Some 35 years ago—during the pre-Stairmaster days of yore when your standard gym looked more like a cave than Studio 54—Arnold may have already been Mr. Olympia several times over but there probably weren’t more than a couple of dozen people who could pronounce “Schwarzenegger” on the first try.
Let’s face it, when Bobby Fischer was the nation’s athletic ideal, it was clearly time for a fitness revolution.
Fast-forward to the twenty-first century and a health club on every corner. This time around the revolution was televised and joining a gym has become a post-modern rite of passage. You plunk down the plastic and get introduced to a “personal trainer.”
Welcome to my world…
An upscale health club is one place where the different classes meet and mingle. Any personal trainer worth his or her supplements craves an elite clientele. Conversely, their well-heeled customers dream of wielding their buff buns and ripped deltoids like post-modern status symbols.
Trainers and clients are often from different worlds … sometimes at odds but frequently in synch. Their relationships are a complex and unique offshoot of a society in which an elite percentile of Americans own wealth equal to, say, the bottom 95 percent.
But in the gym, you can’t use your stock portfolio to get through a tough set of lunges…that’s what us trainers are for.
An excellent example of the gap between this particular trainer and some of my clients occurred during the early days of the Hurricane Katrina aftermath:
I’ve got a female client on the elliptical machine, the TV is blaring, and all eyes are transfixed on the horrendous but predictable images of official indifference.
Staring at a poor black family as they wade through chest-deep water, my client blurts out: “I don’t understand. Why didn’t they just leave?”
There was just enough smugness in her voice to irritate me but I stayed calm, replying: “Most of them couldn’t leave.”
Unconvinced, she declared: “I would’ve gotten in my car and gone to stay in a hotel or something.”
I swallowed deeply. “These people are very poor.”
“I know, but why would you stay there if you know a hurricane is coming?”
Before I could respond, someone walked into the gym and broke the tension.
We went on with our workout while the people in New Orleans went on wading.