I held out for as long as I could, but after the ground started to freeze and the snow started to accumulate (which no one shovels in my neighborhood of renters), I had to join a gym. I’m familiar with the 6 o’clock treadmill showdown, as I’ve had memberships to other gyms, but my current gym is especially tricky.
There are a couple of treadmills downstairs, but they’re no good because they don’t have personal TVs, and the gym is where I catch up on cable reality shows – Bravo, TLC, VH1 – they have it all. So I usually wait it out upstairs, where the majority of treadmills are lined up facing two walls in an L shape.
While gym etiquette is generally similar across the board, there are nuances to learn with each new membership. The first few times I went to my gym I gathered that the two walls created separate domains. People seemed to choose one side or the other, pace-stretching while they eyed time and mile counters and waited for something to open up. So the first person would take one leg of the L, and the second would take the other. If there was a third, he or she would awkwardly choose one side and pace at a safe distance behind the first or second hopeful, and so on.
Obviously this is a flawed system that causes me a lot of angst. What if all the people on my side are training for marathons? What if the dude on the other side crosses over when I’m not looking? What if I miss the end of Project Runway???
So I was relieved one day when, after apprehensively climbing the stairs, I saw a civilized line had formed in the middle of the treadmill L. When one treadmill emptied, the next person in line hopped on. Fascinating. This seemed to be the trend for a while, but it isn’t always the case. That’s not to say I try to convert the heathens, as I usually avoid talking to strangers at all costs.
My “When in Rome” strategy seemed to be working okay until the other day. Surveying the treadmill situation, I saw a woman guarding one half of the L and a man standing in the middle. Hmm. I timidly walked to the middle and awkwardly stood at a safe distance behind him. He turned and asked me if there was usually a line. Forced into conversing, I mumbled something about not really knowing, that usually I just try to keep track of who has been waiting the longest. “Was she here first?” I asked. “No,” he snorted. “Well, you’ve just got to hope that she’s not an asshole then,” I said. (This is why I don’t socialize with strangers. Verbal diarrhea.) “Ah,” he replied, “the ultimate test of humanity.” (Might I add that he had a cute accent and made me nervous.)
Shortly after our conversation, a treadmill luckily opened up on the other side of the heathen’s domain, and my foreign line buddy quickly claimed it. This is when I broke out into a pre-workout sweat. The heathen was technically second in line, but she was so focused on her side…what if something opened up on the other side? Do I continue to uncharacteristically speak to strangers and ask her if she wants the treadmill? But she seems pretty intent on her side…maybe she prefers the window view of Santullo's Eatery to Cold Stone Creamery while she's working toward her goal weight? Please, please someone get off on her side!
But my prayers went unanswered. As the belt in front of me slowed and the treadmiller began to collect her things, I glanced over at the oblivious heathen, then shamefully claimed the open machine. It was a split-second decision, and my social awkwardness trumped my civility. If this was the ultimate test of humanity, I failed.