The Aqua Tunnel.

Not the actual pool.

I was eleven years old when my father took me and my half-brother Mike for a weekend vacation in Richmond, Virginia. I’d been to Richmond a few times, and while I thought it was a bit more laid-back than my hometown of Washington D.C., I never felt like it was “the south” or “country.”

We spent the night in a hotel, and when you’re a kid staying in a hotel, the first question that enters your mind? “Is there a pool?” Yes, there was a pool, and it wasn’t an indoor pool or an outdoor pool. It was both. It was one big swimming pool with one half inside and the other half outside, connected by a narrow passageway that Mike and I called The Aqua Tunnel. I was doubly excited because I had just mastered holding my breath underwater and swimming/wading in water deeper than my four feet of height without freaking out.

But, before I could splash in, we had to take a trip to the store because I forgot to pack swim trunks. Truthfully, I don’t even think I owned any, since I hadn’t been swimming in a while, and I was a growing boy and all. The store we went to was a thrift store; my father wasn’t exactly affluent. They didn’t have any swim trunks in my size, so he got me a pair of green gym shorts with a bright yellow stripe up the sides. They also weren’t my size, but they only cost 25 cents, plus another 2 cents for a safety pin to keep them from falling off me.

Back to the hotel. Mike and I couldn’t change into our second-hand gym shorts fast enough. We jumped into the pool on the indoor side and raced each other to The Aqua Tunnel. We’d hang out on the outdoor side for about a minute, then swim back through the tunnel to the inside. Then back outside, and repeat. The Aqua Tunnel was so awesome, and quite futuristic for the 1980s, we thought. A couple of inner-city youths like ourselves had never seen anything like it. I felt like Jonny Quest swimming through a secret entrance into Dr. Quest’s lab.

While we were frolicking, I noticed a white kid, who looked a lot more like Jonny Quest than I did (for obvious reasons), watching us as we emerged from the tunnel. I could see in his face that he was every bit as wowed by the hotel’s pool as we were. He jumped in and started swimming toward us. We both had expressions on our faces that seemed to say, “he’s gonna love this!” Before he got more than a few feet from where he jumped in, his mother called to him and told him to get out of the pool. Mike and I went back to swimming, figuring he’d join up with us later. He never did.

My father came and got us a little bit later. He was mumbling something to himself as we walked back to our room. I could tell that he was upset about something. I asked what was wrong, and he told us that the parents of that Jonny Quest-looking kid went to the front desk of the hotel and asked them if we were guests of the hotel. When they were told that we were staying there, he said that the lady said that we didn’t “look like the kind of people who would stay at such a nice place.” Now I don’t remember the name of the hotel, but like I said, my dad was nobody’s Rockefeller, and even though the pool was awesome, I doubt that it was any sort of ritzy joint.

What ended up as a little slice of Black Boy Joy for me, turned out to be a source of disgust and/or bigotry for some random white lady in Virginia. Not sure what her kid thought about the whole thing, but part of me still kinda wonders whatever became of him and what kind of person he grew up to be.

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