Wednesday, March 28, 2007

Swimming with the Seals

It was still dark outside as I looked at my watch: 5:00 AM. I was waiting for my ride to arrive as the phone rang at the lobby desk. I listened as the desk clerk navigated his caller through the confusing back streets of Old Town San Diego, directing him stop-by-stop right up to the hotel entrance.

My ride had arrived. Todd, one of our customers in San Diego, and a former marine, is also an avid swimmer (indeed, a tri-athlete). He offered to take me swimming with him this morning, and I accepted eagerly. As I stepped into his car, he thrust a bottle of water into my hands--very generous and thoughtful of him.

Our destination was the Coronado submarine base on Point Loma. As an army brat, I've been on hundreds of bases, but never a submarine base. This was kind of exciting.

The base is nestled in between the high cliffs of Point Loma peninsula and the San Diego Bay. As we alighted from Todd's car, we were surrounded by the barracks where the submariners stay when they're between long at-sea deployments. We were using the gym facility provided for these sailors.

We entered the pool there where Todd swims with a bunch of his Navy SEAL buddies. I was more than a little nervous about how this would turn out. I mean, I train all year in my swimming, but I'm not the best. I mean, I'm pretty good, but there are guys on my team who can swim circles around me. I was worried if I could keep up with Todd.

We had planned only a short 30 minute, 2000 yard workout. I knew with the shorter yardage that it would be intense. We swam a 500 yard warm-up, then did ten 100's freestyle. Todd and I agreed upon an interval, and I was basically sprinting to keep up with him. By the tenth 100, I felt ready to puke.

But there's this silly macho thing where men can't show weakness between each other, so I chose the next set, our final 500. Guessing that Todd, as a tri-athlete, was basically a one-stroke swimmer (freestyle), I proposed that we do a 500 IM pyramid, where you do a 25 butterfly, 50 backstroke, 75 breaststroke, and 100 freestyle, then back down the pyramid.

Happily, I was able to beat him on the fly, though he still smoked me on all the other strokes. Small victory, but I'll take it. We finished with a 100 cool-down, and I was more sore after this short swim than I've ever been in any swim in my life, and I have been swimming for almost 20 years now. It was a great workout, and I'm glad I could (just barely) keep up. As we got back into his car, he handed me a choice between Gatorade or Propel fitness drink. Again, more hospitality. I could hardly believe how generous and thoughtful he was.

After the swim, Todd took me over to The Point Smoothie and Coffee Bar, a tiny hole-in-the-wall place near the company he owns. Todd is obviously a regular, because as we walk in, he's greeted by name by a drop-dead beautiful Korean lady with gorgeous long glossy black hair working the coffee counter. She greeted us warmly, as he introduced me around the establishment.

Todd was all cordiality and friendliness, and I stood back in amazement as he worked this coffee shop crowd. He greeted all the customers, some regulars he knew, some people he didn't know, but who he met by name. He might have seemed even a little crazy to most of the people there, but he was such a fixture in this shop that most people probably thought he was the owner. He even offered to take the trash out for the Korean lady at the counter.

It was interesting seeing this supposed contradiction of a strict military guy, a former marine special ops officer, bonding so easily with sixty-plus beach-comber hippies, a younger female carpenter who was building a catamaran from scratch, and others in this "liberal" smoothie scene. There were no politics on the table; it was just people enjoying each other's company and starting their day together.

Behind the grill, a very attractive California brunette with long hair and a lip ring took Todd's order for breakfast: a wheat bagel with egg, bacon, cheese and a slice of tomato, plus a little cilantro and spicy sauce. "Make that two, one for my friend here," he told her.

As the bagels were being made, he ordered us both raspberry banana protein smoothies, and I grabbed a cup of fresh hot coffee. I tried to pay for it all, but Todd insisted on paying himself. His hospitality was incredible, and a bit humbling. And he gave the counter girl a seven dollar tip on an eighteen dollar tab. That seems a pretty good way to ensure good service every day!

The food was so delicious, and after the exerting swim, my bloodstream filled with endorphins, I was ready to take on the day.

I look forward to doing it all over again tomorrow. Oh five hundred.

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