Little gym, big gym

Last Saturday Carlton and our family and friends celebrated his fourth birthday at The Little Gym in Snellville.

Carlton and friends at The Little Gym
See? Smiles everywhere. Carlton and his friends had a blast.

Though Carlton only took classes there for six weeks, he often asks to go back. The birthday party was the perfect excuse.

The folks at The Little Gym were organized, well-staffed, professional but personal, and they made the entire experience a pleasure. We got to watch the kids have fun and take pictures while the staff ran the party. I can’t recommend The Little Gym enough. There’s a reason Parents magazine named The Little Gym the number one place to host children’s birthday parties.

Along with my recent job change, I’ve changed gyms as I seek to find a schedule that makes sense for me. I’m no longer at the Fitness 19 around the corner, though I had a good experience there for several years.

Campus Recreation Center at Georgia Tech
The BIG gym. Actually, it’s the biggest gym I think I’ve ever been in.

Now, I’m at the palatial Campus Recreation Center at Georgia Tech, the modified former venue of Olympic swimming and diving. It’s massive, with 14 machines of every type, and the equipment is so new I don’t even know what to do with some of it.

All this gym talk had me thinking about the similarities and differences between Carlton’s gym and my gym. So here’s my analysis, using the five senses as an organizing principle:

Sight: The Little Gym is full of bright, primary colors appropriate for children who are learning such basic concepts. The big gym has the appropriate Georgia Tech old gold and white with the navy and black accent colors tastefully and athletically applied. Both are well lit. Obviously, the patrons of The Little Gym are quite a bit shorter but after a rousing game of follow the leader or parachute circle, no less sweaty than their larger equivalents at the big gym. The key difference? The Little Gym people have way more smiling going on.

Carlton gets dizzy with the parachute game
No skydiving required for this parachute, but Carlton still got a little dizzy.

Smell: Without putting too fine a point on it, adults who are exerting smell bad. Children who are exerting have no real smell; unless they are so busy playing they forget to take a potty break. Both gyms smell of antibacterial cleanser, although I have to say The Little Gym has some of the “Scentsy” candle air fresheners that are aromatherapeutic–a nice added touch.

Taste: When I’m at the big gym, all I have is water. It’s pretty much tasteless, unless some of my salty sweat drips down my face while I’m at the water fountain. At The Little Gym, we had juice pouches, popcorn and cupcakes. Now that is fuel for a workout! I do eat a protein bar and a banana or apple after my workout, but as far as breakfasts go, it’s lacking.

Sound: Both gyms have up-tempo music playing to help you get revved up. At The Little Gym, they played a number of hits from the ‘50s and ‘60s such as “Tossin’ and Turnin’,” “Rockin’ Robin” and others. At the big gym, it’s typically a mix of hits from the ‘90s, dance tunes, and hip-hop. It’s enough to make me want my ear buds, but I tend to tune it out most of the time.

The view from the high dive platform
Mere mortals are not allowed up on the high dive platform, but it does make for a really nice view of the big gym’s pool.

Touch: Nearly everything at The Little Gym is padded. There are parallel bars, a high bar, rings and other apparatus that feel the same for the kids as they would the grownups, but overall, it’s soft place to fall, jump, tumble, flip and bounce. The surfaces of the big gym are less forgiving. There is a rubber floor, which absorbs the impact of dumbbells and barbells, and the four or five mats do offer some padding for stretching, yoga or other forms of fitness-related torture. In general, though, the big gym isn’t a place you’d want to fall down.

OK, so what’s my point? All of this is obvious, you say. Well, it’s clear that kids have more fun at The Little Gym than adults do at the big gym. And I think the reasons are in my analysis above. But more than the atmosphere and the physical setting, it’s about attitude.

No matter what color the walls are painted or how the place smells we can all bring a little more child-like play to our fitness. Not only would we enjoy it more, we would probably get healthier in the process.

I think I need a little more Little Gym in my big gym.

OK, it’s your turn. What do you like about your gym? What don’t you like? Have you had any experience with the Little Gym or places that are similar? Leave a comment below and share!

In search of Black Friday

I hate shopping.

I don’t even really like Internet shopping.

There is absolutely nothing appealing about Black Friday to me. I don’t believe in its philosophical underpinnings. I don’t understand its attraction. I don’t acknowledge its existence.

But like someone chasing a ghost or questing for grainy 8 millimeter footage of Big Foot, I set out Thanksgiving night in search of a genuine Black Friday experience.

I didn’t have to go far.

Target on Thanksgiving
The line outside Target at 10 p.m. Thanksgiving night stretches on into the darkness.

Hearing and reading about the controversy this year of Target opening at midnight on Thanksgiving, I started my epic journey outside the Minneapolis-based retailer’s Snellville location. At 10 p.m., the line stretched 100 yards, and all seemed calm.

I met Gabriel Ortiz, 20, and his brother, who had been at the front of the line since 1:40 p.m., eagerly anticipating the purchase of a 46-inch Westinghouse high-definition television for $298 instead of the usual $600.

Gabriel Ortiz
Line-camper Gabriel Ortiz of Snellville stakes out his spot at the front of the line at Target with dreams of a high definition television.

He told me this was his first time to ever shop on Black Friday, and as a relative brought him some food, he shared what he had learned. He started at Best Buy, but at 1 p.m., the line, containing several tents, was already wrapped around the building. The Target scene was more his speed, and depending how his experience went, he would consider doing this again.  I determined for certain at that very moment that I would never consider doing it.  Ever.

Like Andrew Zimmern in search of exotic cuisine, I continued in my pursuit of the Black Friday experience, and Black Friday, I hear, is not Black Friday until you’ve been to the world’s largest retailer, Walmart.

I knew I was in trouble as I drove up Highway 124 and saw the line of traffic just turn into the parking lot. It was 10:32 p.m., and the parking lot was chaos. In about five minutes I managed to snag a spot at a bank in the out parcel. The walk wasn’t bad, and it gave me time to steel my nerves against what I was about to experience.

As I stepped in through the automatic doors, I could not have entered a more alien scene had I been dropped into the Mos Eisley Cantina. Everywhere I turned, there was a long line, emanating from a Mylar balloon with a product printed on it. Remembering that we were out of pull-up diapers, I spent 20 minutes meandering through the store, avoiding the blocked off aisles and walls of people waiting on everything from HD televisions to video game systems to bicycles.

I found the Huggies pull-ups just above the head of a woman sitting in the floor.

“The line for diapers starts back there,” she quipped.

“Seriously?” I said, an obvious Black Friday novice.

“No, it’s for the laptop,” she said, pointing to the balloon. A 15.6-inch Hewlett Packard laptop to be exact.

Out of luck or ignorance, I ended up in the “10-items or less” line. A woman with a Wii and another with a Xbox Kinect chatted brightly in front of me.

“That’s all you’ve got?” the Wii woman said.

“What are you doing here in this mess?” her friend asked.

“You must be a really good husband,” Mrs. Wii said.

“You should’ve just gone to CVS or Kroger. They’re open today, too, you know,” Mrs. Kinect said with just a slight hint of condescension.

The beleaguered clerk rang me up and laughed.

“Is that all?”

“It’s all I need,” I said, and as she handed me my receipt, I offered “Hang in there. I hope you survive.”

Wallmart check out
A sea of humanity tried to check out Thursday night at Walmart in Snellville.

By this time, it was still an hour until Target was to open. Just for laughs, I drove back by Target. Gabriel and his brother were still at the front of the line wearing hopeful smiles, but now the line stretched at least a quarter mile.

When I got home, I put the diapers on the counter, brushed my teeth and climbed into bed. The clock said 11:30. I thought about the Walmart scene and how it was about to be repeated at Target.

For any other skeptics out there, let me assure you, Black Friday is real, and it is dangerous.

Please shop responsibly.

What’s your view? Do you love or avoid shopping on Black Friday? Are you a line camper? What’s your best deal you’ve ever gotten? Help continue my education by sharing your experiences below.