Pros: Cheap membership. Plenty of well-maintained machines.
Cons: The locker rooms are filthier than an aging porn star.
It's plain and simple: you've got to have thick skin to work out at 24 Hour Fitness. Actually, if you're a focused exerciser, and can tune out moderate to heavy leering, it's an adequate place to work out, since there's no shortage of machinery. What really separates the women from the girls, though, is 24 Hour Fitness' dirtiest secret: its shower rooms.
The setting: Sunday evening after a long but gratifying afternoon catching up on some work. My reward: a one-way ticket to endorphin heaven via ninety minutes on the stationary bike. (I'm training for a triathlon, so 90 minutes on a stationary bike has, quite mysteriously, become appealing.)
The workout went as planned, and I dismounted high as a kite on muscle juice. After some stretching in the quiet room -- that is, the only place in the gym where hip-hop isn't piped in -- I was more than ready to hit the showers. I grabbed my towel, heart rate monitor, bike shirt, GRE flashcards, Wicked French book, and water bottle, and headed for the locker room.
That's when I saw them. The most astounding, hairy creatures sprawled all over the women's shower room. I had become accustomed to seeing little furballs breeding happily in the 24 Hour locker rooms, but apparently they had been eating Powerbars. One of them was clutching a small, green scrap of paper to its bristly bosom. Another was creeping its way up or down a wall. The rest guarded their respective territories, lying still and silent as nightfall over the grated drains.
Surveying the locker room, I quickly ascertained that a small anti-hygienic windstorm had recently blown through, as was evidenced by the abundance of shredded toilet paper in the bathroom stalls (who brought their kitten to the gym?), as well as the plastic hangers, empty water bottles, and mushy wads of unidentifiable paperstuffs decorating the changing areas.
Apparently it was the "cleaning technician's" day off.
Why do I belong to a gym that is one step up from an open sewer? It's not like I'm unaware of my options. Since arriving in the Bay Area, I've done a complete tour of duty of the local gyms. I've been a member at Bally's, and have enjoyed many luxurious and fun workouts as a guest at the various Bay Clubs. I've swum at the Y. I've pumped up while impersonating a potential member at Gorilla. And, in various states of post-workout euphoria, I have mentally choreographed little dances for the opaque peep-show showers of Crunch.
I've seen it all, man. What's more, I've come full circle. When I first moved here and was just barely making my rent, I justified my first membership at 24 Hour Fitness because I couldn't afford anything else. Having always loathed their slick corporate tactics and silly Cindy-Crawford-in-boxing-gloves ad campaigns, I counted the days until I could afford to take even a baby step up to Bally's. So why, oh why, have I become a 24 Hour Fitness member again after three years, now that I can afford to go somewhere else?
My company was offering a deal, and I was gymless. It was convenient -- they even sent one of their henchwomen out to the office. I dodged the hard-sell bombs of a person with a thick Slavic accent and a purple rayon workout suit. (She was pushing for a three-year membership and a huge personal training package, for which I would have paid the equivalent of significant equity in 24 Hour Fitness, Incorporated.)
The truth is, I have no good explanation. For some reason, the combination of convenience and sheer triumph of outwitting a sales pirhana made me pull out my checkbook.
Now, though, I have a better perspective on the "deal" I was signing up for. Hair -- lots of it, wet, lurid, and lurking where your poor, tired feet want to be. Watered-down bath soap. Men who wear nothing but their underwear in the pool area. Men who sit and watch us swimming laps as they were home watching a TV program -- just for the hell of it, or maybe for the sex and intrigue.
Even at $37 dollars a month, I don't deserve this kind of stress and squalor. It's enough to make a triathlete switch to knitting. Perhaps I'll trade out the running or swimming portion and start cross-training at knitting circles. Then again, maybe not -- the yarn might give me flashbacks of hairballs.
[UPDATE: Power to the people! I have joined Crunch. Review coming soon. :)]