It’s good to teach a child to swim. When you live near the ocean, like we do, it’s essential. And in my neck of the woods, the best place for them to learn is the esteemed Silton Swim School. For the second year in a row, I signed up my four–year-old son, Eddie, for two weeks of lessons.
The school is located on a narrow two-lane road, down the street from an outlet mall and next to a row of garden apartments. But it’s so popular during the summer that traffic for the school backs up all the way to the traffic circle half a mile away. Silton hires college students to stand in the parking lot and direct traffic, waving their arms like flagmen on an airport runway, so that the hundred or so cars that descend on the lot during morning drop off and noon pick up don’t become mired into a complete standstill.
I tried to be early the first day, but with the traffic, we arrived just in time. Scores of children were already standing on the lawn in front of the cluster of white buildings with nautical blue awnings.
As the days went on, my son would cling to me as I dropped him off, saying, “Mama, I want to be with you always,” and I’d have to unclamp his arm from my waist. But by the time I’d pick him up at noon, he’d be ebullient, saying, “Mama, I swam all bah muself!” And I’d say, “Awesome, buddy!” and give him a high five.
He isn’t the only one growing tired of swimming lessons. After finding myself in a long line of cars trying to enter or exit the swim school’s parking lot, I tried going a little earlier but found the line was worse. Going a tad later made it easier to get into the parking lot but an utter nightmare getting out. That’s because if you arrive late, you’re told to go to the dreaded back parking lot, and once back there, you have to wait in a long line of cars to get out.
At least this summer is better than last year. One day last summer, I went to pick up my son and was directed to the back lot, and it took us nearly 30 minutes to get out. I wanted to take up arms.
“I refuse to go to that back lot again,” I told my husband that night.
The following morning, I was resolute about not going to that back lot. As I pulled into the parking lot, a college student with jet black hair and sunglasses tried to wave me into the back.
“I don’t want to go,” I pleaded. “I had to wait 30 minutes to get out on Friday.” I expected him to be shocked. He was unfazed.
“It won’t be long today,” he said and motioned me toward the abyss. I complied.
Indeed, it didn’t take 30 minutes to get out of the back lot that morning, but it did take 10, enough to harden my resolve. The following morning, as the college student with the jet black hair tried to wave me into the back lot, I ignored him and quickly veered off to the left, placing me firmly in the front lot. I had gone rogue. I felt like an escaped convict. There was a system in the lot, a well-defined balance, like the ants have, in which everyone must stay in line and comply or the whole thing will fall apart. Cars enter through the center line and then peel off to the right or the left, like the spray on a fountain, based on where the college students instruct you to go. Those turning left then come to another crossroads, where they are guided into the front lot or the back. That morning as I was being directed toward the back, I revolted. I veered off toward the front lot and tried to quickly tuck my car into one of the slots, but there was not a spot to be found. I was now blocking the access lane, stopping cars from exiting the lot. I had defied the instructions and was now about to crash the system. My heart was pounding. I began to sweat. Someone is going to come banging on my window in a few seconds, I thought. I’m going to get yelled at.
Suddenly, someone pulled out of a spot nearby. I made a beeline for it, almost hitting the car that was leaving. I swiftly pulled my car into the spot, leapt out of door and headed toward the pool area to pick up my son. As Eddie and I left the lot, I felt like my old dog, Sparky, who, when he would urinate in the house or tear up a pillow would refuse to look at you as you yelled at him. He would turn his head to the side. I drove out of the lot with my head cocked sideways, to avoid any eye contact.
The following morning, I was certain I was going to be scolded. I was sure they’d written down the make and model of my car and my license plate and that the manager of the school would be waiting for me by the entrance. But that didn’t happen. As I entered the lot and made my way to that pivotal spot, the college student with the jet black hair was standing in his designated post and waived me in the direction of the front lot.
“Thank you. Thank you,” I said, adding, “Nice glasses,” in a sycophantic gesture of utter gratitude.
This year, the parking lot situation has been a lot easier. We signed up for swim classes earlier in June, when a lot of kids aren’t even out of school yet, so there haven’t been as many cars at drop off and pick up times.
In fact this summer, the problematic spot is the traffic light just before the turn off for the school. The cars back up about a quarter of a mile, and it can be frustrating. I’ll make it all the way down to the school in 10 minutes, and I can spend almost another 10 minutes just waiting for the cars to get through the light.
Yesterday, I was a few minutes late to pick up my son when I got stuck at that light. As I sat in a line of cars, I watched the light change from green to red twice. On the next green, the cars began to inch up toward the light, but the man in a mini-van in front of me wasn’t moving fast enough. I was watching the gap between him and the car in front of him widen, and I wanted him to go faster, so I got up right behind him, to nudge up his car so that he would close the gap. The sign in the crosswalk indicated we had only 10 seconds left before the light was to turn red. Nine seconds. Eight. I was nearly on top of car in front of me. Seven. If I was any closer to the mini-van, I’d be in it. Six. Five. I hit my brakes before it was clear the van wasn’t going to push through the light.
As we sat at the light, the man in the van stuck his head out of the window and started yelling at me. Seeing he clearly had something to say, I pulled into the turning lane next to him and opened my passenger side window.
“You almost hit my car, you fucking asshole. What are you, in some hurry?” he yelled. He was about 70 years old, was wearing a baseball cap and sunglasses, though I could see through the lenses that he had slitty little eyes, and he had large gaps between his upper front teeth, making them look like pegs.
“Actually, I am in a hurry,” I said. I was strangely relaxed. Sometimes in the face of someone yelling at me, I’m overcome by a sense of calm.
“You were right on my car. You almost crashed into it, you asshole,” he said.
Just then, his wife, who was sitting in the passenger seat, leaned over him and yelled out the window. “He’s not himself. He’s on medication,” she said, apologetically.
The man continued. “You got a lot of nerve, ya jerk,” he said.
His wife again interceded. “He’s sick. He’s on chemo,” she said.
And with that, I suddenly felt sick. He was already dealing with cancer, and now I’d driven him to a frothy anger by tailgating him. But worse, his wife was making excuses for him when in fact he had a right to be mad. I was tailgating him too closely, and I could have hit his car. I deserved to get yelled at. I always tailgate too closely, and drive too fast, and get angry when people in front of me are driving too slowly. It’s often when I’m late, but sometimes, it’s simply that I hate to be impeded.
Just then, the light turned green, and I drove on toward Silton Swim School, a little weepy and vowing to be a better person. By the time I reached the parking lot, I was tailgating the woman in front of me.