Newport Beach, California. We park in the cavernous garage beside the gleaming 24 Hour Fitness gym. A sign on a yellow machine says “PAY HERE.” I ignore it and proceed into the gym. The gym is the size of a small airplane hangar, with a polished ceiling twenty feet high. I pass my membership card to the grinning, close-cropped dude behind the counter. He scans it with a wand and a screen beeps and flashes red. “Hmmm,” he says. “I see that you have a Sport membership with 24 Hour Fitness?”
“Probably,” I say.
“Well, this is an Ultra club. Your Sport membership doesn?t cover entrance fees here,” he says. “But we?ll be happy to let you work out here once, just to try it out. Follow me.”
I follow him into the wood-paneled elevator. Four balding, chubby white men in shorts follow us. Ding, ding: we?re at the third floor. Everybody piles out. The place is a glass-walled airplane hangar. There are two basketball courts, a rock climbing wall, a mood-lit yoga room, two racquetball courts, a volleyball court in synthetic sand, a special hypoxia chamber designed to simulate mountain atmospheric conditions, a rich kid?s ultimate complete barbell collection, stacks and stacks of stationary bikes, eight big-screen TVs, and a three-story glass wall for contemplating the trundling 405 traffic.
The old men pad off the elevator and lumber onto aerobic machines. “Now wait a damned minute,” I say. “You have maybe fifty Stairmaster machines. Here. On the third floor.”
“Actually, we have sixty-two Stairmaster machines,” he says.
“Wait a damned minute!” I shout. “How come everybody takes the damned elevator to go to the Stairmaster machines? That makes no damned sense! Why doesn?t everybody walk up the stairs to go to the Stairmaster machines! And why is there valet parking out front! Why can?t everybody who?s going to the gym? Walk from the parking garage, like fifty yards away!”
“Well, I’ll explain it to you,” says the dude. “There?s this guy. Really buff. Maybe fifty, fifty-two years old. Every morning he comes in real regular, six-thirty a.m. And he?s always in a super big hurry. Just scans his own card, real fast, says I gotta get to my locker, runs in, throws a duffle bag in the locker, and runs back out again. That?s the total time he spends here. Just about thirty seconds. Me, I?m thinking, hey! You wanna just give me your membership fee directly, I?ll stand out front and you can hand off that duffle bag to me and I?ll take care of it! You know what I mean?” says the dude, laughing good-naturedly.
At this point, my head explodes in a shower of sparks, and my robot body falls lifeless to the floor. The dude says, “So, are your goals, like, weight loss, or are you looking to build more muscle?”by