Empty Locker

Six months have passed since I retired, and I am slowly redrawing my habits. I was happy to leave the back-to-back conference calls and the constant grinding stress from my corporate masters. I was not happy to leave my work comrades. I had processed – therapeutically – the feelings about leaving them and still think of them fondly every day.  I had not, however, considered the feelings I would have about the non-work part. I miss the trappings. I miss my gym.

End of an Era

February came and went before I was able to send my corporate polo shirt out of the house, the uniform that I wore weekly for years. I felt silly, but I took a photo.  I still long for the fresh turkey sandwich on a French roll that I would literally run next door to get in the five minute break between calls. I miss reading the newspaper on BART going into the city. I challenged myself daily to complete the cryptogram and the two crossword puzzles between Lake Merritt station and my office, which meant finishing them while I walked the five blocks to work. I couldn’t do it if it was raining.  This month, I finally decided to find a new gym.

It was truly the end of an era, a trauma to the psyche to move gyms last month. I started going to the Embarcadero YMCA when I was planning to get pregnant. My son will be a senior in college next year, looking at graduate schools. Some of the lifeguards were born after I started swimming laps.

I would not have had the temerity to go to the gym during the work day, but a boss of mine had a shoulder problem that started him going. (Thank you Christian!)  I could do the turnaround in two hours, and started working at 7 am to cover the time, which all turned out to be handy when the company headquarters moved to East Coast time.

At 9 am, most of the swimmers were regulars and older. That is to say, older than me when I started swimming, though not so much now.  Russian and Chinese men and women would water walk or do the crawl slowly in the lanes. They were polite if you swam around them. There was a very chatty man with the elaborate tattoos, some inspirational words inked in German. A white-haired woman with the strong Bronx accent. The Filipino woman whose disabled adult daughter would only hum instead of speaking but loved to splash, even in the hot tub, and no one minded.

Once in the locker room, I overheard a conversation where one of the older regulars said her age was ninety. What a great goal that would be–swimming at ninety! A few months afterwards, I noticed that I hadn’t seen her for a while, so perhaps that was one of the last times for her. But, heck, I’d be proud to put it on a tombstone: I WAS STILL SWIMMING AT NINETY.


When the America’s Cup came to San Francisco, I got to see some of the tall ships out the second floor window in front of the exercise bikes.  There was an international junior sailboat flotilla one Sunday where flags blazing with the colors of the world whipped in the wind as they raced in front of me. In the years when I joined the Pride Parade, our contingent would wait for hours in the foggy June streets, so I remember feeling so clever as I navigated through crowds, sometimes with my kids, to card myself in and use the facilities.

I was pregnant twice in the 23 years at the gym, swimming up until the end of my eighth month. I stopped for six months when I broke my ankle roller skating, and for a short while when I had knee and shoulder surgeries. But I kept going in the summer when I was laid off, and I would adjourn to the Ferry Building post-swim for a farmer’s cheese sandwich while I looked online for job openings. The calories were likely a net loss but psychologically, it was a net positive to have someplace to go, something useful to do.

I kept at it for five months after I left my office in January, but the commute trip added an hour. Even though I have the time, it seemed too costly to sustain.

The last day there, I felt maudlin the whole time, sighing to myself through the laps, in the whirlpool, in the locker room. I didn’t recognize any regulars that day, so although I wanted to chat someone up and tell them my sad tale, it didn’t work out that way. I emptied my locker slowly and sadly and went down to the front desk to tell them I had to close out.

“Oh,” the young man said cheerfully, “we can’t shut your account for another 30 days. You can still come until the end of June.”

So much for the drumroll!

The new gym has loud televisions in the locker room. Is that a young people thing or a gym thing these days, that there must be a screen on everywhere you go? The new gym is a fifteen minute freeway commute instead of a twenty minute walk through the city. I miss the walk. I miss the buildings.

The new gym has a pool less than half the size, but it has very few users at 9 am.  The other swimmers even seem surprised when someone joins a lane, so unused to other people that they seem reluctant to give up space to share with a second or third person. Such is the difference between the suburbs and the city ; the ‘burbs have so much space but seem jealous to keep it all. In the city you know to make room and take turns, whether it’s on a bus, in a sandwich shop at noon, or in a swim lane.

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But the new gym is next to a coffee and salad shop that has free WiFi, so I could read or write and soak up the morning sun afterwards. The waft of chlorine is the same, as are the rubber flip flops for the shower and the fading colors of the swimsuit.  The gym is right down the street from the gas station where I like to buy a mammoth diet Mountain Dew, and the Indian family that runs it already knows me as a regular. I will form new pathways.

So I can move the old Y to that spot in my memories for Places I Used to Go, a list that is starting to feel a little crowded but can surely accommodate many more for years to come. Time to acquire new routines. Time to move on. Time to empty the locker and fill it somewhere else.


Today’s DailyPost is brought to you by the word Empty.

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