I gazed across the small city of stationary bicycles, elliptical cycles and treadmills. Exercise machines are yet another modern convenience to make being indoors even better
You know, not only you can you 🥰 friends, you can order groceries, shoes, dinner, movies, lamps, shelves, TVs, air filters — anything — and get them in a few days (and send them back if you don’t like them).
To calm the perpetually beating drum of glass-half-empty analysis, my heart and lungs needed some exercise. I wasn’t going to be able to run after work, and the fresh air was too cold to enjoy anyway. So here I was in the fitness center at work.
What was I going to choose? Not the treadmill. My lumbering thumping is loud and disrupts the etiquette of quiet that pervades the gym. Further, a right foot hits the side. The belt pulls the left forward. I hurtle backwards in a spray of sweat, hair and limbs. There are also only so many races in the imagination to distract from the fact the tread mill is a hamster wheel like work.
I was thinking of something new, but the last option was an elliptical machine, which we own.
It was settled. I don’t bike, so as I lifted my leg over the seat — two cupholders for all the liquid vitamins you need? — and mounted one of the stationary cycles as self-doubt laughed at me.
On the wall a determined young face stared from a singular banner blocking the view of the street. He faced a well-organized army of fitness equipment with its orderly rows ready for action.
His eyes and sweaty brow growled from his prone position, “You will never work as hard or be as awesome in my dedication to kicking fitness ass as me, but I am the kind of person you like.”
My sister rides 100-miles on winding roads up and down mountains. My brother-in-law rides on two-lane roads surrounded by rows of corn and soybeans for hours. Kind-of-in-shape men race around the hilly park near my house in their colorful, branded, cycling outfits. A friend powers over rigorous, rooty terrain on a mountain bike. I run on a path outdoors.
Thank goodness for Apple and the easy-to-use touchscreen interfaces that everyone copied. Pick a class or scenic route. Scenic route. Pick route. Modern Country. Pick duration. 30 minutes.
In another life-like feature, there is no pick-your-gender option. Just start pedaling and guide your clearly male avatar. This might make sense. My sister told me that she was the only woman in her cycling group.
Anyway, I was fired up. I was going to be one of the very fit, good-good-looking young people furiously pedaling in the ads, racing in place in their living rooms with beautiful views of early morning city lights or pine trees overlooking lakes.
I was going to pull my thirst-quenching bottle from the holster and pour it near — not in — my mouth because full hand-eye coordination wouldn’t look as cool.
In the world of endorphin-induced fitness fantasy, I would always be upbeat and walk with a swagger, smiling to all passers-by, but ready to beat everyone on a bike, on a conference call — while I wave people to go past me when traffic’s tough.
I thought my avatar reflected me well. He seemed to kind of struggle as he chugged along the path in his red, white and blue outfit. The five-mile course through the yellow, country fields, over stone bridges, past cows, windmills, waving raccoons and other animals by the side of the road, and through low-hanging branches as sleek commuter trains zoomed past
A giant train conductor’s head came beaming down on the riders over one stretch. This struck me as a clever, probably drug-induced, diversion. I flashed back to a giant Richard Nixon flag that hung from a dorm window that served as a beacon to help me get home during an all-day, all-campus party at my college.
I refocused but had nearly run off the path again to study the 40-something, ex-football player on the treadmill in front of me. He was sprinting and stopping and sprinting and stopping. Interval training. At the gym, we can do whatever fitness workout we want and be applauded for it.
A fit young woman was winning her race against herself on the elliptical machine.
A 30-something lady next to her was making the most of the slow churning of her legs as her lips counted down the minutes. Everyone was focused. This is not when to start up a conversation.
Yet a woman I know did just that.
She came up from behind, and said from my blind spot, “Hi Eric! It’s good to see you.” I turned my head and body around, pausing my workout. I really hoped I could reciprocate the sentiment.
She moved to face me. “Oh!” I thought. It wasn’t good to see her. “She’s sticking around. For how long? What is the rule of engagement here?”
Can she influence my reputation at work? Should that be a thing: R-A-W. Is she attractive? Is she asking or saying anything interesting?
No. No. No. Look focused, but happy to see her. “I’d love to have lunch some time,” she said.
“Yeah!” I say, as I think, “We are never having lunch.”
The man on the poster looked down approvingly, willing us to self-improvement, but I was off the path again. How could I reasonably steer my bike when I was surrounded by fitness stories to consider?
The out-of-shape mix well with the fit while the rest of us in the middle of the bell curve use both for inspiration. In the gym, everyone’s happy to be alive.
When I finished my time popped up along with my heart rate and the number of calories I’d burned, neither of which I care about. “This is bullshit.” The list of strangers who rode faster revealed that some went round the course in half the time a I did. Part of me wanted to come back, hop on that bike, and race to beat them.
The other part looked at the bad ass on the fitness poster and thought of the young tightly-wound woman churning along in her living room at 5:30 in the morning, and agreed with the under-achieving side of my split personality that it was not worth it.
“Alexa, send a towel and a Gatorade Frost to locker 301 at the Mindful Fitness Center where I am now. And have my car in front in 30 minutes.”
“Prepare home for winter in New Hampshire, and order from Pho Ba-Mu: Seafood and Pork Crispy Roll and Pork Bahn Mi.“
“Order Edmund Fitzgerald beer from Ye Old Liquor Shop if it’s not in the fridge.”
As I write, the smell of a hickory fire emanates throughout the house, the fire on the wall soothingly glows, flickers, snaps, crackles and occasionally pops.
I type, sipping a cold porter beer between gazes out into the deep, snowy woods where moose stroll by every 15 minutes or so.
With my workout, dinner, and musing behind me, I close my laptop, turn off the fire, and say goodnight to the blank wall and busy city traffic outside my window.