming, there is usually tiered seating in stands, so you’re able to get a decent view of the pool from just about anywhere in a natatorium. It might get a little uncomfortable if you’re sitting next to one of those Sunday New York Times toters (like me) but you’ll be able to see the pool (if you can just chill out and deal with the rustling paper, it’s not like I’m blocking your view).

Outdoor swim meets are like the Wild West – lawless, uncivilized and based entirely on the concept of squatter’s rights. If you’re the first one to park your chair on the deck next to the starting blocks, that view is yours -- until somebody else puts another chair in front of you. Doesn’t even matter if your chair happens to be of the wheelchair variety. I’ve seen people block out their own grandparents when there’s still an inch of deck space to be snagged.

I tend to utilize the in-and-out method of outdoor-swim-meet spectatorship myself, sort of like the nomadic Native Americans who moved to follow the animals they hunted. I place my chair as far from the meet as possible but where I’m still able to hear the P.A. system announce events. Then, when there’s an event I want to see, I walk over, scootch in where I’m least likely to encounter resistance, watch and then leave. But like the Native Americans, I have been displaced many times and I am a little bitter about it.

But many parents like to stake out turf and defend it to the death (or the end of the meet, whichever comes first). One way to make this work is to bring your entire extended family. There’s this one family in our summer league that always manages to snag the most primo viewing spot on the far side of the pool near the leisure-pool slide: It’s a narrow peninsula of space that defies turf warring. They get it by showing up early, armed with lawn chairs, food coolers and a fairly extensive record of involvement with the local court system.

And then others will employ the “if it’s covered with a towel, it’s mine” strategy (I’ve heard this is how Wyoming was settled.) This strategy is used in the tiny stands which seat about 27 people. The coaches have tried to place limits on just how many seats can be saved, but that rarely works because parents who have been coming to these meets for years do whatever they want. In my humble opinion, anyone who has not seen Wednesday night TV in July since Clinton’s first term has earned the right to park their carcasses wherever they want. It’s how the deck was won.

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