Friday, March 18, 2005

Going to the Gym

One of the less desireable side effects of our move out to California from NYC has been the considerable increase in, well, me. Aside from stress eating, the fact is that in New York I walked almost everywhere--probably a couple of miles a day, easy. Here, I'm in the damned car all the time. When I say something about this to local folk, they don't understand my complaint. "There are great walks in Marin," they say, or "You know I just love walking around the Presidio." In other words, walking is something you have to drive somewhere else to do.

Which explains why I'm back at the gym. Or rather, at a new gym (my old gym, in NYC, was a Cadillac sort of place, with the floors kept perpetually clean enough to eat off, a health-and-wellness center off the dressing rooms where you could pay for any number of prohibitively expensive spa treatments or massages, and an unspoken dress code I barely passed). I'm trying to go three times a week; we have, through Spouse's job, a discount rate and membership at a chain of gyms in San Francisco, so I've tried four or five of them. I have distinct favorites. The one I tried downtown near the Embarcadero was so cold I couldn't work out (a San Franciscan's idea of what constitutes chilly and my own are wildly divergent) and wound up going to Starbucks for coffee and cake. The club in Daly City, near where Spouse works, is nice enough, but old. The locker rooms are decrepit, and the pool smells fishy. The Ocean Avenue gym has parking, but as one can never find an actual spot, it leaves one feeling rather like Tantalus trying to drink from the river Styx. Which leaves the Potrero Hill gym, which is located in a strip mall and has more parking than Heinz has pickles. So, Monday, Wednesday and Friday, after I have done 2-3 hours of writing, I head over there to put in an hour or so before I have to pick up YG, whose school is, fortunately, five minutes away.

I hate exercise. I understand its necessity. I am now une femme d'un certain age and fighting gravity and decrepitude, and unless I want to wind up like one of those females who can see the lint in her belly-button without bending over, weight bearing exercise is necessary. Ditto a certain amount of cardio workout. So I do half an hour on one of the cardio machines and try to read while I'm doing it. My tip for this is: don't try to bone up for your LSAT this way, because retention of material read while on the eliptical is virtually nil. Fluffy entertainment reading is okay; that book about a poisoning scandal in the court of James I is not. After the cardio, when my knees are whining and I smell like a locker-room, I go upstairs to do a circuit of the weight machines. Upstairs is where all the big, muscly guys in tank tops and shorts and leather weight-lifter's belts hang out, doing endless reps. It's where young women who look like gang girls (and are probably legal secretaries and med students) gossip and preen, posing by the machines to glug down another pint of water. And there's me, singlemindedly heading for the X-Press circuit as a way of earning my ten minutes in the sauna.

There are rules governing the X-Press Circuit (ten machines in a ring, which supposedly give you a complete workout in half an hour) the most cardinal, and therefore the most easily ignored of which is, If you're not doing the circuit, yield to the people who are. As near as I can tell, only a handful of us do the whole circuit; others jump in to do a quick 100 reps on the leg press, then amble away to drink more water and gossip more. The problem comes when you are trying to get through the circuit and the whole thing is filled with people who are only there for one machine (there are, needless to say, a hundred other machines around the cavernous room, but they appear to be not so lovesome as the ones on the circuit). I finish my reps on a machine, go to the next, and find it occupied by a guy built like a fireplug who has been doing shoulder presses for at least five minutes. "Are you doing the X-PRess circuit?" I ask politely, aware that this guy could snap me in two with his toes. At which point he either ignores me, lies and says Yes, or yields to me with an expression of chagrin. Needless to say, chagrin is not the most common response.

Sometimes, coward that I am, I skip that machine and come back to it later. This works when the fireplug actually leaves sometime before I get done with the circuit. Or when there are not six other people who want that same machine, and have been waiting as long as I have. It is an imperfect system. But I've become fascinated with it because I hate exercise, see. And watching people, even people who are being less than considerate of me and my geriatric needs, distracts me from my first instinct, which is to say "hell with this" and go downstairs and get an eclair. I have not yet found a way to successfully read and do bicep curls at the same time.

When it's over there is the pool (which is for laps, which is too much like exercise to count as a reward) and the hot tub and the sauna. If I haven't dallied over my reps, I generally have time to hit the sauna for a little while. My Spanish is improving; the tiny room is usually filled with people conversing in Spanish, and while I do bring my book in with me (and into the hot tub, which seems to scandalize a lot of people) it's tempting to listen in enough to get the general jist of what they're saying. When I am satisfactorily baked I return to the locker room (more Spanish conversations flying about), shower, and pull myself together to retrieve YG from school. By this time I am exhausted and hungry, but glowing with the entirely specious sense that I have accomplished something.

It's not the sort of accomplishment that lasts, of course. So I have to keep going back and going back. I don't want a lifetime membership in the gym, just the lifetime accrued virtue and benefits.


Blogger Maureen McHugh said...

Fellow femme de une certain age, I too do curcuit training but you completely outshine me in every other department. (And my cicuit training is on hold for the next two months.) But what is it with people who feel that it's okay to break the rules at the expense of everyone else? I'm all in favor of breaking the rules if no one else is affected. But if I were on the shoulder press and realized I was holding up someone else, I would curl up in embarassment.

3:30 PM  
Blogger Madeleine Robins said...

I think you can plead extenuating circumstances if anyone could, Maureen.

As for the rest--I too would curl up in embarrassment. I'm not sure if this is just an entitlement thing or a California entitlement thing (at Equinox, in NY, people seemed pretty punctillious about such courtesies, but for what they were charging I guess the clients felt that politeness was a must). Certainly, if no one is using a machine, go ahead. But if you note that someone is doing every single machine in the circuit, and is coming up on the one you're on, wouldn't you sort of realize that you've cut in line? The Ocean Avenue gym has signs up that say "please yield to X-Press circuit users" but that doesn't seem to change things any.

6:18 PM  

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