Friday, November 5, 2010

Caitlin Washburn's Indoor Place Essay

The University of Missouri Recreation Complex is a place where over twenty thousand members can call their home away from home. Top of the line exercise equipment, 1/6th mile track, dance studios, three pools, saunas, and many other amenities make this an area for one to worship their body. I am not only a member, but an employee of this amazing facility. Sitting at the front desk I have observed people of all kinds travel in and out, and I can’t begin to tell of the extraordinary lengths we go through to create the best experience possible for our members. MizzouRec is the grand cathedral of gyms, the Notre Dame if you will. It’s a place of torment, nirvana, and where people go to feel better about their body image.

Five to seven thousands members come in weekly for this religious experience. Unlike a place of worship we charge at the door and that is where I come in. The front desk the gate of the facility, and it’s a member’s only club. It’s something like being a mix of a salesman and a doorman working there. Though we have so many members this keeps the appearance that we are exclusive and you can be too for the right price. The smells of chlorine, pheromones and lemon cleaner and the perpetual warmth generated by thousands of bodies creates an intoxicating atmosphere that draws people from near and far. Bemoan those who come in without a photo ID, for they are cast out of paradise. Some of them accept their fate and leave while others wish to put up a futile fight. An officially issued piece of plastic with your name and picture on it is what you need to pass, no exceptions (well, sometimes).

When inside one is affronted by a multitude of heavily decorated spaces. In the center of the lobby sits an enormous fake tree with hundreds of fabric leaves. It is there to add to the organic feeling of the stone halls, and to distract one from looking up at the industrial ceiling it climbs up to. The area is supposed to give a feeling that people are a tiger in the jungle, and to tie in the theme of our “Jungle Gym” equipment room. Behind the tree is an area known as the “Red Hall Beverage Company.” Though once being a functional area for beverages, it has now become a computer station. On the right side of the lobby there is an entrance to the Tiger Grotto, the pool with a vortex and a lazy river. There is no stairway that actually leads you down to the pool, but there is a deck area with multiple rocking chairs so you can stare down at the people actually swimming and having a good time. The lobby’s function is to give our members a look at our facility without serving any real practical purpose other than as a study area.

Further into this sanctuary is the “Jungle Gym” where hundreds of treadmills, stair-steppers, recumbent bikes, and other sweat inducing equipment reside. This is our most heavily trafficked area in the entire gym, only being open without the wait when we open at 5:30 AM and when we close at 11:00 PM. All of our equipment has some sort of media feature on it like a T.V. screen, so our members can trick their brains into thinking their being lazy on the couch while a machine burns calories for them. The vast majority of the people there are women. Some come for the purpose of working up a sweat, while others enter with their hair and make-up done, ready to entice body builders with their pink Victoria Secret short shorts. Many will also put on the appearance of already being fit by choosing the highest level of difficulty on their machine, even if they can’t manage to use their legs walking out the door afterwards. The Jungle Gym is the center of activity of the Rec.

The basketball courts on the lowest level and the dance studios on the highest level are where those who want to get in shape while having fun. The Rec hosts hundreds of different sports teams and classes, so there is no possible way for any of our members to get bored. Most of them are driven and very competitive individuals whose goal is not just to look good but strive for accomplishment. I personally partake in the Mizzou Martial Arts club, and find it nice to be able to test my physical capabilities and earn a colored belt for it. If I didn’t do this I’d revert to being lazy and unfit again. Working out without a goal is impossible for me. I think most of the people who utilize this area of the Rec share a similar sentiment.

There are several other smaller groups that utilize a specified space in order to accomplish tasks which require more focus. Brewer Butte and Scroggs peak, our climbing walls, obviously only are used for those interested in…well, climbing. The racquetball and squash courts are the same way in that regard. The pump room, though holding a variety of different weights and equipment like the Jungle Gym, is designed for the serious body builder as the free weights alone max out at one hundred and fifty pounds. Our fifty meter pool is also an area that can generally intimidate the average outsider, since our swim team practices alongside our members regularly. These groups are generally tight knit regulars who have a very specific task they wish to perform in order to get in shape.

What are the options however for our members who don’t want to work out, but an area to socialize or relax? For them we have two pools, the aforementioned Tiger Grotto and Truman’s Pond, our seasonal pool. These areas were built for indulgence. Where else can you wade in eighty degree water under a waterfall, or make a trip into one of our saunas to relax? Then of course there is the Spa, a retail paradise for all one’s tanning and beauty needs. If a drab public locker room isn’t enough, you can upgrade to the exclusive private one known as the Rothwell Club. These things are a perfect compliment to our work out stations because what better excuse is there to spend money rewarding yourself to a massage or watching T.V. in a leather arm chair near your own private locker? I would say this setup is comparable to placing the milk in the back of the grocery store.

The Rec is a place everyone wants to go to feel happier about their body image and to obtain a sense of achievement. It’s interesting to see people use a space which could have just as easily been a warehouse so creatively. It is apparent to me that this recreation complex is a place because of the emotional and cognitive attributions people apply to it. I personally consider it such because of the many hours I’ve spent there working the night shifts and watching the previously mentioned groups pass in and out, and learning the unique cultures that inhabit the different spaces.

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