When I’m not on the road for work, you can typically find me at the local Irvine 24 Hour Fitness most weeknights. Yep, that’s me there on the treadmill with my iPhone in hand – glued to the Pinterest app or typing away at those emails I didn’t get to earlier that day (so if you ever get an email from me around 10pm eastern, please forgive the typos!). We have come to know our gym fondly as the “Roid Gym” – due to the fact that the clientele is predominately made up of those “amped up” on various quasi-legal substances. Being there as often as I am, I tend to see the same usual suspects several times each week. One fellow in particularalways stood out to me and made me glad that I wasn’t there by myself. We’d notice this guy was there virtually every day/ night (he would often be jogging in circles in the parking lot after dark). He always used weight machines, but never really seemed to be doing much with them. Unlike most of the regulars, he never said hello, or spoke to anyone – but I’d often catch a glimpse of him staring my way, which made me extremely uncomfortable – great, now I have to worry about gym stalkers too! We had all kinds of theories about this guy – perhaps he didn’t speak English, was somehow mentally handicapped, and based on the pick-up truck he has parked in the lot (piled high with a full load of possessions in the bed), we figured he was likely homeless.
Well one day I decided to go over for an afternoon workout, and found myself on the spin bike. Not too long after I was warmed up, I was joined by my gym stalker on the bike two down from me. We didn’t even make eye contact, and I just continued peddling away. But something was about to happen that would not only change my view of this gentleman, but would force me to reevaluate the way I judge anyone in the future. The girl who normally works the front desk, who had just gotten off duty and was getting in her own spin before heading home, jumped up on the bike in between us.
Macy immediately greeted the man “Hey Harold – how are you?”. I’m pretty sure I stopped dead in my tracks as the man replied in the sweetest of tones “Not bad, how are you young lady?”. I wound up listening in to their conversation which went on for several minutes before Harold got up and declared “off to the next thing, talk to you later!”. As soon as he was out of earshot, I turned to Macy and began to dig for info. She told me that he comes in every day while she’s at the front desk, and would never speak. One day, she decided she was going to talk to him regardless of whether he replied or not, so she began to greet him by name each time he would enter. After a while, she said he began to reply and would even engage in brief conversations with her.
Hearing her talk about him instantly made me feel completely mistaken about my first impression of Harold. So I decided to try her approach and see what happens. Next time I saw him walk in, rather than looking away, I looked straight his way until our eyes met – then I gave him a big smile and said hello. As I got up after my ride, I told him “See you later…it’s Harold, right? I’m Kim”. Of all the times that I’d seen Harold at the gym, I’d never once seen him smile – but I got a big grin out of him that day…and guess what? I’ve gotten it each and every time I’ve seen him since.