Mas Tortas Para Los Trabajadores

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Austin, Travis, Rep. of Tex.
March 05
Born in the oil and gas deposit-rich region of North Texas, on the fraying edge of the Permian Basin, my mother was a special ed teacher, my father, a “pumper,” a far more glamorous job among the petroletariat than the name would indicate. I managed to escape the small town that spawned me promptly after High School graduation, a modicum of sanity still intact to ride shotgun with my generous portions of anger and resentment. Some five years later, I copped a BS degree from the University of Texas at Austin. Said institution and I gladly parted ways. In the intervening 20-plus years, though my only ambition has been to have ambition, I have miraculously coughed-up a boatload of freelance articles, a couple of books of dubious merit, and a metric ton of songs of occasionally inspired quality, not to mention a paralegal certificate, 11 years of experience as a legal underling, and tens of thousands of bicycle commuter miles.


Editor’s Pick
MARCH 26, 2009 3:22AM

Rainy day in the City of the Violet Crown

Rate: 15 Flag
It had begun to sprinkle before I'd left the office on a Wednesday afternoon. I had my wetsuit in tow and hadn't had a swim since Monday. I'd been working night and day since Sunday preparing litigation documents for an upcoming trial in South Texas. Monday's swim was a lucky fluke. Everyone disappeared from the  office, so I did, too. Skipping a day in the water is almost intolerable for a coldspring swimming addict. I was getting shaky.

The rain got heavier and the traffic came to a standstill heading south on Lavaca. I was afraid it would be my second straight day without a swim. I might go insane. I thought of heading home, but kept the faith. The rain was but a trickle when I got to the springs. There were  about 15 cars in the lot, a very small number for a spring day. It's usually packed, even during the week, with hundreds of cars. I  was afraid that I'd get to the cashier window  and be told that they were closed due to the incoming storm. Word was that a tornado watch was in effect. But I was lucky. I flashed my season pass and the goateed young man waved me in. I saw two people swimming laps. My spirits lifted.

Rain at Barton Springs

I rushed to the dressing room and got into my wetsuit.

I sprinted down the hill to the  springs. The sky was darkening.

"Just one lap," I pleaded with the heavens. Just one. Something to set my head straight again.

Rain at Barton Springs

I hit the water fast and swam fast. I am not a fast swimmer, but today I was going faster than usual. I hit the far wall in about 4 and half minutes. It usually takes 5 or more at my normal leisurely pace. I stood at the end and took some deep breaths. My routine is  to spend a couple of minutes at the end recovering, preparing my body and mind for the return trip. Not this time. No time to wait today. The sky was  ready to open. Per the local NPR station, Marble Falls, a small town some 40 miles to the west, was getting bombed by softball size hail and it was heading this way fast. I took a few last breaths, a peek at the ominous sky, and commenced my return trip.

Rain at Barton Springs

I usually keep an eye in front of me, watching out for people coming my way. Head on collisions are common among lap swimmers at Barton Springs. Today, I didn't care. I was gonna finish my lap if a I had to finish the last 70 yards with a concussion. I kept my head down and my pace up.

I made  it back. More people were doing laps. I think there were now three other people in the pool. I stood in the shallow water near the west end. I pulled out my earplugs. No thunder. I went for the  second lap. I got to the opposite end. 5 minutes. The wind was really kicking up. The water  was getting chopping with the westerly gusts. I fought my way back. It still  took less than five minutes. I got out and headed for a bathroom break. I was ready for a third lap. I'd come back down to the water and put on my fins for the next one. I  can do laps under 4 minutes with those on. I was feeling great. The water was washing away the tension of too much work. I was feeling great. As I walked back to my stuff on the hill, I thought I saw the sky flash. It was just a mind trick. I was sure. The spring water makes you high. I was tripping.

But then a thin bolt of lighting shot down from the sky no more than a mile away. It's crackling whip echoed off the cliffs surrounding the pool.  Lifeguard whistles  blew. My swim had come to an end.
Rain at Barton Springs Pool

The rain picked up as I headed to the dressing room to get back into my street clothes. There is one little trick about the dressing rooms at the  springs. They don't have roofs. At least the men's doesn't. There are some small shelters over some benches. But in a heavy downpour like the one which ensued, they are  useless. My clothes were soaked by the time I got them on. I looked like had jumped into the springs fully clothed.

I jogged briskly out of the dressing room and stood  under the substatial overhang in front of the bathhouse with about 5 other guys, watching the rain, looking like a wet rat.

Rain at Barton Springs

I must have hung around 30 minutes, just watching the rain with these guys. No one said a word. We were listening to the rain. I think it was giving us a lecture. I'm still not sure what it was about, but it was fascinating.

Rain at Barton Springs

I remembered I had my camera with me.
I wondered around and got some photos.

Rain at Barton Springs

On the way out of Zilker Park, I saw the full arch of a rainbow.

Rainy Day

I got some pics of it, but I don't think they do it  the justice it  deserved.


I don't think I've ever seen a full arched rainbow before in my life.

Wet Philosophers

Rainbow 2

Parking Lot side of the Bathhouse

Clearing Sky  Downtown

   By the time I got downtown less than a mile away, the sky had completely cleared- somewhat like my head after the swim.

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I love the water - it's comforting, it's cleansing, it's healing.

I really miss swimming. And standing in the rain.
Beautiful photos. I've never heard of cold spring swimming. There are the polar bears around here that swim in Lake Michigan year round, but no springs. It looks gorgeous. I can see how it would be addictive.
Couldn't do the cold swim thing - I wear wetsuits for summer scuba dives! - but thoroughly enjoyed your vivid descriptions and pics. Am now definitely interested in taking daughter for a visit to Barton Springs.
Hey folx! Thanks for your awesome comments. Honestly, I don't think words, or even pics, can adequately justify the wonder that is Barton Springs. Deep Eddy (about a mile away) is also spring fed. It's a great place to swim, but it does not have the natural bottom and aquatic life that contribute to making Barton Spgs. the wonder that it is. Austinites are very lucky to have these treasures, and lots of people are politically active in preserving the surrounding lands that feed the springs. It's not easy. There are a few hyper capitalists that still don't get it. If the springs die, Austin dies with it. Lately though, I think the greedy types are waking up to the fact that things of natural beauty like B Spgs and Deep Eddy are amenities that actually contribute to the quality of life in the city and thus the economy. Things like the springs help attract the Lance Armstrongs, Michael Dells, Richard Linklaters, Alejandro Escovedos, and thousands of other creative types to our funky little drawling metropolis. During SXSW week, while mellowing out on the B Spgs hillside, I heard every language under the sun. I heard a guy behind me with what sounded like a French accent tell his friend, "We should leev here and do thees every day!" Come on down to Central Texas and have a swim in Barton Springs and Deep Eddy. You won't want to leave, now matter how hot the sun gets.
Wonderful photos. One of my best experiences in life involved an impromptu run with a friend in a pouring rain thunderstorm. Somewhat dangerous but oh my! It was wonderful! It was heaven. We were soaked and chilly at the end but my skin and my head felt so amazing.

This sounds like something that I'd love to do. Right now. Too bad I'm in Southern California.
Hey Joe, really nice pics. Yeah, BS & DE are truly swimmin' hole treasures. I grew up in Austin going to the YMCA summer day camps which included daily trips to either BS or DE. I loved it and still do. Too much development upstream on the creek but what can one do now. My high school buddies and I used to swim at BS during the summer and catch and release big turtles found in the pool. We would turn the big guys loose below the dam so they could swim out to Town Lake. Words escape me to really describe the Austin scene and all of it's amenities.
It truly is the Mecca of Texas.
Nice article. Rated & Cheers!
Oddly enough I have a rainbow photo today too! Love the tranquility amidst the storm. Something special about swimming in the rain.

I love a clear, washed sky after the rain...could use some rain in my neck of the woods. Thanks for sharing.
Water is a gift. Thank you for the wonderful pictures and story.
I feel refreshed just reading this. Thanks :)
Thanks for the heads up about Barton Springs. That will be a destination the next time I visit Texas. As a lap swimmer who spends 5 miles a week in chlorinated, antiseptic filth, that spring looks like an aquatic paradise.

From one aquanaut to another, do you find yourself fighting the urge to strip and jump into about any attractive body of water, whatever the setting, weather, time of day or night? I've lept into icy lakes in January and deceptively fast-moving streams in April (cold, too), and am always recharged and pumped afterwards.
jhohendorf- yes I do get the urge to jump into attractive bodies of water. Yes. Come on down to Barton Springs. There are also other great swimming holes in the area like Hamilton Pool. If you are out in the west Texas Panhandle north of Big Bend, you must check out Balmorhea Springs. It is a state park. I have not been yet but I hear it is deep, not too cold, and has lots of exotic fish. It's a lot deeper than Barton Springs. Divers love it. There is also Lake Whitney in Northwest of Waco that is quite clear and great for diving and snorkeling. Swim like the wind!
Wonderful pictures! I'm also in Austin, but am not brave enough for swimming right before a storm.
your pics are so good, the purple sky one is out of this world