Spin Class Hell

spinScott Saalman’s latest Herald column.

“TENSION!” the crazed spinning class instructor yells, his code word for turning the yellow resistance knob just below my knees to the right to make it even harder to pedal. I hate this guy. I really do.
Spin class. I don’t belong here. I belong in something easier. Is there a coasting class? That’s the best thing about riding a bike — coasting. You can’t even coast on a spin bike. What madman designed this thing?
Ten seconds later, he shouts it again. “TENSION!” Every time he says this, I get tense. My fellow spinners obey, adding another full turn. I pretend to follow suit, applying a fake twist just in case anyone is monitoring my movement. It’s an Oscar winning performance. That’s the best thing about spin class: We are on the honor system when it comes to increasing . . .
“TENSION!”
I see a roomful of hands once again go to the resistance knob, they twist clockwise. I do another air twist — fake a grunt for good measure.
The instructor has to yell because of the blood-pumping beats of music bouncing between the walls. It is death metal music, the genre I credit to any group louder than the Eagles. The band’s name is likely Megadeth Spin or Alice in Bike Chains.
“BREATHE!” he shouts, then gives us tips on how to breathe, assigning a certain amount of time to the inhale, then the exhale. I try to focus on his breathing instructions but can’t do it right. I can’t synchronize with the others. I hate group breathing. I inhale, but feel nothing. I fake the exhale since nothing has been inhaled. Apparently I haven’t breathed right in years. How am I even still alive?
“TENSION!” the instructor yells. To his credit, he does twist his own knob every time he tells us to twist ours — he walks the talk like a true leader — yet he never seems fazed by the added resistance, which should now make his legs feel like they are encased in concrete; it only makes him seem more determined; he savors the burn; his legs are a cartoonish blur as he pedals harder and harder, entranced, as if in a personal battle to see who will break first, man or machine, a regular John Henry of the gym. I hate him. Did I tell you this already? His eyes are closed. I should just sneak out. His eyes open as if reading my mind. He’s a demon, I tell you. A madman.
“TENSION!” He grits and growls as he encourages us onward — “PUSH AND PULL, PUSH AND PULL, AYEEEEAH!” The more he gets into the workout, the harder he is to understand, as if he’s speaking in tongues or calling an auction. The front of my shirt is drenched with sweat. I am sweating more than Meat Loaf in concert. The instructor keeps pedaling like a bat out of hell.
In the past, at the gym, I would hear the spin class music blaring from the mysterious spin class room as I messed with some weight machines and the treadmill on the other side of the building, the walls thumping with electronica like the rebirth of Studio 54. I imagined spinners snorting blow, their faces lit up with disco ball glow. It sounded like a dance party in there. Only recently, bored with my own workout, did I dare open myself up for a new challenge. I stepped outside my comfort zone, entered the spin room, thinking, “Once. I’ll just do it once just to say I did it.”
The instructor never seems happy with the status quo. He’s always changing his mind, switching up our body positions, pedal speeds and resistances. It’s like he’s declared jihad on our quads, hamstrings, glutes and calves.
Sometimes, instead of “TENSION!” he shouts for us to “HOVER!” That’s when you barely raise your butt off the bike seat and really lean in on the handlebars. How I hate the hover. You can’t fake a hover. I am very self-conscious when it comes to the hover. I’m not sure I hover right. I just don’t like my butt hovering in that jockey-like position. It’s just asking for trouble. A dog’s dream!
“HOVER!” When he hovers, no part of his body seems to be touching the bike, as if he’s levitating in some Zen-jockey way.
As soon as I get comfortable hovering, he yells for us to “SIT!” Then, as soon as I savor sitting, he demands that we “HOVER!” Then “SIT!” Then “HOVER!” Then “SIT!” Barely three seconds between positions. He obviously is oblivious to the discomfort his indecisiveness is creating for our bodies. No clear-thinking human being would do this to another human being.
“TENSION!”
“PUSH AND PULL!”
“HOVER!”
“SIT!”
“ROLL OVER!”
“BEG!”
“PLAY DEAD!”
“TENSION!”
“AYEEEEAH!”
I barter with God to get me through this. Then, miraculously, our 45 minutes are up. We towel off our face sweat, wipe down our bikes, share our indoor cycling survivor smiles. I forget the promises made to God, remaining the wretch I had been before the class. The instructor praises us for our endurance, encourages us to return. I hate him. I can’t wait to see him next week.

Humor Column: DO LOOK BACK

bad companyBy SCOTT SAALMAN

In 2015, I saw Boston 39 years after the release of their best-selling, eponymous-titled album, “Boston,” perhaps the best debut album in rock and roll history. That record still makes me break out the air guitar.

The original lead singer was dead by then, but his replacement was spot-on vocally. You couldn’t tell the difference from the living or the dead front man, the songs sounding eerily similar to their original recordings that played on my 8-track tape player back in the day.

It struck me as funny when the band kicked into their 1978 hit, “Don’t Look Back,” since the thousands of audience members with me obviously disregarded the band’s 37-year-old advice to not look back. We were looking back, listening to a band whose last album to hit the top of the charts was in 1986. Boston didn’t seem to mind that they were being somewhat hypocritical to still be on stage singing those old songs.

Apparently, based on the concerts I’ve attended, my motto is Do Look Back since the shows have starred classic rock bands whose heydays were eons ago based on frequent radio play. Bruce Springsteen. The Eagles. Steve Miller Band. The Doobie Brothers. Tom Petty.

Jefferson Starship opened for Boston. It consisted of one original member. The guy dated way back to the band’s original incarnation, Jefferson Airplane. He looked old enough to be part of Jefferson Hot Air Balloon. But we didn’t mind. We love to look back.

Last summer I saw REO Speedwagon, which formed in 1967. In a few more years, they’ll likely need to rename their early hit, “Time For Me to Fly,” to “Time For Me To Die.” But we won’t mind. We love to look back.

I’ve seen Bob Seger twice this decade. He should rename the Silver Bullet Band the Silver Mullet Band, but other than that, he is, as his song states, “still the same,” still tossing headbands into the audience and showering fans with what is now old man sweat. His 1979 hit, “Old Time Rock And Roll,” was his way of looking back to the old time rock and roll of the 1950s. Now, “Old Time Rock and Roll” is also old time rock and roll. But we don’t care. We still want to go to Fire Lake with Bob.

We love to look back.

Last weekend, I saw Journey, a 2017 Rock and Roll Hall of Fame inductee — finally! The fantastic Filipino lead singer Arnel Pineda looks 15 and has better moves than Justin Bieber but he is a surprising 49 and sounds more like former lead singer Steve Perry than Steve Perry. We haven’t stopped believin’ in Journey. We love to look back.

I saw Bad Company last summer. They opened for Joe Walsh. Lead singer Paul Rodgers and the bad company he still keeps were amazing. At 67, Rodgers can still convincingly pull off “Feel Like Makin’ Love.” What role Viagra has in this, I can’t tell you.

The Doobie Brothers’ guitars still scorch through their set lists like the old days but one can’t help but watch and wonder just how many Minute by Minutes they have left. Tick. Tick. Tick.

A couple years ago, I saw Mark Knopfler. He was the driving force behind Dire Straits in the ’70s and ’80s. After Dire Straits experienced its own dire straits and disbanded, Knopfler went on to a critically-acclaimed solo career — and at 67 is still going strong.

A Mark Knopfler concert is not a Dire Straits concert. He really doesn’t like to look back. A Dire Straits fan from hell sitting directly behind me apparently didn’t know this. “Play ‘Money For Nothing,’ ” she screamed after each song, spilling beer down the back of my shirt. “I want my MTV,” she sang aloud and alone, spilling more beer down my shirt. Ticketmaster must really have it in for me, always seating me near these drunken derelicts. She complained each time Knopfler kicked into one of his post-Dire Straits tunes. Her friend noticed me looking back at one point and said, “I think the guy in front of you is upset.” The reply, “Oh, he’ll get over it.” NEWSFLASH: It has been two years now and I’M STILL NOT OVER IT!!! Venues now require us to go through metal detectors. What they really need are #%&hole detectors.

This summer, I plan to look back and see another bucket list rock band that for all practical purposes is getting long in the tooth, U2RGETTINGOLD (or U2 for short). On that day, when Bono sings “I Still Haven’t Found What I’m Looking For,” he will likely be referencing something related to his failing eyesight rather than the spiritual enlightenment or love he was searching for in the ’80s. But the audience won’t care. We love to look back.

When I mentioned my U2 tickets on Facebook, a few people harassed me about paying money to see yet another “old” band. I didn’t really care. Just wait until they age and get excited to see 60-year-old Justin Bieber sing his golden oldies, I thought. I’ll get the last laugh then. Looking back at my reaction now, I guess I was the victim of wishful thinking. By the time Justin Bieber brandishes his AARP tattoo on stage, I’ll likely be among the grateful dead.

Scott has a new podcast, A Story and A Song, at at https://astoryandasongpodcast.bandcamp.com/releases.