When I first moved to Los Angeles several months ago, I went to the gym every day. So, I discovered, does everyone else here.
This came as a shock to me. As a displaced New Yorker among the angels, I could adjust to the un-NYC features of this sunny world: the shocked glares I'd receive at mere mention of walking or (God forbid) public transport, the industry chit-chat that's a cliché by now, the masses of people here with ambiguous jobs involving "something in music or film" who never seem to go to work but somehow manage to pay their rents. Yet one thing I did need schooling in: L.A. fitness mores.
In New York, my daily workout routine made me something of a spectacle among my health-considerate but hardly health-obsessed friends. For most of them, the gym was an event, not a routine.
"I'm going to the gym a week from tonight," my friend Jane would declare. This meant she was off-limits for at least three evenings: the crucial night before the workout (to be spent getting a good night's sleep), the night of the workout (to be spent sweating), and the night after it (to be spent recovering).
But in Los Angeles, my sneaker-clad self became something I never wanted to be: yet another 20-something single girl with a regular fitness routine. Going to the gym is a given here. Nobody's impressed if you do it; they're stunned if you don't. In car culture, gyms are Los Angeles' traffic lights: "Turn right at the Bally's," I'd hear, "and make a left at Hollywood Fitness."
I became a closet case. Embarrassed to be a cliché, I began telling people I was going to the supermarket instead of the gym. They began wondering why my groceries had such a short shelf life.
They also invited me on what I came to think of as gym-related leisure activities: hiking, running, ball-playing, swimming. Performed by those who engage in regular workouts but who also like to cultivate hobbies, these activities are so very Los Angeles because they, like everything else in this city, blur the line between work and play (Is it a night on the town or a networking venture? Is it a walk through the mountains or an efficient workout?).
If fitness is the official religion of Los Angeles, then everyone, I've determined, has a bad case of Jewish guilt. If they're not working out, they're thinking about it, talking about it, or planning to do it. The Jewish mother in this metaphor is the ubiquitous personal trainer, who always lurks as a reminder that however hard you're working out, you could always be putting in just a little more effort, couldn't you?
My first gym membership here was at Gold's in Venice, one of the few institutions in this city with some history attached to it. Unfortunately, I never seemed to get an efficient workout there, because I'd end up ogling my fellow exercisers, most of whom had bodies that seemed to defy nature itself. How, I wondered, did they get all that bulge and bulk in all those bizarre places? Most of the women at Gold's could bench press me 10 times over. As for the men, I couldn't fathom how they jammed all that bulk into human clothing.
Then again, when it comes to fitness, I learned, L.A. men are a whole different breed. Vanity in women -- that's a given. But vain men are the specialty of the region. Five minutes into a conversation with one, I'd often end up hearing more than I cared to know about his workout schedule and problem areas. They were shocked to hear that I had no opinion about the quality, texture, and/or value of a six-pack.
Ah, the elusive six-pack -- something my male roommate never tires of discussing, especially while his Healthy Choice dinner is in the microwave and he's confessing to all the carbs he ate that day, as if to purge himself of sin. "If I could only work out that extra hour, and stop my late-night snacking," he'd moan. I'd nod, absolve him, and shake my head in puzzlement. A man who knows what a low-carb diet is? I don't think I could find a single one in New York -- but I meet them every day at the frozen yogurt store in West Hollywood, filling their perfect abdominals with carbo-lite milkshakes and low-carb muffins. I admit it: These guys have beaten me at my own game.
I'm not in New York anymore, and this is the new game of fitness. So I yield to the insanity and drive (drive!) back to the gym.