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Hamster Cage

There are many in our little valley with the gene that transports them to a state of rosy bliss every time they exercise.

I have the other gene.

So, you can imagine my surprise when I found myself inside the fitness center. I worried that signing up for such an urban activity would erase all my country credentials. Then I remembered I didn't have any.  

Above the door to the exer-sanctum, carved in wood, is a strong hand holding a large, blunt hammer (it might be a dumbbell but I can't deal with that metaphor right now). And, if you squint your eyes just right, all the people inside running and pedaling and rowing their way to nowhere become eerily similar to hamsters. I saw that as an opportunity for denial by transference and settled on Hampton as my fitness center name. Hampton Hamster.

After the usual learning curve of trial, error, recovery and having to work out next to a walking muscle mass with arms the size of well casing I'm now a regular at the old FC. My routine is based on simple goals – computer mousing endurance, easier vacuuming under furniture, ability to lift bales of Costco toilet paper. I like the sweating and chatting, love the bouncy instructor that yells at the un-fazed senior exercise class like a drill sergeant, and appreciate the wiseguy that works out in a bakery shirt.

My hero, however, is the gent I saw pedaling hard (to nowhere) with a fruity soft drink, copy of Rolling Stone and bag of gummy bears.

In fact, that's when it dawned on me. Despite all its benefits the center is . . . well . . . just not much fun. So, at the risk of being sentenced to spin class, I offer these suggestions:

New Name: "Fitness Center" makes sense but it's kind of like going to work in an office called "Cramped Cubicles". Liven it up. A great name is "Pound for Pound" but that only works in England. How about "Pete's Pump Palace", or "Club Sweat", or "Salty Jog"? And while you're at it, put it in trendy club neon. Oh, wait, there's that westernization thing. Talk about no fun.

Entry Gate: Mixing the narrow and wide among us is supposed to be an inspiration for some and reminder for others but I'm not buying it. We need separate hours for each, determined by whether or not you can fit through an adjustable gate. That way, the hardbodies will have a room full of real competition and the "aspiring" will have a chance to kick some treadmill butt.

Subwoofers:  I'm sure whoever picks the music is well intentioned but there's a reason nearly everyone has an iPod strapped on. Why not make irresistible dance beats part of the overall exercise ambiance? To do that you need a DJ and HUGE subwoofers. I don't know about you, but if Morphine's "Top Floor Bottom Buzzer" was being pumped out at a couple thousand watts I'd be burning a lot of calories.

Encouraging Reflections: Remember those mirrors in fun houses that made you look ridiculously skinny? It's time to bring them back. Sure, it's deception, but not if you call them goal-setting aids. While we're at it, is there such a thing as a "relative" scale?

Snack Train: Instead of wasting all the watts generated during workouts use them to power an electric train that runs throughout the place carrying tempting treats (other than pears). It works in every way – the harder you push the more reward, or temptation, chugs by. You can test your resolve, pay yourself for a job well done or torture your secret competitor by sending the mini-eclairs and bottled smoothies past them at an increasing pace.

Personal Video Trainers: The real-life trainers are great but they are a limited selection. Wouldn't it be nice to dial up, at each machine, the perfect person to help you on your journey to a new, ripply self? Come on, your gonna tell me you wouldn't try a little harder if it was Hugh Jackman or Scarlett Johannson asking you too? (Myself, I'd probably go with Nick Nolte).

Country Gear: I appreciate the core strength development benefits of the Paramount PFT-200 Functional Trainer but just about everybody has one. How about a few devices that truly relate to the country life we are all here for? Like:

  • Snow-shoveling simulator (throw out your back and get it fixed in one visit)
  • Small engine pull start station (important that it never starts)
  • Wood splitting trainer (forget calories, this one reads out in cords)
  • Post hole digging device (adjustable for number of rocks)
  • Bale-bucking machine (harrow beds DO break down)

Regardless of whether or not my brilliance is taken to heart, I'll remain a committed member (I paid for a year). And I'm feeling okay about crossing the rural-urban line that's now part of life here. In fact, I might even shop for a black tie so I can start attending fundraisers.

Yours in reps,


Have a comment? >>

I loved this. Seven or so years ago when I tried the rural-urban life of the fitness center, I couldn't get over the disconnect. I had an identity crisis. Walking on a moving rubber mat watching strangers pump and flex is just not enough fun to keep me indoors. I think you're brilliant. They should hire a "fun Specialist". If they did, I might be tempted to try it again.

Nadine Van Hees

Winthrop, WA

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