“Let’s Get Physical …!”

  …sang Olivia Newton John back in 1981, when I had just returned from living in Philadelphia for three months. In the video that accompanied the song she was seen in the middle of a health club surrounded in equal numbers by both muscular males, and those who judging by their ample girths looked to have accidentally taken a wrong turning somewhere en route to the local pub. Health clubs are to be found everywhere here, and are much more affordable and much less exclusive than their British counterparts.

For a while back in England I belonged to one that was located within an up-market  Holiday Inn, handily situated on the drive to my office. It had a pool, and a large room full of exercise machines, things common to most such facilities – but there was also a social side to the place as well as it had it’s own private bar, and here I think lies one of the biggest differences with such clubs here. The attitude to social drinking here can be somewhat puritanical at times, and so the very idea of housing both treadmills and a bar under the same roof would be frowned upon. I’m not saying that there aren’t some  people who seem unable to manage their alcohol intake – either in terms of quantity or frequency – but where I come from the pub is part of the local fabric of life, and a very agreeable place to while away a couple of hours. The fact that many English health clubs have bars within them is probably because they are seen as social meeting places as well somewhere to work out – and it may be as a result of this that their membership dues are significantly higher. Ten years ago – a monthly non-time restricted membership (i.e. I could go there at any time of the day) ran me around $100. By comparison – the monthly dues for my health club here in Vegas are around $25.

Though many people do belong to health clubs, there is something of a paradox here… They will invariably arrive by car – even though the club may be just around the corner from their house – and then will often drive several times around the car park in search of a space close to the entrance !

America it must be said is not a nation of walkers. There are plenty of folks who will go hiking for miles at the weekend without giving it a second thought, yet they climb into their automobiles to drive to the corner drugstore a couple of blocks away.

Some of this is simply down to the way that streets and shopping complexes are laid out, particularly here in the west in newer towns and cities. Having had the benefit of already knowing that the automobile was  growing in popularity as a preferred means of transportation, town planners then conspired to make it just about the ONLY means of getting around, and putting as many impediments in the way of pedestrians as they possibly could. I frequently find that if I am walking to a restaurant along the sidewalk – there is no obvious path to the door. Such access as has been provided is always from it’s car park, leaving you to scramble over grass verges and gravel embankments if you choose not to pretend that you are simply another form of vehicle and go 20 yards further along  and out of your way to enter via the opening for cars.

Some years ago I was in Dallas in the spring to attend a conference at a hotel located a couple of miles outside the city. As I stood in the entrance lobby I could see the famous city skyline not too far away, and as it was a glorious day decided it might be a nice idea to take a stroll down there. The weather in England had been – well typically English with quite a bit of rain, so I was looking forward to taking my walk in the sunshine. In order to find the best way of getting there I turned to that fount of all wisdom in a hotel lobby – the concierge – and asked for directions. At first he assumed I had a vehicle of some kind and started to point the way from the hotel’s parking garage. When I explained that I actually proposed to walk the couple of miles to my destination he was totally nonplussed and I had him beaten. He simply didn’t have the first clue, and at every juncture was trying to persuade me that I really should go by car – though he couldn’t convincingly say why. It was as if I had landed on Mars and decided to ask the first Martian I encountered to explain the rules of baseball (or cricket !). In the end I found a rather tortuous route by way of some warehouses and railway tracks that got me into the city by my heading for the skyscrapers on the horizon.

On another occasion I was in Atlanta and having arrived a little early from London had some time to kill before my first meeting. I glanced through the hotel’s welcome binder and saw that one of the city’s notable places of interest was the tomb of Martin Luther King. The description clearly said that it was ten minutes from the hotel, so I thought right-oh – and off I set with map in hand…. Well I had been walking for considerably longer than ten minutes (and I tend to walk quite fast as most of my friends will tell you) when it suddenly dawned on me that the time they had quoted was for someone in an automobile, not on foot !

The most amazing thing I have seen though, that illustrates just what steps some people will take to in order to avoid walking was in Long Beach. It was shortly before my wife and I got married, and at the time she was sharing a house there with some friends before moving to London. It had become our habit to sit out on the porch and watch the world go by, when we noticed a car driving by very slowly on the other side of the street. Had we been in a red-light area, you would have sworn that the gentleman inside was kerb-crawling in search of a lady of the night…

It wasn’t until about twenty minutes later when he came past us again this time on our side, and at the same speed, that everything became clear. There was a dog tethered by it’s lead to the passenger door handle, and this was his way of “walking” it !

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