The benefit of being regular

by Andrew Malinak

On Saturdays, my typical morning routine is to swim off Alki Beach at 9:30am, followed by a warm-up period in Tully’s, followed by an additional drink or two at Celtic Swell one block over. It is planned, it is prescribed, it is predictable, it is other synonymous ‘P’ adjectives.

The benefits of being a regular at a commercial establishment are readily apparent. For example when I get my post-swim beverages, both hot and cold. Like anyone who frequents a café, pub, or otherwise, I can count on a friendly smile awaiting me when I walk in shivering, a welcome respite from the cold impersonality that trails the new guy in a big city. Being this type of regular also comes with a free drink every now and then, an added bonus.

But that type of regularity, the Regular Patron, is not the only type of regularity. A big part of my Saturday routine has been a practiced effort to make my routine a routine. To arrive at a given time and, more importantly, to finish swimming at a certain time. To establish one time each week when everyone knows there will be at least one other person swimming at the beach. Whereas the Regular Patron comes wanting, the Regular Swimmer comes to share.

One of the best things about CIBBOWS, the open-water swim group that calls home Grimaldo’s Chair at the end of Brighton 4th Street in Brooklyn, is their well-rehearsed predictability and dependability. Throughout the year, and especially in the summer and especially on Saturdays, a group of swimmers will be at the beach from around 9am on through the early evening. Without fail. There is no need to call ahead; you just know there is always someone there.

When I swam with CIBBOWS, I always intended to meet them at 10am for a swim. I wanted to be a Regular. The train ride from the Upper East Side was over 90 minutes and more often than not a late night or a hangover or both precluded me from arriving as planned. I was not the predictable one of the group for sure, often arriving around 1pm just as most people were packing up. But that was fine, I could depend on the rest of the group to hold down the tradition on which I depended; I’d just arrive when I could, do a short swim, and then eat everyone’s left-over snacks.

Upon arriving in Seattle, no such group existed. It wasn’t long before I found a small network of swimmers willing to join me in the always chilly waters and often inclement weather of the Pacific Northwest winter, but every meeting required a plan: time, place, directions, guest list, warm-up spot, transportation. Fun for us, but certainly not great for the part of me that wanted to sleep in an irresponsibly show up mid-afternoon, and not great for getting those unsure and unfamiliar to drop in.

It is now over a year later and we’ve grown. We’ve picked a time and place. Every Saturday, we say, someone will be at Alki Bathhouse at 9:30. An average swimmer will be in the water for a half-hour, and will then head to Tully’s to warm up, we say. And we advertise this. When someone asks, “Will you be cancelling this weekend because of [holiday/weather/Seahawks]?” we’re quick to remind everyone that Of Course we will be there at 9:30am, independent of time, temperature, and teams. We’re always there at 9:30am. Always. And this is working.

As of this weekend, we’ve expanded our formerly invite-only swim group to an ad-hoc, make-it-if-you-can group of eleven plus, shivering on the beach on Saturdays! Local residents have taken note of the unusually large numbers of regular swimmers in the water. Our fireside chats at Tully’s are taking over a larger and larger portion of the café. And this is only February!

The benefit of being the Regular Swimmer is that other people become regulars.

Now, my new goal is to meet someone at the beach who arrived for a swim at 1pm because she knew a group would still be there hanging out after their regular 9:30am swim. And maybe someday, I can be that person again.