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Letter From Tuscon

Not all has been peaches and cream in Tucson, AZ this winter, I’ll tell you that much.

About a month ago gray clouds obscured the sun for three consecutive days. Temperatures dipped into the lower 50s. Double-digit wind speeds pushed wind­chill temperatures down into the upper 40s making it uncomfortable to wear shorts and a t-shirt.

To add to the misery, it drizzled on and off for two straight days.

Trapped in a small apartment due to bad weather, I decided to join a fitness club.

The gym is just up the street. It has a pool, a bas­ketball court, racquetball courts and hundreds of machines that will torment you in dozens of different ways.

The fitness Account Executive wasn’t real sure about granting me a membership for just a few weeks, but after a lot of haggling with his manager he offered me a contract. I signed without reading the fine print.

Best of all, they waived the $150 initiation fee thanks to a special offer they had that was only good for that day. Can you imagine my luck?

My main goal was to use the elliptical machine, a contraption sort of like an exercise bike. Elliptical machines are “low impact,” which means they don’t hurt your joints like running or walking can. And they really work off the fat.

After signing the contract, I jumped on the ellipti­cal machine. The computer asked for my age, weight and fitness goals. After entering the data, I began to pump away.

A sensor in the handle detected my heart rate. The machine let it get up to 145. At that point, it beeped and told me to slow down or I would die of a heart attack. I obeyed.

I went on for forty minutes. In that time, my heart beat 5438 times. I felt great. I had three televisions to choose from, all with closed captioning. My iPod blared Bach organ music into my ears.

After I dismounted, I staggered around a little bit. My legs were jelly, but with my blood pumping, I felt like tackling the world.

I stumbled downstairs and went right to work on the weight machines.

Easy! I kept moving the peg down until I was lift­ing 180 lbs up and down with my neck. At least that is what the machine said.

After making the rounds of the machines, I strut­ted out of the gym feeling like a million bucks. Surely after a few weeks of this I could earn a few extra bucks modeling swimsuits.

Not so fast.

The next morning, I couldn’t walk. That “low impact” elliptical machine had ground my knee to a pulp. Although I eventually stretched things out enough to putter around the apartment, I couldn’t go up and down stairs without dragging my left leg along by tugging on my pant leg.

One morning later, the effects of the weight machines kicked in. My chest muscles burned with pain. I stumbled over to the ibuprofen bottle and dug in.

Weeks passed. The healing process was slow. My $2/day membership went unused. I decided to cancel.

Turns out, canceling a membership to a gym is more difficult than getting a divorce. That contract I signed? It had teeth. Sharp teeth.

First, I had to explain why I was quitting. “I am going back to Minnesota,” I said. Well, why did you join in the first place if you knew you were going back to Minnesota?

“Are you simply going to abandon your fitness goals?” asked the Account Executive in disbelief. “Are you sure you are committed to being the best you can be?”

Guilt. Manipulation. Anger. They pulled every lever.

To cancel, I had to mail a big form to corporate headquarters in Los Angeles. It takes them three to six weeks to process the form and decide whether to let you off the hook.

Just yesterday, I got an email that said my member­ship was cancelled. But because I didn’t give the gym six weeks notice, I had to pay for the month of March, even though I will be back in Minnesota.

The tone of the email made it clear that I got off easy.

I disagree. By my math, I spent $140 for that forty minute session on the elliptical machine.

You can add onto that the cost for a new knee.

Those rascals have a pretty good racket going if you ask me.

(Visit Eric's weblog at


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