I joined a gym this week, and for whatever reason, my first interactions with public gyms always seem to be the worst. I was spoiled early on because I started working out regularly when I was at Florida State, where the gym is much nicer than the library. Maybe that’s because plenty of students sunbathed in front of the library, but I suspect some of them never went inside. Whereas if you’re going to put on a strappy tank top and some short shorts to catch a few rays in front of that big building that’s rumored to have lots of books inside, you’ll probably hit the treadmill and maybe take a couple of pilates classes first.
When I left school, I moved and quickly joined a gym a few blocks from my house. After I’d signed the paperwork for a year’s membership and paid some hefty signup fees, I realized that I was having a problem with the treadmills. I’d run for a few minutes, and then the treadmill would stop suddenly, saying “User Not Detected.” I’d start over and get maybe not quite as far before it quit on me again. I tried different machines, but I always had the same problem. I’m not new to a treadmill, and they’re hardly complicated to use. Once I started running, why couldn’t I just, you know, keep doing that for a sustained period of time? It pissed me off, and the angrier I got, the more I wished I could go for a nice long run to burn off all the rage building up inside me.
I came in one night around nine hoping to unwind. When the treadmill refused to work again, I went to the front desk with tears in my eyes—in my defense, it had been a seriously rough day—and said, “I want to quit the gym.” I’d been a member for two weeks. I cried a little as I explained the problems I’d been having, adding that I didn’t have a job, and that while I understood I could try biking or the ellipticals, I wanted to run, and if they couldn’t do that for me, I shouldn’t have to keep paying them. I wanted to quit the gym.
The guy at the desk reacted the way I suspect most guys in their early twenties would react when confronted with a crying, mildly hysterical woman who unloaded on him at work while he was stuck on the late night shift at a 24 hour gym. He was awkward and clearly uncomfortable, but he tried to do what he could to get me to stop crying. Actually, that’s my response to strangers crying in front of me as well. He apologized and explained that he didn’t have the authority to let me out of my contract, but he told me to come back the next day and talk to a manager.
Sitting in the lobby the next day, I ran into a cute guy named Patrick I’d met at a neighborhood coffee shop. “What are you doing here?” he asked.
“I’m here for a remedial treadmill class,” I confessed.
He laughed and kept me company until the manager came to get me, which was easily the best thing that had happened to me so far at the gym.
I finally figured out the problem, which had to do with the fact that I was still playing music on a portable CD player. (I’m kind of a Luddite.) I should have strapped the discman to my waist, but I didn’t want to do that because I thought it looked lame. I strapped it to the handrail, which threw off the machine. I was happy to have the problem fixed and get back to the business of working out, although for the next year, every time I saw that one front desk guy, he gave me an extra big smile and gently asked how it was going, as if he wanted to be nicer than usual to the emotionally fragile lady. I found that pretty sweet, actually, but it was also an embarrassing reminder of the night I lost it at the gym.
This week, I went to try out a place near my house, and about five minutes into my run, I heard a loud honking sound. Three minutes later, I heard it again, like an angry flock of geese, and it was most definitely coming from my treadmill. I should have switched machines, but sometimes I get really stubborn about these kinds of things. At first I hoped it would stop, and by the time it didn’t, I refused to quit. I don’t like it when I have to adjust to common items that won’t work like they’re supposed to because then it feels like the pay phone, computer, or treadmill has beaten me. It’s stupid, and that’s why when the machines finally rise as the Terminator franchise has promised me they will, I will be an early casualty of the war for my stubborn refusal to bow to the will of my toaster, but it’s who I am. It made for a terrible run because the noise would startle me, causing me to get my breathing all screwed up, and I’d be lying if I said I didn’t swear at it a few times, which also seemed to knock me off my rhythm, waste breath, and possibly offend anyone running in the immediate area. Eventually, I got to the tipping point, where I just had to make it another seven minutes and my workout would be over, so I might as well just stick it out.
I did think I should say something, so when a staff member wandered over my way to watch the Cubs game on TV, I told him about the problem. Turns out, he’d heard the noise off and on for the last half hour (probably wondering why someone wouldn’t just get off and move to a different machine instead of irritating the entire gym) and was determined to locate the noise and see what could be done. “It sounds like a bird or something,” he said.
He thought the treadmill needed oiling, which is a simple fix, and certainly not a deal breaker, but I was on the fence about the gym. There wasn’t a pool, the machines were pretty old, and the yoga class I took was just okay. I tried another place just down the road (a different branch of that first gym I joined and quickly tried to quit), which was a little better. When I went for a run there, the treadmill didn’t honk like a goose. Instead it emitted a bagpipe-like whine that I barely even noticed over The Donnas and The Gossip on my MP3 player. After I finished my run, I went downstairs and signed up.