I’m at the gym, running, and minding my own business.
I have earbuds in, and I always choose a treadmill at the end of a row if I can. The fewer people around me the better. Especially at the gym. Part of the reason for this is because I sweat.
Like, an embarrassing amount of sweating happens with me, especially when I run. My elbows literally just fling sweat every which way. You might think that’s too much information, but you’d be mistaken because that little sentence doesn’t do the reality justice.
The second reason I want few people around me is because I hate talking at the gym. I go there to be alone with other people.
Yeah, you read that correctly. I go to the gym to be alone in a crowd. Because in my work I don’t get a whole lot of “anonymous time,” and I crave it. I’m not famous or anything, but the circle of people who recognize me is large, much larger than I expect, sometimes.
Coffee shops, hospitals, even the local watering hole…I see people I know there all the time. And that’s all well and good! I’m not saying I don’t want to see people I know at these places. I enjoy the chat, the pint, the moment of connection.
But I also enjoy moments of disconnection, too. And I find I have to schedule them.
Anyway, I’m running at the end of a bank of treadmills, and suddenly I notice this presence at the machine next to me.
My eyes stare straight forward. I’m one mile in. My earbuds are in, but unfortunately only one of them works, so I can hear pretty well.
“You know,” the figure next to me says, “a lot of people don’t like talking to other people. But not me. I’m a social guy.”
I keep running. I’m praying he’s on the phone.
“I lived in Costa Rica for a while, which is why I call myself ‘Esteban.’ Stephen’s the name my momma gave me. Esteban is the name the cab driver in Costa Rica gave me. I go by either…”
I finally look over at him, and sure enough, he’s talking to me. He’s walking on the treadmill, and is of some considerable size. Maybe mid-30’s. I keep my pace, and he’s just walking…sweating…like two travelers on different journeys who, except for the machines governing their paces, wouldn’t travel together. I was running. He was walking. We wouldn’t be side-by-side in any other world except for the gym: that unicorn of a place where everyone goes a different distance, together.
I consider ending the run early, or moving to another machine.
“I got stabbed in the neck once,” he continued. I turned my eyes forward again, but now have to stay because, who wouldn’t after an opener like that?
“I lived. Obviously. Maybe I’m a Warlock or something. Who gets stabbed in the neck and lives?” I took his question as rhetorical. I’ll stay for the conversation, but I’m not taking any questions at this time.
“When I go to the doctor they always wonder if they’re reading my blood pressure correctly. I have a great heart. Good genes, I guess. My grandmother lived to be 103. We’re all big people in my family. Good genes.” His pace, both in walking and in talking, stayed steady. I continued to look ahead, smirking a bit. I think he saw that.
“The nurses always take that blood pressure,” he laughed, “and then ask if I jog. Do I look like I jog, lady?!” I smiled bigger. That was funny. Especially because he was the embodiment of “second-hand smoke.” I could smell it on him the minute he walked up, and the tobacco smell only intensified as his pores opened.
2.9 miles in. I’m not sure I want to get off at 3, though. Esteban, the large hulking beast next to me was on a roll and I had yet to say a word.
“I like day drinking,” was his next statement. “Not a lot, of course, but there’s something about having a beer in the middle of the day that changes the second half of anything.”
He wasn’t wrong.
3 miles. I stopped my treadmill.
“Thanks for talking, man. I’ve got a bit more to do,” he said.
I nodded, wiped down the machine that now looked like it had taken a swim, and walked out. He turned his attention back forward and kept walking.
And even though I go to the gym to be anonymous, I guess some don’t. Some go to not be anonymous anymore.
And somehow Esteban and I both figured out how to make it work. I was alone with him. And he was not alone anymore.