You have to know it’s there.
There’s no sign, at least from the back alley I came through, to let a passer-by know a gym is housed in the old, grayish-stone buildings just a couple blocks from the bank, behind the bars that face out on Philadelphia Street.
Friday afternoon was gray and wet and chilly as I chained my bike to a bench, walked through double doors into an empty lobby, turned right down the hall to a creaking elevator. After putting it off all summer, I’d finally decided I really did want to take advantage of the gym membership I get free through work. Now, I was quickly changing my mind.
The elevator door groaned open, and I found myself staring through big glass windows into a weight room. A heavily tattooed man on the bench across from me looked up as I stepped out, holding my bike helmet in one hand and my purse tight in the other.
I did not belong here.
There’s something about gyms that makes me feel utterly, entirely out of place, like I’ve stumbled awkwardly into a secret society to which I’m not invited, and the initiated are waiting, irritated, for me to stumble out again.
I stopped at the counter; the man working on a computer did not look up. I paused, uncertain, when a trainer came around the corner. He was with a client, he said. Fill out this piece of paper, leave it on the computer, and have fun!
I’m pretty sure that’s the way of the secret club’s members; they pretend to welcome you, let you wander among machines that look vaguely like the drawings of Medieval torture machines in history books, and when you’ve made a complete fool of yourself trying to use them, they know you’ll leave and never come back.
I contemplated leaving then, before I’d made a fool of myself. Instead, I wandered to a locker room to drop my helmet and jacket, then wandered back to the one machine I recognized. At least I could use the treadmill without looking like an idiot.
The news was scrolling across a small television in the corner, but the volume was off and the subtitles were blurry (note to self: time for glasses?), so I watched the few other people working out on a Friday afternoon.
A chubby pre-teen boy was tossing a medicine ball laboriously to his trainer, catching it again. He seemed surprised by his own sweat.
A girl about my own age was running on the treadmill directly in front of the tv, skin tanned dark from a summer just ended, workout clothes that sucked tight to her skin as she ran. My t-shirt felt loose and out of place after I looked at her.
A big man who should probably be doing something to burn his belly fat but seemed more interested in building show-off muscles was lifting across the room.
The boy and his trainer moved to the stationary bike near me. “Pedal as fast as you can,” the trainer was saying; the boy didn’t seem to know what fast meant but my own feet moved faster. I tried to watch the girl out of the corner of my eye as she moved to one of the other machines, tried to see what exactly you were supposed to do with them.
Thirty minutes later I walked back through the empty hallway, out the double doors into the cool grayness of the afternoon. I felt just a little successful. The secret club’s members didn’t scare me away, not this time. They weren’t free of me yet.
Now I’m carrying a voucher for a training session with one of the trainers, who I suppose will explain everything I need to know about work-out machines. And I’m planning a shopping trip for work-out attire (because everyone knows you need new clothes when you join a gym).
Who knows? Maybe I’ll end up a part of this secret society, too.