In January, Jimmy and I stopped at a light in Austin. Jimmy looked out the side window, saw a group of runners stretching on the corner and said, "OH, GROSS."
"What?" I asked.
"That!" he replied, pointing to the runners.
This threw me into an unrestrained fit of laughter because, due to my family's business, Bob Roncker's Running Spot, I've witnessed a lot of stretching in my life. More than anyone should, perhaps. I have made fun of people who run in place at stoplights but I've never been sicked out by stretching. I asked Jimmy what makes stretching so gross and he went off. He said the worst case scenario is standing in line at the grocery store behind someone wearing workout clothes. "I'll change lines," he said.
"Just because they're wearing nylon shorts?"
"Yeah," Jimmy said. "You know they're covered in dried sweat! They need to keep that at home! And if they stretch, it's over. That's like me expecting everyone in line to back up so I can practice my golf swing."
When I showed up to work at the Running Spot yesterday, a marathon training group had just finished a run. Runners were milling about in front of the store and filing upstairs to recover and stretch. It was a humid and rainy morning and when I got to the top of the steps, I was struck by waves of heat emanating from the runners' slick and mottled flesh. The carpeted floor was covered with runners, some in crumpled heaps and some perkily reaching for their toes with straight backs and splayed legs. All of them were dripping and sweating with abandon and the room felt ten degrees hotter than anywhere else in the building.
Not long after, I was in the Running Spot kitchen waiting for coffee to brew when an employee, Amy, walked in with her hand over her eyes.
"My eyes are burning from all the Ben Gay in there."
Even though I knew I'd regret it, I went to the door and peeked. The atmosphere had taken on the aspect of a public bathhouse. A member of the training group was lying on her back with one leg on the ground and the other pointed at the ceiling. Someone else kneeled between her legs and massaged Ben Gay into the aching muscles of her calves and thighs.
"Jesus!" I thought. "What's next? Soft core porn?"
I wheeled back around, poured a cup of coffee, and took the back stairs down to the retail space where I thought I'd be safe. At the door near the register, however, were a pile of wet towels and suspicious dark patches blotting the carpet.
"What's THAT?" I asked two other employees, Sue and Ed.
They both shrugged their shoulders with resignation.
"No one wants to see that!" I said.
Due to my job as towel girl for the American Idol tour, it's impossible for me to see a towel on the ground and not feel compelled to pick it up. I secured a plastic bag from behind the counter, wrapped it around my hand, and started picking up towels while scrunching my nose. A customer leaving the store saw my face and said, "I don't blame you."
I remembered Jimmy's reaction to the runners in Austin and realized that I agree.
Suddenly I, too, think stretching is gross.