Posts Tagged ‘South End Rowing Club’

Look Out!

May 10, 2015

Around 1978 I heard about a book that had just come out called Looking Out for Number One. I was appalled. The title was completely at odds with what had been going on throughout the 60s and early 70s, and it sounded evil to my ears. I still think of that book as the beginning of the change in this culture’s psychology, one we’re still living out. Reagan became president a couple of years later, and he advanced this idea of looking out for number one, and it has been growing as a national belief ever since. The author of the book was a libertarian, and we see libertarianism gaining more and more traction.

I think that “selfish” is what is really meant nowadays when we say “conservative.” So-called conservatives insist that it’s a virtue, that you’re supposed to look out for your country, your family, and yourself before anything else. People who don’t share this idea are viewed with suspicion. But looking out for number one is not a virtue. It’s a biological view of morality—instinctive, unthinking. And people who follow it are quite capable of turning against their country, their mate, or their children whenever it serves their self-interest. Selfish people don’t care about anybody else, by definition. Selfishness gradually undermines any system that embraces it. We’re seeing that happen in this country now. The general atmosphere is becoming increasingly hostile and argumentative, less neighborly. There are movements in certain states to secede from the union. People live in isolation from one another in general. Here in San Francisco, for example, people seldom see the inside of other people’s homes. Some people point to social media as an example of the continuance of community, but I don’t think so. It’s superficial community, if it’s community at all. The culture has lost its memory of what real community feels like. I’ve lived in a few and I’ve always liked them. The only one I’m in right now is the South End Rowing Club, my swim club. It’s the one place I actually enjoying being. It’s not a fancy fitness club. It’s all volunteer, and you can feel it. There’s something greater than the sum of the parts.

So if looking out for number one is wrong, what’s right? I read once that we should look out for the well-being of everything that lives, not excluding ourselves. I think that makes good sense.

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Swimming in the Rain

February 12, 2015
Swimming in the Rain

Mark and Judy Go Swimming. Photo by Emily Wick

In the drink

In the drink

More on My Visit with Mother

September 3, 2014

There’s a short piece near the end of my book The Wild Parrots of Telegraph Hill where I go for a swim in San Francisco Bay and then join the South End Rowing Club. The piece was intended to symbolize my finally arriving in San Francisco after living here for more than 20 years, yet always feeling that I was just passing through. At the time I wrote that, it felt like a bit of a stretch, and it may still be. But I have gotten more into swimming this year. The water temperature in the bay has been unusually warm this year — probably not a good sign, although swimmers love it. (All the starfish have disappeared. All of them.) In the past the temp has rarely gotten above 63 degrees, but this year it has hit 66 degrees consistently, and occasionally even higher.

The South End Rowing Club was founded in 1873. It’s old blue-collar San Francisco—not fancy or expensive. The name is deceptive. Not only is the club at the north end of San Francisco, it caters mostly to swimmers. Originally, the club was at the south end of the city and catered to rowers. At some point, they moved the entire building from its original location to Aquatic Park. If you’ve ever been to the Hyde Street Pier near Fisherman’s Wharf or visited the old sailing ship the Balclutha, you’ve seen the club building. It sits on the beach of a protected cove. Most club swimmers never get out of the cove, and up until now, I’ve been one of those. My wife Judy on the other hand does the Alcatraz swim almost every year. Before I met her, I couldn’t swim—not properly at least. She taught me how to do “the crawl,” but I’ve never felt strong enough to do any out-of-the-cove swims. They’re a little scary. If you get into trouble, you’re way out in the bay, far from land. The club out-of-cove swims are done in groups and have pilots in boats, but it’s still a little intimidating for a weak swimmer. (Contrary to myth, there are no dangerous sharks in the bay.) There is one club swim, the Coghlan Beach Swim, that I’ve always sworn I’d do if all my conditions were met: They had to do it during the summer or fall when the water was warmer, it had to be non-competitive, and I had to have plenty of company. This year the club put together a special Coghlan Beach swim for newbies. So I started training.

Coghlan_Beach

Coghlan Beach with Alcatraz to the right in the background

The beach, named after an old time South End swimmer, Frank Coghlan, is a small spit of sand that has gathered against an artificial breakwater a mile west of the club. They drive you to the beach in a car and then all you have to do is swim out into the bay 20 yards or so, which puts you right out in the current. But it’s not as though you don’t have to do anything. If all you did was float, it would take you a long time to get back to the club. The morning of the swim, conditions were perfect. There was a strong flood tide, and the air was warm, but the sky overcast. People told me that on sunny mornings the sun can blind you. Judy swam with me and I had my own pilot in a row boat, a friend, David Kennedy. I’d expected to be at least a little nervous, but I wasn’t at all. It was fun watching the city float by, and, as I say, I was busy stroking, too busy to feel any anxiety. One technique I used to ease my fears was to look at my watch when my arm was underwater. I’d trained on up to a 53 minute swim, and I could see that I was going to get in earlier than that. The water looks and feels silky right now—deliciously so.

The Pier and the Opening

1) Alcatraz 2) The Pier 3) The Opening to the Cove

Just before the cove is a long pier, and the current really picks up when you get there. It was astonishing to see how fast we were flying past the pylons.

The Opening between Muni Pier and the Breakwater

The Opening between Muni Pier and the Breakwater

At the opening to the cove, I swam through and started making my way to the club beach. It took me 38 minutes to complete. I wasn’t tired at all. Actually, I wanted to do it again.

The South End Rowing Club Building

The South End Rowing Club Building

 

The Beach with the Opening in the background

The Beach with the Opening (1) in the background

It was good to have something take my mind off my obsession with my book for a while. I’ve never pictured myself trying it, but I now see swimming from Alcatraz as a real possibility. Judy will make sure I’m ready and get through it okay. Not this year, though.

I feel a little odd talking about my personal enjoyment at a time when the world seems to be heading straight to hell. I find the news hideous reading these days. But it is reality, and we do have to deal with it. I don’t see anyone saying what I think needs to be said, so I’ll be heading back in the direction of religion and politics soon enough. Meanwhile, back to the book.

Staying in Contact with Mother

August 22, 2014
Baby Parrot

Baby Cherry-headed Conure

I still get called in every now and then to deal with the parrots. This morning someone telephoned to say that he had a parrot in a bush outside his front door, that it had been there for several hours without moving. He lived just up the street, so I put aside work on the book and headed over with a towel and a small travel cage that I use for emergencies. I was expecting to find a sick adult, or maybe a bird that had crashed into a window. To my surprise, it was a brand new baby. I’d never seen one out of the nest earlier than August 31st, and usually I didn’t start seeing them until early September. So this one was at least nine days ahead of schedule. Parrots rarely go so low to the ground, so he had to have been in some kind of trouble. When I walked toward him, he bolted away to a nearby bush. I heard parrots in some trees call out and he responded. The parents! The baby then flew up to a tall poplar where they were waiting for him. He looked a little weak and sloppy, but he made it. He’s in safe hands now. My hunch is that he fledged a little too soon, or else he’d been trying to keep up with his parents before he was ready to. At first after fledging (taking their first flight) the babies take only short flights and stay in a tree for most of the day waiting for the parents to come back and feed them. I always love seeing the babies. They look so fresh and innocent looking with their big baby eyes.

On another nature note, I belong to something called the South End Rowing Club, which Judy got me into. It’s not what its name might make it seem. It’s at the north end of the city and caters mostly to swimmers, but does have rowers and handball players, too. It’s a blue collar club—not a fancy white collar one. The building is real old and located right on the beach of a cove in San Francisco called Aquatic Park. Most people stick to the cove for their swims, but there are some intrepid swimmers who venture out into the bay itself, swimming Alcatraz and beyond. Judy’s one of those. After sticking to the safety of the cove for thirteen years, I’m about to do my first out-of-cove swim. I’ll be doing a 1.2 mile swim out in the bay along the shoreline from something called Coghlan Beach back to the cove. I’ll be doing it on a flood tide, so it should be relatively easy—like a log being washed along by the tide. I’ve been training for several weeks, and it’s done a lot to take my mind off my book frustrations. (Things are getting better in that department, by the way.) The swim is Sunday morning. Wish me luck.