6.13.2009

Y Before Z

I'm talking to my dad about how my kids are doing in college. Next thing I know he says, "I guess I'm just more fiscally conservative than you."

"What?"

"We don't waste our money on all that cable stuff," he says. "You must spend a lot of money on all that TV watching."

"Basic cable isn't expensive," I say. Why am I trying to convince an 82 year-old guy about anything?

"It all adds up. I'm just saying."

"I don't go to a gym. I do FIT TV," I say. "That ought to justify . . ."

"We work out at the Y."

"But the Y costs as much as . . ."

"We work out at the Y," he says again. "We're there about every morning. My brother-in-law, when he lived here, he went there every day, too. Swimming, that's what he liked to do."

"I'm not a swimmer."

"I'm just saying," he says. "That's why you're not able to afford things."

So we move and I don't move the Comcast account. He makes the Y sound like the one true path to heaven. No matter what I do, if I'm not a Y member, I'm not worth listening to.

I worked at the Y a few years ago. I know how it goes. You join when you're young and before you know it, there's gray hair growing out your ears and nose. I started work at 4:30 a.m. when I had that job, checking the pool chemicals and security logs. By ten minutes to five, the lobby was filled with testosterone-filled old guys waiting for me to open the doors.

Seriously how did all these people get the idea to do this? They were all over sixty, maybe over seventy. Maybe ninety or one hundred, even. They were the early-bird special kind of seniors, the kind who weren't aging gracefully, weren't sitting in a rocking chair telling the grandchildren about the olden days. These were the vocal aged, the people you hear gousing across the restaurant when their food isn't right, even if it is. If I didn't open the doors at five minutes to five, they started pointing to their watches and giving me dirty looks when I ran by. That's not the way you want to start your morning, pissing off granddaddies. Starting it at 4:30 a.m. was hard enough. I quit after three months.

Now, instead of waking up to Bodies in Motion with Gilad filmed in Hawaii, on FIT TV, I got in the habit of running (or walking) as soon as I wake up. Golden Gate park is right across the street and it's free. The podcasts I listen to are free, too. It's too easy to be called exercise. Guilt gets the best of me and I join the Y.

If I do the Y first thing in the morning, I can't talk myself out of it. Once I'm there, it's an easy routine and it takes less time than the stroll in the park. At 9:30 a.m. the normal people work out, so I've avoided the angry grandpa crowd. They're probably at lunch already, pissing someone off because their food is too salty.

I can't make myself go to the Y every morning. I'm not superhuman. I'm not even my dad. It's not easy to talk myself into bicycling over there every freaking day. It's easier to wake up and walk, turn on a podcast and slide into the morning. It must be easier for other people, too, as there are plenty more people in the park than there are at the Y.

I almost miss the park people, the people I'd gotten used to walking (or sometimes running) by. There's the short woman who wears a white shirt without sleeves, showing a tattoo, red and black of a dragon and some fish, I think, up her whole right arm. Since she's over forty and otherwise looks like she took a wrong turn out of suburbia, I noticed her on my first walk. She's the first one to smile at me when I wake up and cross the street.

There's a ton of runners, always. Some of them look so hot but I know I run faster than a few of them. They look better, though. They say, "Good morning, beautiful!" when they run by. They say it to everyone but I'm shocked. Shocked! This is San Francisco. I thought there was a law about being so friendly.

If I stretch my walk/run all the way to the Rose garden, I pass by the homeless guy who rolls his own cigarettes. I used to cross the street to avoid him; he can be in a very lively discussion with that cigarette of his. I realized it isn't worth the extra three calories burned crossing the street to avoid him. He's only interested in his cigarette. What people think of him is clearly not a priority, otherwise he wouldn't have taken a swim in the ocean and then dried off his ripped black outfit(s) by rolling around in the dirt. Or so I suspect.

Since the Y is open all day, I decide I should go in the afternoon. Who works out in the afternoon? It should be easy to get in, get out and get home. I'll feel good and my dad will be proud.

There's a different feel to the place in the afternoon. There's a different smell, too. The stink from the morning seems to accumulate. Something to remember next time I get this bright idea. At least there's not many people here now, just a few older ladies on the stationary bikes, looking as if they're trying to conserve calories judging by the hesitancy of their pedaling. But there's a towel and water bottle on the rowing machine I want, the one nobody ever uses. I hesitate to move it. I look around to see whose it might be. Everybody in here is old. I'm old and I feel like a kid here. I decide to leave the towel and water bottle. Time to switch it up a little and try the Precor machine.

As soon as I get on, a couple of junior high-aged kids come in and get on the machines on either side of me, bookending me. They smell like mold, oddly, and they're pressing all the buttons and laughing. They stand on one foot, they go as fast as they can, they push the handles so fast they almost fly off.

"Watch this," one says. He turns around on the Precor, facing backwards, going as fast as his skinny legs will push.

"Woooooo-hoooo!" He laughs until he loses his balance and gets off.

They both screetch and laugh really loud but, since everyone here is old, they don't care. They slowly, slowly keep bicycling and read "People." The kids move onto most of the equipment, and leave after a maximum of five minutes. That's a short workout, even for me.

An old guy, surprise about that, picks up the towel and water bottle off the rowing machine. I can tell, even without directly looking, that he's staring at me. There are lots of women closer to his age and a few, I notice, glance over and watch him. Don't look at me, dude. Don't go all Y on me.

He gets on the leg press, not far from my Precor. He's making a big deal of this. You know how some people want you to notice they're working out? That they're putting a lot of effort into this? That they're someone special? He's someone like that only even more. He's adjusting the equipment while standing upright, very tall, like if we notice his good posture we would ignore his saggy Bassett Hound face. It's taking him a long time to adjust the equipment, due to his posture I'm guessing.

I have to walk by him to get to the pull-down machine, my next station. He smiles at me and watches me come closer to him, like I'm intentionally walking toward him. I'm listening to a Harvard Business podcast, probably not the best motivator for a good workout, particularly when it's discussing "zombieconomy."

The old guy says something to me but I can't hear. Instead I hear, ". . . corporations falling into unresponsive behavior, falling into profoundly self-defeating behaviors, like the auto industry, failing to respond to the changes that confront them."

I'm failing to respond, too, to the old guy as I start on the pull-down machine. I can't help but look over at him. I don't want to but I have to. Is he on the leg press yet? Is he still standing there, adjusting it? Is he looking at some other female in the room? They may be twenty or forty years older than me, but these bicycling babes seem to watch him the way he's watching me.

"They fail to make any meaningful decisions," my podcast continues. "Getting innovation wrong. Focusing on making improvements on an SUV which will last five years when they ought to be fundamentally reinventing and redesigning value chains."

What's a value chain? What's this other old guy doing coming over and sitting right next to me? The only equipment being used is the leg press and my pull-down machine. He has to sit right next to me? I'm being ridiculous. He's just here for a workout.

The new old guy puts his hands on the machine next to me and, as if rehearsed, turns his head slowly over to my direction and smiles. I am not that hot. Okay, in a room full of eighty year-old humpback little women bicycling at the speed of slugs, maybe. But still.

"The redefinition of value," my podcast says, "is what we're confronting. Not all kinds of growth are created equal."

It's then that I decide to wait another decade before my next Y workout.