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8 March 2002

It was still dark when I pulled into the parking space. Superwoman was already there, sitting in her SUV. The Old Guy was parked in his car behind me. We all sat there, watching the rain come down, huddled in our jackets, waiting for the arrival of Ms. Ponytail, whose turn it was to open the club.

Ms. Ponytail is my favorite of the staff at the club. She always has a smile, always talks to me. Always has a cheery comment as I'm leaving at the end of my workout. She's also one of the ones who turns on the overhead fans (not all the staff members remember to do that). You really appreciate a fan overhead when you're sweating.

It was 6 a.m., but we all signed in as 6:15 so Ms. Ponytail doesn't get in trouble for letting us into the gym before it officially opened.

We don't say much, the little pre-breakfast club. We have our own routines and we start right in. Superwoman gets on the exercise bike with her book and begins pedaling away furiously while she concentrates on reading, The Old Guy sets his cane aside and laboriously climbs up on the treadmill, where he walks with determined stride for 15 minutes, after which he hobbles down, grabs his cane and goes back to his car. I don't think I've ever heard his voice.

I head to the semi-recumbent bike and start pedaling away, the tune to the last song I was listening to the car in my head, as I pedal in time with the music (I try to listen to something lively so it keeps me going).  Today I also start writing this journal entry in my head as I pedal.

It's an interesting mix of people. I have been observing them now for about a month. I've had a few verbal exchanges with people, but this is a group that has been meeting in the pre-dawn hours for a long time, so they have a camaraderie that I'm just beginning to be a part of.

Superwoman fascinates me. All I know about her comes from eavesdropping on her conversations. She apparently works at the university primate center and I believe does something with in vitro fertilization. She is of American Indian descent and is taking classes in basketweaving and spinning wool. She also likes to go on trips up to the mountains, where she gathers rocks. She, the Old Guy, and I are the only three who are at the club every day, M-F (I don't know if the other two are there on Saturday and Sunday, because I'm not there on those days).

Superwoman has an exercise routine, but it's a weekly one rather than a daily one. On some days she does movement machines, on other days she does the weight bearing machines. She always sets things for the highest weight, weights I will never be able to push, press or lift if I live to be 100. When she's finished with her routine, she changes clothes and leaves. The whole thing takes her about 30 minutes.

Other members of this pre-breakfast club come on special days (and it's such a pattern that one topic of conversation among the old timers last week was why two people had suddenly varied their days. "They're NEVER here on Tuesdays," people marveled. Turns out one of them had been sick on their regular day.)

The Lawyer comes in two or three times a week. He reminds me of what my friend Mike, in Houston, will look like when he's 70 and just getting out of bed. His thinning white hair is tousled and his moustache bristles. He and Superwoman have a nice friendship and she's at her chattiest when he's there. He is there primarily to use the treadmill. If The Old Guy hasn't quite finished, The Lawyer does a couple of other machines while waiting, but he's really there for the treadmill. He keeps up such a rapid pace for most of the 30 minutes he uses the machine that I'm out of breath just watching him. He occasionally reaches out to the towel at his side to mop his sweaty brow, but he never breaks stride.

Mr. Headband comes in once a week, frequently wearing a t-shirt reminding people to donate blood. He's someone I used to know during my PTA days, but I was slimmer then and I don't know if he recognizes me. We've never talked in these earlay morning hours. I haven't approached him either (and really only recognized him because I saw the name on the sign–in sheet).

Superman also comes in once or twice a week. He's there to WORK OUT. In capital letters. He speaks not a word but goes straight to his work. Like Superwoman, he works on weights, at the top level. His face contorts with the exertion and sweat breaks out on his brow. He utters grunts as he works. Sometimes he goes into one of the backrooms to lie on a massage table in order to lift free weights.

Mr. & Mrs. Whitehead work out only a couple of days a week. He does weight machines, she has her set routine: 10 minutes on the treadmill, and then three of the weight machines. She's the most friendly of the group is often chats with people--most of what I know of Superwoman I know from eavesdropping on her conversations with Mrs. Whitehead. The Whiteheads are gone in 20-30 minute, waving a cheery goodbye to all as they leave.

Mrs. Magazine is there once, sometimes twice, a week. She's been very friendly and thinks I look exactly like a cousin of hers. She also has a sprightly pace on the treadmill (though not quite a match with The Lawyer), and always has some light reading with her.

There are other regulars--The Walker, who walks to the gym every day from her house on the other side of the freeway; the neophyte, a British woman who began her program recently. She still carries a clipboard around with her to remind herself of her own settings on the various machines; The Serious Guy, an oriental gentleman who is also there in the pre-dawn hours, does a couple of machines, and is gone in 20 minutes. I don't think I've heard his voice either; The Swimmer, who arrives each day with her bathing suit in a bag and who only does the tiny heated pool. I've never used the pool and have no intention of it (I might be tempted if it were a swimming pool, but it's not--more like a very large hot tub).

My 15 minutes on the recumbent bike is about over. I've been mentally working on this entry as I've pedaled away, trying to keep the "work level" up and starting to sweat nicely (Dr. G will be so pleased). I try to be off the bike in 15 minutes in case my friend, the Writer and her husband are able to come in on that day. That's her machine of choice too, and I want to make sure I'm off in time.

By the time I leave the club, the early risers have already gone. I put on my jacket and Ms. Ponytail gives a big smile and wishes me a good day.

I'm starting to feel like one of the group. It has become a very nice way to start my morning.


Quote of the Day

Most people think life sucks, and then you die. Not me. I beg to differ. I think life sucks, then you get cancer, then your dog dies, your wife leaves you, the cancer goes into remission, you get a new dog, you get remarried, you owe ten million dollars in medical bills but you work hard for thirty-five years and you pay it back and then -- one day -- you have a massive stroke, your whole right side is paralyzed, you have to limp along the streets and speak out of the left side of your mouth and drool but you go into rehabilitation and regain the power to walk and the power to talk and then -- one day -- you step off a curb at Sixty-seventh Street, and BANG you get hit by a city bus and then you die. Maybe.

~ Denis Leary ~

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