Picture this: I’m standing on the corner of John Nolan and Northshore in downtown Madison – minding my own business – the lone guy on foot among a crowd of bicycle commuters. Out of the blue the guy next to me says,”So, are you the guy who swims in the lake every day?”
I should mention that I was wearing a full wetsuit. I also had goggles strapped over my bright orange swim cap.
I said: “Um, yeah, but really there are dozens of us. Really, I see eight or ten others every day I’m in the water. Really, I do. Really.”
I don’t know if he bought this. It’s partially true. I mean, I sometimes see other swimmers in Lake Monona. Once, I counted eight of them, but they looked like they were part of a team or a club. It is – after all – the Wisconsin Ironman course. People do swim it every once in awhile.
It’s also true that most swimmers drive, and put on their wetsuits in the parking lot right there. I’m probably the only one who walks, but then again it’s only two short blocks away. I think I would look even stranger on a bike, in a wetsuit, but maybe I could pull it off. I guess I could skateboard, but how would I lock it up? It’s probably better to walk.
The nice commuter said,”Well, good effort for you and all the others, then. Way to go.” That made me feel good. The other riders at the light were trying hard to ignore me. Each had a studied ambivalence, and yet they were most certainly watching from the corners of their eyes.
While walking to the lake, I’ve learned to put on my best “Yes, I know I’m wearing a wetsuit” look. This is really hard to pull off while wearing goggles, but I try.
While I was in the water, I thought of all of the missed comic opportunities to the original question. I could’ve said:
- “Why no, I don’t know how to swim.” (In my best Chevy Chase dry delivery…)
- “Um, no, I’m on my way to work – I’m a safe-sex counselor for the State.”
- Or this, which would’ve been hard to pull off without sounding sarcastic: “No, I just really, really like neoprene.”
The best part of this little ritual is coming home. My neighbors in the condo building have all become used to me walking through the garage in a dripping wetsuit. My wife Vera always thinks it’s really funny, and the kids always ask,”Were you swimming Daddy?”
I guess if there’s one bright spot to be gleaned from my own embarrassment it’s that my kids will grow up thinking that – somehow – this is normal.
At least, I hope that this is a bright spot. It may just be their excuse for extensive therapy, too.