My Visit to the YMCA

The Presidio YMCA sits near the edge of the San Francisco Bay, looking right at the Golden Gate Bridge. To get there from my residence, I have to roll down Masonic Avenue for a mile, cut left onto Presidio Avenue, pass through the Presidio Heights–an insultingly-rich neighborhood–and down through the Presidio Forest, letting me out only a quarter of a mile away from the  YMCA facility. Total travel time: about 15 minutes.

I’ve been trying to move with this impulse to be healthy: limiting my meat intake, overpaying for organic food, wine over beer, etc. Therefore, working-out coincides with this courageous movement. Back in Pennsylvania, I was assigned as a member on my dad’s YMCA family membership; he receives a free membership for teaching weekly adult swim-lessons. Last week, however, I was informed my mom replaced me on the membership. The YMCA limits only two adults per family membership.

In addition, most YMCAs grant free access for visiting members from other branches. Nevertheless, the YMCAs in San Francisco charge a $5 fee for visiting members, after all, this is San Francisco–here nothing is free or cheap for that matter. Nonetheless, my being a desperate and depraved and now-former YMCA member, I tried to finagle myself in. After all, $5 can help cut down my $64 parking ticket I received two days ago. Anyway, the conversation rolled somewhat like this:

(I walked through the wide-open entrance doors, eyes connected with the staff members)

“Hey there. How’s it going today,” said the college-aged YMCA employee.

“Good,” I said. “I’m visiting San Francisco, and I’m a YMCA member from Pennsylvania.”

“Gotcha–welcome,” he said. “Do you have your YMCA-card?”

“No…but I should be in your system… I was here in November.”

“Ok then, what’s your name?

“Mark Rothman.”

I’m scanning the lobby, feeling like a cracked-out fugitive trying to hide something.

“Ok, found you.”

“Great,” I said. ” So–I’m all set.”

I quickly break eye contact and step to my right, aiming for the locker-rooms.

“Umm–there’s a $5 entrance charge.”

I pull back. Fuck, I thought. I’ve been caught.

“Hmm, that’s weird,” I said. “I’ve never been charged before….are you sure that’s correct?”

The college-aged, soft-spoken employee glanced at his manager who was standing to his right.

“Hey–there’s a $5 charge, right?” he asked.

“Yep,” said the manger, looking down at the boy and then glancing at me.

I leaned forward and rested both palms against the white desk, bringing attention to the seriousness of this matter.

“$5? Wow–is this a new policy or something?” I gasped.

“Nope. It’s always been like this,” said the manager, holding his stance.

“Well, I’ve never been charged here before–so I’m pretty confused,” I said, shaking my head.

“You should have.”

“No other YMCA does this. I’ve traveled across the country, touring the land and working-out, and never has a YMCA demanded money from me.”

“From my knowledge, all of the San Francisco YMCAs charge visiting guests.”

A brief pause ensues…the college boy stares at the ground and the manager holds his eye contact with me. I proceeded to scratch my head, appearing dumbfounded by the entire situation. But they weren’t budging.

“Can I talk to a director?” I asked.”Look–I’m out here for um..business..um, and it’s going to put a dent in my wallet if I need to keep paying $5 per visit. So let’s see if we can work something out.”

“Yeah–hold on. I’ll talk to her now,” he said.

The manager came out from behind the desk and paced across the white-titled floor over to an office door about twenty feet away. He cracked the door open and poked in his head, mouthing something to her. Then he glanced back at me and asked, “How long are you going to be here?”

“Like 3 weeks. Maybe 4,” I said.

He poked his head back in the office. I overheard a chuckle. What are they laughing at? Me? I thought. Then he removed himself from the office and pulled the door shut.

“She says she can do $50.”

“My god! $50? That’s basically ten visits,” I said, waving my arms in the air like it was the worst news I’ve ever heard.

“Sorry, that’s all we can do,” he said, securing his spot back behind the desk.

I gazed around the vacant lobby, trying to grasp some type of last-ditch effort. I could try to just make a dash for it, I thought. But I would most likely pull something; it’s been a while since I’ve worked out. The manager hopped on a call, and the college boy sat there, frozen, staring straight ahead at the computer screen.

“Fine–I’ll come in just for today,” I said, extending my credit card out to the employee.

“Ok–so that will be $5,” he confirmed, pulling my card away.

My credit card is scratched up on the back, so it usually requires a few swipes to actually process the payment. After a few attempts, he handed back my card.

“All good?” I asked.

“Yeah–you’re set,” he said.

With my official release, I put my head down and curved around the desk, heading down the narrow hallway. Then, when I was almost out of reach, I heard: “Which YMCA do you belong to?”

I turned my head back and said, “Spring Valley YMCA…it’s in Pennsylvania.”

“Ok–that’s fine. But just so you know, it’s $20 if you weren’t a visiting member,” he informed me, feeling like a true-American enforcer of rules and regulations.

“Gotcha,” I said, turning my back to him.

He made his point and stood up for himself. After all, he must deal with depraved schemers trying to slip in on a daily basis. At the same time, he must feel some sympathy towards us. I mean, if you’re really trying to cut the system for a mere $5, you must really need it. But then again, why are you living in San Francisco……

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