At 9:52 p.m. Wednesday, Daryell Anderson stood on the deck at the Druid Hill Park pool and surveyed the "Country Club." The day was nearly over and the pool had emptied. At last, all was silent.
"This is my time now," said Mr. Anderson, a lifeguard and pool manager. "This is when we can listen to the quiet, listen to the crickets and enjoy it."
There are few peaceful moments at the Druid Hill Park pool, a sparkling, 950,000 gallon, belly-flopping swimming hole that packs as many 2,000 people daily.
The clamor of swimmers from the pool, in a gully at the park's eastern end, echoes throughout the "Country Club," Mr. Anderson's nickname for the park area that includes the pool, tennis and basketball courts, and wooded area behind the pool.
As the temperature sizzles -- yesterday was the 16th straight day temperatures along the East Coast passed the 90 degrees and it's quite likely the Baltimore record of 21 consecutive scorchers set in 1988 will be broken next week -- the pool has become the park's main attraction.
Campers, idle students and homemakers are regulars. And casually dressed workers who drive by with a few minutes to kill often stop in, pay a dollar and take a quick plunge.
For example, there's Kevin Dandridge, 11, practicing cannonballs off the diving board yesterday, apparently oblivious to his trunks that slip a couple of inches each time he leaves the pool.
And Kendra Alexander, 15, who on Tuesday surrendered to the oppressive heat and humidity and made the ultimate sacrifice: risk losing her "crimped" hairstyle for a cool dip.
Or Leslie Johnson, 33, who just let her feet dangle in the shallow end, all the while having to listen to nearby children playing a seemingly endless game of "Marco Polo."
" 'Marco,' 'Polo,' 'Marco,' 'Polo,' I didn't really even know who [Mr. Polo] was until I came here earlier this year and every few minutes heard them saying 'Marco' then 'Polo,' " she said, referring to the water version of the tag game.
"I wish I never heard of him. I wish he'd discover another pool."
The pool at the "Country Club" is a "participation" pool, and not one where swimmers come to be scenery. It's where Wendy Jenkins wears a "baggy coverup" because she's just there to have fun.
"To be honest, nobody's paying any attention to you because they want to cool down and enjoy themselves," said Ms. Jenkins, 30, who lives in the Chinquapin Park neighborhood of northeast Baltimore. "So why should I go out and buy some expensive two-piece?"
At the entrance to the pool hangs a sign strictly enforced by Mr. Anderson and his staff: "If it's false, it's your loss. Remove all false hair before entering the pool."
Braids, tracks, strands and wigs are major concerns to the pool staff.
A lot of the swimmers have false hair, Mr. Anderson said, and
LTC lot of swimmers don't want to swim without it.
"But when they fall off they clog up the pool's drain," Mr. Anderson said. "We make them take a shower and either take off the false hair or pin it up. Some of them don't have a problem with it; they'll say, 'I bought it so it's mine.' "
The shower also removes all "the hardening gel" used in many hairstyles that causes skin irritation if washed out in the pool.
A woman once dove in and lost her flowing hair in the process, Mr. Anderson said. She didn't know she lost it until she saw a bunch of kids playing with it. The kids waved it around like a prize.
"I had to retrieve it for her," Mr. Anderson said. "She was embarrassed but she came back and kept swimming."
Of the city's five large outdoor pools, the Druid Hill Park pool -- built in the 1930s and renovated in 1988 -- is the most used. Some estimates say more than 6,000 swimmers a week use the pool.
Until the 1960s, the pool was the "White Swimming Pool." A "Colored Swimming Pool" was in a section near what is now Safety City. The "White" pool was integrated in the early 1960s; the "Colored" pool is no more.
Robert Gaines, 60, remembers using the "Colored" pool.
"It was smaller and not as good, of course. It was always crowded, that's the main thing about it, but we were happy to just have somewhere to swim," said Mr. Gaines, who lives nearby in the Mondawmin neighborhood.
Carol Turner, a longtime lifeguard who teaches school during the off-season, has seen youngsters at the pool who have grown up to become judges, doctors and educators. Circuit Court Judge Arrie Davis was a lifeguard there.
Diana Williams, a vacationing city school teacher who lives in East Baltimore, learned to swim at the pool four years ago. Now she's there everyday sharpening her strokes.
"They treat you like family," said Ms. Williams, who arrived at 9 a.m. yesterday and swam for an hour. "There is no better place to be than here. There isn't."