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Cooling Off: Sneaking in to swim in the Jazz-Age glory of the Hotel Intercontinental pool

Swimming & Beaches Add comments

By Margaret Wappler

In order to slink into the waters of the opulent Hotel Intercontinental pool, I needed stealth, charisma and slap-it-together brains. I was game for the challenge. If you’ve seen a picture, or have been lucky enough to dip your toe into the water of the Junior Olympic-sized pool tucked away in the towering Hotel Intercontinental, you can see why.

This is not a pool enclosed by grubby concrete and piss-warm from a thousand neighborhood kids. It’s an encapsulated lake, surrounded by Moorish decadence—Spanish tiles, marble pillars, cast-iron chandeliers. Formerly part of the old Medinah Athletic Club, the splendid architecture calls into mind a castle in the Moors, retooled with
Jazz-Age snazz.

But if you’re not a guest in the hotel, it costs an eye-popping $12 to even get your bikini-ass in there. Twelve dollars includes free roam of the entire fitness club; but who cares about that crap? I recommend sneaking in. But—and this is a big but—don’t even bother if you don’t have your share of gutsiness, or the cunning stupidity of a low-life thug or possum.

My first method consisted of what I call the blow-through: Upon entering through the glass doors of the fitness club, I blustered “obliviously” right past the check-in desk. There was only one check-in guy and he was busy with guests, so I figured I was safe. Nope. See, there’s this stupid doorbell that rings when the glass doors open, a fact that I only half-registered as having anything to do with me.

By the time I finally entered the muggy chambers containing the pool, I only had a few minutes to spare before trying another tactic. Shaking with nervousness that ol’ check-in boy was hot on my trail, I approach the edge of the pool, and just as I’m about to shed the one layer of clothing that lays between me and heavenly waters, the check-in guy pokes into the humid room, scanning the area for that idiot who ran past the check-in desk. His eyes settle on me without hesitation, and he announces in a thick Russian accent that I forgot to sign in. He informs me to follow him, and I sign in my fake name with a purposely-illegible signature.

By the time I get back up to the pool, I realize with much chagrin that the dad and his kid with a snorkeling doodad who were in there at first have been joined by others. Jumping into the pool, I meet the reason Ritalin was invented—his mother, noticing my reaction to the cold water, says something to me about the temperature. Before I have a chance to reply, her son, a 10- or 11-year-old bobbing near me, bellows “YA JUST GOTTA DUNK A BUNCHA TIMES LIKE THIS!” He proceeds to spastically dunk himself, one, two, three times like some sort of torpedo on a suicide mission. “SEE?!” He hollers, drool and water dribbling from his mouth and hair. I promptly dive underwater and swim far, far away.

Just as I’m finishing my first lap in the tranquil part of the pool, away from Ritalin Johnny and Snorkel-kid (who keeps managing to get in my way), check-in guy Boris emerges again, looking much more suspicious this time. He slinks over to my area, and icily informs me that my name can’t be found in the hotel registry. “What is your room number?” “Umm, 341,” I settle on. Boris looks like he has tasted something sour. “341? We don’t have one.” I resist the urge to make any Homer Simpson noises. “Well, I’ve only been there once, and I really don’t remember the room number.” “Who’s name is it under?” I supply him with another phony name, and after a few more minutes of swimming, Boris comes by again, to tell me this time, with a hint of bemusement, that my “friend” can’t be located in the system either.

Time for another tactic: one I call” confused, stupid girl,” but by all means, not limited to females. I scrunch up my eyebrows, and say “gosh” a whole bunch of times, and tell Boris I’m hanging out with a bunch of people and I only know that one guy’s last name I gave him, I just met the others, maybe one of them checked in under his name. Eventually Boris gets bored with me, or just decides if I’m the kind of fool that’s staying with a bunch of people I don’t even know the last names of, he’s probably not going to get much out of me. I offer to remove myself from the pool.

Nah, Boris waves me off, keep swimming.

And I do, amidst Ritalin Johnny, who keeps up a constant barrage of “EEEEEE!!! AAHHHA!!! POW!!!!!! POW!!!”; Snorkel-kid, who manages to be just under my armpit at every turn;  and some serious swimmer chick with a bathing cap, goggles, and a little sister who keeps staring at me. Sadly, I decide that even for all the restored glamour of Hotel Intercontinental’s pool, my swimming comrades make it awful hard to remain awestruck for long.

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