To arrive on the westside of Los Angeles before the traffic becomes a tourniquet, you must leave your house before the Hollywood vampires hit their sheets. Even at 4:30 AM, the busy highway is full of tired people going nowhere fast. After three decades of working out, I still wake with the same mindset. I never regret going on a hike in the mountains or to the gym. Both religious sanctuaries leave me refreshed and able to handle another day on this earth.
Pulling into the packed parking lot, I uncoil my fifty-four-year-old frame from my old truck. I am excited to go to any gym but to work out at the Gold’s Gym in Venice Beach, I feel like I’m walking into the Vatican. Inside, my ancient heroes and their youthful devotees grunt and groan, oblivious to the real world waking up outside.
Clanging metal and screams of encouragement fill the early morning pacific air. An hour into my ego-centered masochism, soaked in sweat, my pumped-up muscles could explode and wipe out half this gym.
Grinding out the last torturous repetition on the rear deltoid machine, I hear in a deep, winded Austrian accent, “Do ya’ mind if I work in wit’ you.”
I spin around quickly. My contorted head nearly pops off. Standing before me is the Pope himself, Arnold Schwarzenegger. His tough bodyguard gives me a squinty, Clint Eastwood look.
Jumping off the machine, I reach for the king’s hand. Pumping it like I am jacking off, I weakly blurt out, “I have been training thirty-five years for this moment.”
Schwarzenegger eye’s me up and down and then smiles. Pointing a crooked, veiny finger at my chest, he quips, “It does not look like it.”
Shaken to the core, I feel like a ninety-pound weakling again. Looking up, I see the twinkle in Arnold’s eye. He breaks into a laugh, followed by his hired tough guy.
Arnold sits down at the deltoid machine and cranks out a thousand reps. He finishes, slowly gets up, and gives me a thumbs up. He melts off into the full gym of his adoring fans. I don’t remember the rest of the workout. Thirty-six years of blowing my retirement on whey protein is a lot to process in a few minutes.
But in some ways, I wouldn’t have had the royal encounter any other way. It fits like the shoe of my life.