July 1, 2009

The Plunge Years

The Mission Beach Plunge viewed from an upper deck facing North. I’m working in the water with Jay in her Adapted Swimming Class. Photos and drawings Copyright: MMGHB 1974/2009.

Himself: Applied for unemployment, submitted resume, found out cost of school, found Cobra papers don’t arrive for two weeks but Gvt will pay 65% of Cobra, did meeting, Cash Cab, and ate too much with G’ette. Transferred money’s to savings from checking. One company is holding his resume tho for another job than the one he applied for.

Herself: School, meeting, cooked one casserole for 4 meals. Working on Mother and Ba things.

Today: After the swim and Bee call, we are off to a day at the San Diego County Fair. Mooooooo’s, baaaaaaa’s, kitting, painting, woodworking, sleazy sales, and fun on the midway. Maybe I will have my cards read.

Reading: Second to last Dresden.

Balance: Stress lessened by using every tool I have.

“Where did you learn to swim?”

“At The Plunge,” the locals reply with a smile of memory.

Not me. I wasn’t allowed in The Plunge. I learned how to swim in a back yard pool wearing my cousin’s scratchy wool swimsuits accompanied by continual ear infections. I never learned to breathe right as a result.

For not only was The Mission Beach Plunge a long bus ride away from Chula Vista, but every parent feared their child would get Polio after the massive epidemic of 1952.

One hot, summer beach day my friends dared me to go to inside The Plunge. There I discovered cool temperatures, little pools we all had to walk our feet through, and the biggest swimming pool I had ever seen all inside a tall, dark, echoing building. Oh, I didn’t dare stay long that day. I was far more frightened of my mother than the teasing of my friends.

Pen and ink sketch from the back door of the Plunge, 1983. MGB.

Many years into the future, I found myself working for the city. I pushed books around at the library, and though the job suited me perfectly, the chemicals from the old style copiers knocked me out every day. Someone told me about a job at The Mission Beach Plunge. I called the manager then went over to apply.

Three unknown men sat in a circle around me. I was asked, “How do you get along with children?” “Do you mind working long hours?” “Can you make change?” “Do you mind cleaning the locker rooms?” “Do you mind cleaning the pool?” These anonymous men asked endless questions that echoed from the high ceilings of a dusty room off the pool. Everything around me seemed worn, tired, sticky, and hot. Only the little foot pools jogged my memory.

No one asked if I could swim.

The Roller Coaster was directly behind The Plunge building. I sat up on The Plunge roof and photographed and drew the Coaster for days.

I sat at home chewing my fingernails for two days before they called to tell me I got the job. When I arrived to work that first day, I joined another aide, Kay, alternating days upstairs in the hot, sticky, woman’s locker room that spring. We took tickets, and we gave out bags in exchange for giant, numbered safety pins. We would take turns, she and I, moving dust and chips of flooring around on the tarred non-skid surfaces. We scrubbed toilets, scrubbed showers, and made the truly antique sinks as clean as we could.

Left: In the locker room, the ticket box was nailed to a support on the counter by a clock. The pipes are the sprinkler system. It was brutally hot in the summer and freezing in the winter. There’s a bulletin board to the right, and under the counter a plastic bottle is on its side on a small shelf. The note says, “Every two weeks, I am stuck up here for a four day period.” 1983. Right: A portion of the half painted mural at the baby pool. 1985. Copyright: MGB

In my second year, I discovered I could increase my income by working other jobs at The Plunge. Some days, I came in at dawn to open up the building and arrange chairs next to the pool for the water aerobics classes. The pink haired ladies voices would echo everywhere in the building as I sipped my coffee. Other days we would help teach a class or two….we were turtles, we were fish, we blew bubbles in the baby pool. We helped little ones in the big pool too. We made friends of tiny children who grew up and remembered us.

Sometimes we would arrive early and spend the mornings washing away the ring around the pool. Body fats, the ring was called. We would both wear life jackets and fins. With scouring powder in one hand and a sponge in the other, we would scrub away the ring for hours accompanied by eighties rock and roll…”on the Radio.”

Cleaning and scrubbing the bottom of The Plunge, 1984. Left to Right: Tom, Cathy, Kelly, Mage. MGB.

In the winters for a month or so, The Plunge was closed to the public and the staff cleaned the building. The pool was drained, swept, and scrubbed. Tiles were fixed. An ugly tar and walnut shell compound was spread on the decks. One year I painted murals on the baby pool walls. The antique boilers were repaired, the filters changed, the asbestos was moved around, the decks were patched, and the paint was painted…everywhere.

Left: T hosing down the pool. Middle: M painting a fence. Right: Tom painting a chair with the coaster behind him.

Then we would start all over again.

Journal sketch of the kids linking up for summer swimming classes. Pen and pencil. C. MGB.

Needing an even better income, I faked it as a swimmer doing several laps for the adult Adaptive Swimming instructor. She hired me as an aide to work one on one with students carefully following that student’s lesson plan. Stretch, warm up in the water, do the assigned laps or exercises, and stretch again. Often students had something serious such as a stroke or brain injury. Sometimes arthritis would slow them down.

Left: Plunge manager David Hargrove in 1984. He died this year while surfing. Right: A Plunge Aide and guard hanging the official opening banner.

Back and forth we would walk, becoming friends. Talking, if we could. Smiling. Laughing together while we moved arms and legs and gently in the 80 degree water. Sometimes it was a great struggle, but students came back year after year until physical disabilities or financial limitations would halt their swimming.

In the summers both Kay and I worked dawn till eight thirty at night. By 1984, we alternated downstairs running the outside ticket booth and answering the phone. I delighted in the kids, the view, the fresh air, and giving information out to the beachgoers.

Left: Georgette in winter garb. Right: Georgette in Summer garb.

But I smoked. My smoking drove everyone wild, especially those who worked the ticket booth after me. Asked to quit smoking or leave, I transferred my enthusiasms toward finishing my college degree. In the early 1980’s, The Plunge building and pool were declared sound, and acknowledged as a historic site. In 1987, the Historic Site Board allowed the building to be torn down around the pool. I confess, much to my shame, I didn’t join the fight to preserve the building. I was focused on my college graduation.

The cement block ticket booth out in front of The Mission Beach Plunge.

Almost thirty years later, I find myself back in the pool swimming again as poorly as I ever did. Not at the Plunge...though I can see The Plunge from where I swim. I accompany my arthritic hip to water aerobics classes much like those I used to teach. My hair isn’t pink, and now I bulge generously in suit styles that once fit sleekly. I don’t smoke now either, and I love the water just as much now as I did then. I’m reminded everyday that life does come a full circle especially in the pool.


Mission Beach Plunge Links:

Wave House/Plunge History

Mission Beach on Wikipedia

Plunge Preservation Efforts: Starts third paragraph


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  2. Mage, what a wonderful story. Isn't it interesting that you not only worked at the Plunge, you also worked at the stadium. Have you worked any other place where their was sports.

    Why does it look as if there is no one at the pool at the top? They can't be making much profit if there is only 5 people at the pool...

  3. mage . . . this is great!! i'm putting together a consolidation post now. there's a lot mof social history min this, stories of a quarter century at a location . . . james michener style in miniature.

  4. That post brought back such a flood of memories for me. When we were little my mom would take us to "the plunge" to cool off on hot days sometimes. I too did not learn to swim until I was much older. Thank you for those memories, I quite forgot them. Also you look gorgeous in that red swimsuit!

  5. What a lovely read that was, Maggie. And pretty drawings.

  6. Nice getting to know you better through stories like this one. Keep going.

  7. [b]It's Time For Revenge...





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