A sign on the glass double door warns gym members: DO NOT LEAVE VALUABLES IN YOUR CAR. I asked the desk attendant about the sign. She told me we've had a rash of car burglaries in the parking lot.
There are also ongoing problems with burglarized lockers, so I don't use a locker. And there are signs in the workout area: NOT RESPONSIBLE FOR STOLEN ITEMS. MEMBERS ARE NOT PERMITTED TO LEAVE JACKETS OR OTHER CLOTHING ON THE THE FLOOR.
I bring my jacket into the workout area, carrying it as I move from station to station. I set it down on the floor with each stop. I don't want to let it out of my sight. Nobody has objected. I keep my DL, my gym membership card and an ATM card tucked into my sock and my car key secured to a shoe lace.
It wasn't always like this.
Until about five years ago, the gym consisted of a small but adequate weight room used by a relatively small number of adults. I knew almost everyone by name. There were only three cardio machines in a separate room, and there was a third room, a modest Nautilus-Universal room. The social atmosphere in those rooms was friendly.
Then came a major renovation of the facility. I remember thinking: It isn't broken. Don't fix it.
But improvements were needed to attract new members.
The small workout rooms were replaced with a single, much larger room. The new room has free weights, more Nautilus equipment and a couple of dozen TV-equipped, IPod-ready cardio machines. It looks nice.
The renovation had the intended effect: it attracted scads of new members, including a large number of local teens. The new adult members are absolutely fine. Most are very friendly and courteous. Some of the kids are more sketchy.
Since the renovation, the atmosphere has slowly but steadily deteriorated. Over the past few months, especially, the change has been really getting on my nerves. Not only is member property theft a problem, but the kids make a shambles of the free weights area. Apparently there are special rules for teen members: never, ever return weights to the places they belong. Carry dumbbells to the other side of the gym, use them and leave them wherever the hell you feel like it so that other people will spend 15 minutes searching for that missing 45lb dumbbell.
And they steal equipment. They steal smaller dumbbells; they steal the neck pads that wrap around the center of the large bars. Those pads are essential for doing squats with heavy weights. They've stolen the arm blaster so many times that the management stopped replacing it. The presence of so many teens has also introduced a subtle undercurrent of testosterone-fueled tension. It's not terrible, but it's enough that the place has lost it's very comfortable feel.
Fancy new vending machines were installed. They're the kind with a glass front, allowing you to watch a robot arm fetch your drink and deliver it through the vending slot. The new machines carry a better selection than the old machines--beverages and snacks more suitable for people who work out. That's great, but the new machines break down all the time.
I've been a member of this gym for a very long time, but I've grown tired of the improvements. I've noticed that many other longtime members have dropped away over the past two or three years. Maybe I should move on, as well.