The Worst Gym in Philadelphia

I can't escape the vise grip of my contract.

I am sitting on my couch—sneakers still on, pink headband pushing my hair back, sports bra (always, futilely) waiting for something sports-oriented to occur—and I’m fuming. Once again I have suffered through a workout at “my” South Philly gym, where I only continue to go to because I’ve been trapped in a contract for so long, I now pay $19 a month. For a while, the low cost made me feel I wasn’t entitled to complain—about the uninformed staff; the broken machines; the dirty floors; the grimy bathrooms. But just when I was ready to finally make a move and join a class action suit I didn’t understand, the chain declared bankruptcy and got bought out.

I found out about it from gym personnel, who gave me a new ID card and key fob the day before the changeover. Everything was still suspiciously messy, but tomorrow, I thought, the gym will be better. It was my Scarlett O’Hara moment, if Scarlett fashioned an impromptu dress out of Spandex instead of curtains.

Tomorrow was better. For instance, there are now soap dispensers in the showers. And there seem to be people hired to clean. The first time I noticed them—people skulking in black, with weapons of cleanliness in their hands—I was on a treadmill. I had moved to this treadmill from another that was broken—only I didn’t realize it was broken for about 10 minutes during which some placebo effect made me feel the incline was increasing though the machine hadn’t moved. When I realized I wasn’t on the peak of an artificial mountain, I experienced reverse vertigo and a blinding rage at how broken everything was. So I moved to a different machine and jammed an angry finger into the up arrow as hard as possible. Zoom! Fun!

I was angrily pounding away at my fake mountain when a short man with large glasses appeared at the bottom of the treadmill. He was holding a rag and a spray bottle, and despite the 12 empty treadmills around us, he began to wipe—slowly, so slowly—the haunches of my machine. Spritz … wipe. Spritz … wipe. In slow motion. He just kept doing it. It made me uncomfortable but I didn’t say anything. What could I say? He wasn’t sexually harassing me, just the treadmill. After a few minutes, I lowered the incline, thinking the whirring would wake him from his spritz-wipe revery. Instead he shifted his attentions to higher parts of the treadmill. I hopped off and scurried away. I thought they might want to be alone.

That was a few weeks ago. Today, the gym was so awful, I had a realization: I think I go to The Worst Gym in Philadelphia. (Hint: Rhymes with L.A. Fitness.) That’s right. I said it.

Have I mentioned the gym has no air conditioning? It’s an enormous open space with elliptical machines, treadmills, weight machines, free weights, all kinds of instruments of sweat-inducement—along with the dozens of sweaty, smelly people contorted upon them—and not one bit of the space is air conditioned. I stopped doing hot yoga years ago because the imagined floating germ balls were making me queasy, but at least in that case I was getting lean and fit. In The Worst Gym in Philadelphia, it’s swelteringly hot and I still can’t wear a bikini.

The machines, despite new ownership, couldn’t be worse. There are always fragments missing—there must be buckets of plastic shrapnel in the back. Today one of the ellipticals would not stop squeaking. A squeak magnified in that cavernous space and not a drop of WD-40 in the house, I suppose. Yet that consistent shriek was of dulcet tones compared to the fire alarm that went off—one of those municipally approved alarms that blare and flash so there’s no ignoring them—unless you’re a staff member at The Worst Gym in Philadelphia. In which case, take your time. Don’t feel pressed to explain what’s going on, or apologize for it, or explain later when it blares again. Best not to say or do anything.

There’s so much more, but when I realize what I’m angry about, I want to hit myself in the face with a water bottle. I have a gym membership and I don’t like my gym. First-world problems, indeed, and completely ridiculous. In fact, gyms are ridiculous—I could just as easily exercise by jogging in my neighborhood, which is also not air conditioned and smells much nicer. But I’m in the vise grip of a contract that I signed with Mephistopholes, so I fume. I sit in my workout clothes and think about murdering someone, and I seethe. Now that I think about it, how many calories can I burn stifling fury? This might work out after all.