Bob will be 100 years old this year. A decorated B-29 pilot in World War II, he still suffers from wounds received in a crash landing that left only him and one other from his 11-man crew alive. He was born in Mexico as the grandson of a U.S. diplomat; raised in Los Angeles, where his father was chief of staff for the art department at Warner Brothers, and for years operated a successful chain of Montana furniture stores. A silversmith, he made the beautiful belt buckle he wears every day.
Minnesota-born Mike, in his early 80s, spent several years as a young man studying for the priesthood. He served in the Korean War, moved to Seattle and, at age 40, left his job at Boeing to join the Peace Corps in Swaziland. When first here, he indulged his life-long interest in theater and, upon his return from Africa, joined the stagehands union. Thirty years later he still operates a follow-spot for events around town.
Both are members of the small fraternity of older men, this writer included, who take morning water exercise classes at Green Lake’s Evans Pool. Others in the group include The Other Mike, a former Boeing engineer and theology student, who moonlighted as a singer/songwriter, and Big Sal from New York, the genial jokester of the coed sauna.
Every weekday morning half the pool is devoted to deep water exercise, where participants wear buoyancy “belts” that free them to work their bodies against the water’s resistance. The other half is used for a shallow water class, where no such apparatus is needed. The twain do not meet, separated by a mutually agreed upon DMZ of a few yards of water. The classes’ two teachers shout over each other and the music as they instruct their respective charges.
While the younger world whizzes by outside the precincts of the Evans Pool, with people pursuing careers or taking care of young children, these weekday morning sessions assume a singular importance for their older denizens. People come for the exercise, and for the therapeutic support that the water offers to the aging or injured body.
Bob came to the pool for the first time over twenty years ago, in part for relief from his wartime injuries. He was followed a few years later by Mike, who showed up to use water to help bring his legs back into shape. The Other Mike, among the youngest at 61, faced an unexpected medical condition and began to attend Evans as exercise therapy, often coming six times a week.
The regulars, both men and women (the latter in the large majority) come to enjoy the water, but many also to revel in each other’s company, having formed close bonds over the years.
Bob emphasizes the importance of the pool for his social interaction. He holds court in the DMZ with a small grouping of old friends gathered around. Others may start and stop their activity to take time to chat with one another, or work out together in tandem, communicating animatedly while making abstracted attempts to follow the teacher’s instructions.
The Evans Pool gang even gets together outside of class once a month, up to 20 strong as they lunch at one of three local restaurants, celebrating one another’s birthdays and life events.
For younger people who take these morning classes — and I mean those mostly in their 50s and 60s — and for those who take their water aerobics very seriously, all this camaraderie can sometimes be a problem, especially in the deep water classes.
The structure of the aerobic portion of this session is to travel in a circular pattern, with protocol demanding that slower people stay towards the center. It rarely works out that way. There is often jostling for position, with blissful avoidance, or even stubborn rejection of law and order.
A few of the staff at the Evans Pool, which is run by the Seattle Department of Parks and Recreation, persist in trying to maintain order. Most, perhaps from longer experience, understand the futility of trying to herd cats or swimming seniors.