In the winter when I miss swimming at High Road Pool, Dave Alvin rings in my ears: “Kids are shootin’ fireworks below/ Hey baby, it’s the Fourth of July.” I never thought I could love a pool more than Barton Springs until a few years ago when my family joined what was then called the Elks Lodge. As of last fall, it’s now known as the High Road Lodge.
Locals flock to the lodge for Independence Day, drawing in a who’s who of groovy Austin. As picnic blankets spread every which way, it feels like you’ve gone back in time several decades. On a day like that, everyone seems happy – content – eating hot dogs (or tofu dogs), with people wall-to-wall in the pool waiting for the sky to explode with the city’s fireworks.
That’s when Austin feels like a small town again. At any moment, I feel like you might hear Bruce Springsteen wafting in through the trees: “Sandy the fireworks are hailin’ over Little Eden tonight/ Forcin’ a light into all those stoney faces left stranded on this warm July.”
The property at 701 Dawson was dedicated by Mayor Tom Miller in 1958. That was back when American highways were still concrete wonders, drive-in movies thrived, girls wore pony tails and poodle skirts while swooning over James Dean in Rebel Without a Cause, and the Everly Brothers broke onto the charts with “All I Have to Do Is Dream.” The Elks built the pool in 1961, when Roy Orbison sang “Cryin’” over the radio and Patsy Cline crooned “I Fall to Pieces.”
Before the High Road Pool, my daily escape was different. And yet, the last time we tried to go to Barton Springs – one Wednesday last summer – we were trapped in traffic for Blues on the Green. Inching along for blocks, we finally turned left off of Barton Springs Road onto Dawson and found respite in our old lodge. Private members have access only, but at $100 a year, it’s hardly elitist.
Wednesdays are burger night at the High Road. Big family night at the lodge, all right. Slip into one of the tubes floating about. Spin around to see all the little the kids jumping in to play at one game or another. It’s a timeless scene – 1961, 1989, 2014 – and suddenly it becomes hard to tell the difference.
As an older teen, I watch the kids splashing and delighting in the water. Maybe it’s their first time swimming; often it is. I float as I watch them and my iPod clicks to Inland Sky: “Little hands, the world is yours/ Hold it close with open arms/ I see me in you.”
My favorite time to go to the High Road remains at night, beginning when the sun is just setting over Austin. At that juncture, with the downtown skyline bright and beautiful under the stars, it feels like you’re at a hotel pool. As I float, jostle-free, Big Audio Dynamite electrifies my iPod: “Situation no win/ Rush for a change of atmosphere/ I can’t go on, so I give in.”
And I do give in – to the water.
The right pool, one exactly like the High Road, really can wash it all away. Matthew Ryan knows: “I wish to shut me down/ Without my autopilot, I’ll surely burn out/ I need my autopilot, to handle what confounds me/ My autopilot, my only defense.” That’s how it feels to me to float in that pool. I let it all go.
The iPod moves onto Strays Don’t Sleep: “Just between you and me and the satellite/ Remember that night among those same stars/ For blue, blue skies, I forgive you.” And R.E.M.’s “Nightswimming” – “The bright tide forever drawn could not describe nightswimming.”
I love the High Road Pool because, other than special events and the Fourth of July, it’s sort of a lonesome place – in a happy, uncrowded way. It’s never empty and there’s always someone laughing or smiling. Because of the pool’s calmness, I feel like it’s safe to have my trusty iPod with me.
Even then, it always seems like Van Morrison’s “Into the Mystic” eventually breaks out from an old boombox, appropriately melancholy: “I wanna rock your gypsy soul, just like way back in the days of old/ Then magnificently we will float into the mystic.”
High Road Pool is an incredible place to splash into after a summer gig with my friends. I can hear Loudon Wainright III humming, “This summer I did swan dives, and jackknifes for you all/ And once when you weren’t looking, I did a cannonball.
“I did a cannonball.”
Read more Summer Fun stories (and check out the last few years of fun) at austinchronicle.com/summer-fun as we slather on the SPF and lead up to the release of our special annual issue celebrating Austin's sunniest season. The Austin Chronicle’s 2014 Summer Fun Issue hits the stands Thursday, May 16.
Copyright © 2014 Austin Chronicle Corporation. All rights reserved.