Spinning My Wheels

Oh yea, and obviously, Til the World Ends by Britney Spears, I typed furiously onto Facebook Messenger.

My thumbs flew about over the two-inch keyboard on my iPhone and hit the blue Send button with a force of enthusiasm. I’d fired off a list of songs to Jon, my musically-inclined spin instructor, that I hoped he would incorporate into his upcoming 60-minute sweat sessions.

Jon had the most killer playlists of any of the spin instructors at San Francisco Health Club, but like many people in SF he was constantly trying to iterate on them. When he’d crowdsourced the class for new tunes, I’d been more than happy to oblige him with my personal favorite early 2000s throwback jams.

I saw the little ellipsis appear at the bottom of the thread.

FAB! Jon pinged back. I’ll take a listen and see what I can use.

Sweet, I responded.

I was delighted with the thought of some deep-cuts Britney staggered throughout one of Jon’s grueling, beat-based interval trainings. Before I’d found Jon’s class I’d wound up in ones led by straight dudes playing The Foo Fighters and shudder 80s pop-rock — Don’t get me wrong, I love Dave Grohl as much as the next person, but it was not spin-appropriate music. And 80s pop-rock? Not appropriate for much of anything at all. So sometimes being in a class skewed mainly girls and gays had its perks.

Soooo! Another message. I saw you talking to that cute Australian guy after class.

Oh yea haha what a babe, I shot back.

Jon’s spin class was every Tuesday night at 6:30pm, and my friend Rosa and I were devoted regulars. But that past Tuesday she’d been out of town, leaving me accountable to motivate myself to class. It was late March, the sun still setting in the shadow of Salesforce Tower almost as soon as I shut down my work laptop atop my ergonomic desk. My bike commute home to change into gym clothes swiftly turned into a warm up spin set as the wind tunnels around Civic Center blew blustery and brutal.

Cuddled up under my covers in my spandex and sports bra, I’d almost decided to skip — Going home to change posed tremendous temptations, most notably the comforts of my bed, which was why I normally brought a gym bag to work. That morning I’d rushed out without them — Maybe that’s a sign! I egged myself on to stay in bed. But I dashed out of my apartment with nine minutes to spare after guilt-tripping myself about that massive slice of Susie Cake I’d had at the office for some coworker’s birthday — It was always somebody’s birthday.

Jon and his followers had already started the warm up when I arrived, and I squeezed myself in between rows of mainly young professionals just beginning to shimmer with small beads of sweat. With a few middle-aged and senior spinners always in attendance, the group composition almost perfectly mirrored the San Francisco census age demographics — If there’d been two dogs and half a child we’d have been a perfect little slice of city life. “Dancing On My Own” by Robyn sashaéd out the speakers — Jon loved Robyn, her sunny Scandinavian pop never failing to make it onto one of his meticulous spin sets.

Some of the other regulars were there too — The tiny bleach blond from LA with an endless supply of matching workout ensembles and a proclivity to lip sync along to every single song; the skinny twink who clearly loathed spin class but had eyes for our dashing lead instructor; the bespectacled, wiry-haired dame who always donned cat-frames and a fanny pack, a quirky old timer who’d be quick to tell you what the Mission used to be all about. Rosa and I hadn’t exactly branched out and made friends with the other Tuesday nighters, but I still gave them all one of those small nods of acknowledgment as everyone rubbernecked to see who was staggering in late.

There was one bike left, front and center, right in front of the wall-to-wall mirror. I quickly adjusted the bike and mounted, and lifted my head up to face myself in the mirror. And then we locked eyes.

His hair bordered on brown with brassy gold streaks, and it was long, a sneak past shoulder length. He’d loosely pulled it back into a low bun that rested on the nape of his neck, and from there I chased my eyes down towards his broad shoulders, giving way to naturally sturdy, sculpted arms. His skin was an even light leather tan, like he should have been more diligent with the sunscreen but refused to bow down to an intangible sun’s rays. The toned muscles that wrapped themselves around his arms and chest revealed his skin’s gilded undertones, so similar to those of his hair. He practically radiated heat.

The recent sunburn he sported gave him a windblown edge — He looked rugged as f*ck. Not the Valencia Street urban farmer-style rugged, but as if he’d just chopped his way through a dense folkloric forest, summited a jagged-edged mountain of mystical proportions, dove right off the craggiest of cliffsides, splashed down on a surfboard, and speared his way through a shark on the ride back in. Adorning his face were almost shocking cheekbones that could have withstood a run in with a grizzly bear or a lightning strike handed down from Zeus himself. This was a man of the gods. Holy sh*t.

“And up and out of the saddle!” Jon yelled out.

Eyes unabashedly glued to the man-bunned babe in the mirror, I felt myself rising out of my seat and pedaling faster.

“Get your ass back right over the seat!” Jon ordered the class, thrusting his own back as far as it would go and dripping beads of sweat onto the floor below him.

I followed suit, acutely aware I was backing it right up into the purview of the Adonis behind me. Slipping into my skin-tight spandex leggings at the last minute? Now that was a sign, I thought to myself.

I was wiped out when the last song of the night (“Where Are Ü Now” featuring the Biebs) brought class to an end. Jon’s song sets and mid-spin anecdotes tended to match the turbulent cycle of his love life, and he was going through a messy break up. Over the past couple of weeks playlists had been polarized from class to class, some nights fierce with songs off the 2002 Destiny’s Child album, Survivor, to nights like tonight which had been heavy with EDM remixes of Adele songs and an excruciating physical and mental mountain climb to the bare bones version of “Someone Like You.” After dismounting from my bike Jon caught me up on the weighty gossip behind the playlist, and I promised to send him some power break up songs before the next class.

I exited the dim spin studio, my eyes maladjusting to the fluorescently lit main gym floor that was littered with lifters and grunters. Tonight was overrun with meatheads, glistening under the unforgiving industrial lighting and pumping and perspiring to the ferocious, synthesized surges of trap music blaring from the sound system. Zigzagging my way through beastly brogrammers chugging Gold Standard from oversized Nalgenes and toned pilates princesses taking turns on the abductor, I headed towards the locker room to grab my polar fleece and hightail it home through the mindf*ck that is Civic Center San Francisco.

And then I saw him stretching.

He was wearing one of those big baggy muscle tanks, the kind where the material that should have been right under the arm was cut all the way down the sides, revealing most of his chest down to the start of his waist. As he reached forward, well-built legs laid out in front of him, upper torso and athletic arms feeling for the tips of his toes, his abs were taut and his pecs were flexed underneath the black cotton. I was magnetized.

The next thing I knew I was on the floor next to him — Fingertips at the ends of my sneakers, my head perfectly parallel to his, my body making the all motions of the most sincerest stretching. How did I even get here? And yet I felt myself cocking my head to the right and opening my mouth.

“Was that your first spin class with Jon?” I asked him.

“No, I’ve been going every week this winter. I prefer biking outside but it gets dark so early this time of year,” he replied with a smile, not all irked that a random stranger was chatting him up.

I discerned an accent from him, it sounded vaguely Australian. Truth be told I was not a huge fan of Australian accents, the elongated vowels and rising intonation of even declarative sentences fell boorish and grating on my ears. I preferred incomprehensible Irish and Northern English/House of Stark style accents instead, but I definitely had an open mind about it.

“Oh, I’ve never seen you before. Funny, I go every week too,” I said. How the hell had I never seen this guy? “Today’s class totally wiped me out.”

“Yea I’m pretty beat as well, that Jon has a lot of emotion to burn,” he grinned.

“So you’re from…Australia?” I asked, unable to let that come up naturally in conversation.

“New Zealand actually.”

“Oh. Sorry, you must get that all the time.”

“No worries! It’s hard to tell the difference if you haven’t really had exposure to New Zealand. Lots of people kind of forget about us.”

“Yea, I guess you guys are kind of Australia’s Canada, am I right?”

“I guess you could say that. Where are you from?”

“New York. Pretty faraway land too.”

“Ah cool, I’ve yet to visit.”

“Yea, it’s pretty sweet. I’m Alice by the way.”

“Michael,” he said, his firm handshake cementing my complete confidence in all his physical abilities.

“Well, I’ve got to go, I’ll see you at class next week?”

“Yea, cool, I’ll be there. See ya.”

Once he’d disappeared into the locker room I sat there pretending to stretch while re-running the entire exchange through my head. Was I too forward? Was my mascara smudged? Did he want to talk to me? Was he real? Was this the beginning of the rest of my life? Actually, was that Chris Hemsworth?

So did you get his number? Jon messaged eagerly.

Nah, I responded. I’ll just be pining after him every Tuesday night … Got to get some cuter workout clothes.

Omg well don’t worry hun, I play a sexy song for ya next Tuesday! See you there!

Tuesday evening rolled around, and Rosa was still out of town. I’d gone to H&M and bought myself a hot pink sports bra and a new pair of skin-tight workout leggings that accentuated my ass, hamstrings, quads, calves, shins, and ankles, just to cover all the bases. The idea was to secure a spot again in front of Michael and hypnotize him with my spinning skills, athletic ability, and female prowess. He’d ask for my number, we’d fall into a passionate love affair complimented by an insatiable intellectual compatibility, and fast forward to the rest of lives together and the high-cheekboned wunderchildren that our devotion would bear.

Or you know, we’d hook up once and then he’d flake out on me in typical SF style, stop coming to spin class, and I’d never see him again. Either way, tonight was the night.

I walked into the locker room to put away my backpack, and I immediately noticed her. About 5’9” and twenty-five pounds lighter than me, she had long, expensive blond hair that hung energetically from atop her slim, pretty little head. Her gym clothes were newly purchased at Lululemon, hugging her in all the right places, and she was gracefully placing her well-maintained Longchamps bag into one of the lockers. A frosty Tiffany’s bracelet was snug around her delicate wrist which was dabbed with the latest Burberry fragrance, and her recently gel-manicured nails showed no signs of biting or cuticle abuse.

Nothing bad had ever happened to this girl in her life, I was sure of it. This was the kind of girl who never cursed, never got stains on white dresses, never spoke too soon, and never drank too many vodka sodas. The kind of girl who never got flustered, but did the flustering. She worked in recruitment or marketing at the hottest tech company in town, her resume a lengthy list of all the right internships and meaningful volunteer experiences. She was the kind of girl who domesticates the player, who seamlessly avoided that awkward phase in middle school, and who doesn’t head to the the gym on Tuesday nights to maintain her naturally slender form but simply because she finds it fun to sweat a little.

I sighed and shoved my gym bag into a locker as she floated out of the locker room. As she glided behind me a waft of lilies and roses lingered behind. She was perfect in every single way, the exact physical embodiment of what I hoped to look like after putting in hours and weeks at the gym and remaining at my desk during today’s Susie Cake cutting ceremony.

I hoped she was here for that 6:30 yoga class that I would not be attending — I really didn’t want to even look at her. The San Francisco Health Club was nestled between Twitter and Uber, so the 10s of the world, physically and / or brain capacity-wise, frequented this gym. Usually it didn’t bother me, it was good motivation, decent eye candy. But this girl actually kind of hurt.

I walked through the main floor towards the spin studio, carving a sinuous path through spatterings of men and women pumping, squatting, lifting, crunching, and stretching while I rehearsed what I might say to my beloved New Zealander. How was your week? Been real cycling lately? Some sort of witty social commentary? Oh god, I couldn’t think of anything interesting to say. Maybe he’d say something first.

I was a few feet in front of the spin studio door when my heart dropped. Little Miss Lululemon stood in the back corner by the door with none other than Mr. New Zealand. In fact, they were engaged in conversation, looked like they knew each other. Personally. Perhaps even intimately.

I couldn’t think about it any further and completely mentally shut down as I pushed open the glass door, bee-lining for the front of the classroom, as far away from the alleged golden couple as possible. I found a bike in the front row, adjusted it, and climbed on with my head hung down into my chest.

Of course. Of course! Of course he already had a girlfriend and of course it was Miss Perfect. Neither of those kinds of people stay single for long, and they always find each other. Always. I felt like such a fool. The excited neon pink of my new sports bra, level with my low cast eyes, irked me with a reminder of the ignorance with which I had purchased it.

I glanced up at my woesome self in the mirror, and realized I was actually in direct eye line of New Zealand, his bike about four rows behind mine, Lululemon right next to him. Great, now I’d have to watch the happy twosome spin together for the next sixty minutes of my life. How had the girlfriend factor not occurred to me? I had not planned for this in the slightest. I sighed. On paper Lululemon and I actually might have been described with the same basic adjectives — tall, blond, caucasian — but I knew we weren’t of the same breed.

“Alice!” Someone tugged at my ponytail, drooping down over my sad single head. It was Jon.

“He’s herrrreeee!” He said in a singsongy low whisper, excitedly raising his eyebrows towards New Zealand.

“I know but I think he’s with her!” I confided back to Jon under my breath, eyes and head motioning to the back of the room where they were warming up on their bikes together.

“Nah, I think they’re just sitting next to each other. Don’t worry, I’ve got you girl!” Jon replied with a wink.

What did that mean? Oh right, the sexy song he’d promised me, probably a Britney Spears jam like Outrageous. Now I’d get to shake my rump in front of the yuppie mom seated behind me, here to get rid of her post-baby belly. Hardly the audience I had been hoping for.

“Okay happy Tuesday y’all!” Jon shouted, my eyes shifting over his way as he swung his legs over his bike on stage in front of the entire class. “I am SO excited for class today!” He exclaimed as he plugged his iPhone into the speakers.

Woo, I thought to myself.

“Today just so happens to be…the first day of spring! And what happens to us in spring? That’s right, spring rooooomance!” Jon enthusiastically proclaimed to the class of spinners, throwing his arms up in the air in utter excitement. Uh oh.

“So that’s why today’s ENTIRE playlist is dedicated to sex and love! So whether you’ve got a crush on the guy at the coffee shop, a girl at work, or even someone. in. this. very. room” — Jon took a moment to direct an overdramatic wink at me — “Tonight we are honoring your love in this playlist! Right Alice?”

Oh no. Oh no oh no oh no. Subtle sexy song had turned into the theme of Tuesday night’s class, and I was the muse. Oh god.

Jon was smiling wildly at me, his legs spinning furiously to Ginuwine’s “My Pony,” the first song of what was going to be a very long night.

If you’re horny let’s do it / Ride it / My pony
My saddle’s waiting / Come on and / Jump on it

I bit my lip, deferring the moment when it would come time to turn my head forward away from Jon and into the mirror four rows back. We would undoubtedly lock eyes and he would know, he would know all about the Facebook gossip and the schoolgirl fantasies and the metastasizing thoughts I’d had about him all week. I took a deep breath similar to ones taken only during an agonizing Brazilian wax, and I diverted my eyes from Jon towards the back of the room. Like clockwork, New Zealand caught my gaze — his brow was furrowed into a regard of perplexion, yet he failed to acknowledge my existence with a nod or even the slight wincing of a smile.

It was clear he’d thought I’d put Jon up to this as some sort of ruse, as if I were the kind of person to get down on one knee at a Giant’s game or something. I was mortified. I had no options — New Zealand and Lululemon were spinning right by the door. I’d have to pass both of them if I decided to flee out of this single access studio. The floor-to-wall glass windows were too thick and unfortunately I just knew the mirror into which I faced would not take me through the looking glass. This was it.

Jon was looking at me for a reaction, and I forced a concrete smile in his direction. I could feel New Zealand staring at me from behind, and I quickly dropped my head down again, eyes fixed to my feet as they flew round and round below me, taking me nowhere away from the absurd situation in which I found myself. It could not have been more obvious that I was that very person with a crush on one of, oh, I don’t know, four men in the class, three of whom were most definitely of the homosexual persuasion.

“Teenage Dream” by Katy Perry was up next.

“The man or woman of your teenage dreams might be here tonight! You never know!” Jon shouted into his headset microphone, his grin extending wide and his body giddily bobbing back and forth as he rode in place out of the saddle. “Carpe diem y’all!”

My, heart, stops / When you look at me
Just, one, touch / Now baby I believe…

The hyperbolic, lust-riddled lyrics eroded any chance I still had of playing it cool. Each line was so obvious, so trite, there was no hiding behind any tournure de phrase or discreetly woven metaphor. I snuck a peek behind me in the mirror — Lululemon was biking along in place, blond ponytail dancing back and forth to the teenybopper beats, completely oblivious to my predicament. I envied her naiveté.

I don’t think you know (Know) / I’m checking you
So hot, so hot / Wonder if you know
You’re on my radar

Well, there was my Britney song, as promised! The spin studio was steamy at three songs in, and I prayed the mirrors would fog up and cloud the awkward ability I had to make eye contact with New Zealand every time I looked forward. My eyes felt wide shut in what I could only describe as tunnel vision obstructed by strobe lights. A match to my innermost feelings, my cheeks were a flummoxed flush of confusion at my rapid loss of face with the profusion of each sultry lyric.

“Own your desires! Embrace your sexuality! Hey, they say exercise is an aphrodisiac!” Jon made one of those “winky winky” faces in my direction. The busty South Asian chick next to me turned and gave me a grin, and I was unclear if it was one of general amusement or genuine empathy.

Jon was loving this, and given his current situation I couldn’t really hate him for it. He’d recently been dumped, spent much of February and March blasting all the betrayal songs from Beyonce’s Lemonade album, slipping in snippets about his break up during mid-sprint anecdotes that swayed largely self-motivational. Jon had honestly been somewhat of a wreck, heartbroken and lovesick — It was clear that my admission of romantic interest in one (read: the only) of his strapping foreign spin class devotés had breathed new life into him, and given him hope.

It’s hard to look right / At your baby
But here’s my number / So call me maybe

The syrupy sweet sounds of 2013’s song of the summer boomed from the speakers, taking me back to a simpler time when I was not in this spin class. Well, there would be no exchange of numbers tonight, that was for sure!

“We shouldn’t be afraid to express our love — What if your fear holds you back from the next great zsa zsa zsu?” Jon mused into his microphone, aptly quoting a season five episode eight emotionally jarred Carrie Bradshaw. Jon was panting with panic at the thought of true love muted by shyness and silence.

Damn, he’d really run with this whole thing.


Well, it was certainly clear I was the only girl in the room for whom this playlist was curated in what had to have been an extremely inspired Spotify session.

How will I know / If he really loves me?
I say a prayer with every heartbeat / I fall in love whenever we meet

(House music club remix)

All of the sudden I was cracking up, my body convulsing with peels of laughter. This was insane! I was trapped on my own in a giant humid fishbowl of my own emotion to nothing but the tune of the Castro Theatre remix of over-synthesized 80s pop diva Whitney Houston. There was nothing to do but grin and bear it. I couldn’t leave til it was over, I couldn’t leave til I had a good time. And somehow at that moment I wholeheartedly accepted my current reality.

The remaining 36 minutes were a pop-infused anthem to love and lust, bubblegum pop hallway crushes and more matured emotional musings, all inspired by yours truly up front and the taken Apollo in the back.

Jon had probably agonized over the playlist — Which song to kick off with (“Pony”, I had to admit, had been a real crowd pleaser), which song for the in-class mountain climb climax (“Motivation” by Kelly Rowland, absolutely salacious), and the best Robyn song to bring this luscious list of songs to an end. He had gone with with “Call Your Girlfriend,” a song in which Robyn encourages her lover to leave his girlfriend. Given the situation, it had turned out to be a wildly appropriate final selection.

“Whew! Great job everybody! Now get out there and get in love!” Jon bellowed into the microphone as Robyn’s voice faded, revealing the whirrs of wheels winding down and the grunts of dead lifters just outside the room’s threshold.

As people started filing out of class Jon unclipped from his pedals and belted over in my direction. I was slowly prying myself off my bike, pretending to stretch but really watching in the mirror for New Zealand and Lululemon to exit. A filmy daydream of the two of them as Sandy and Danny, driving off into the sunset while the rest of our brightly-clad class broke into a choreographed rendition of “You’re the One That I Want” drifted in front of my eyes.

“Soooo what did you think? Ahhhh I couldn’t WAIT to ride to this playlist all day!”

I blinked back to the real world, the ridiculous Hollywood ending fizzling out with the approach of Jon’s ecstatic voice. He was looking at me pleadingly, an ear to ear smile stretched across his face, and in that moment I realized he so needed me to love this playlist.

In recent months his spirit had been broken, his heart shattered, his world undone, his hope wiped out. He needed my acknowledgement, my undying optimism in the face of love gone cold, my unwavering confidence in the lust I’d chanced upon under the florescent lights. That wild horses couldn’t drag me away. That all I wanted was just to dance with somebody, my belief in love after love! I stood there, teeth clenched into a smile, still processing the last 60 minutes of my short lifetime.

“It totally worked, I could see him looking over your way the entire time. Oh my god I think this is my calling.”

I glanced outside and saw the beautiful blond twosome headed out the front doors of the gym together, probably to their shared apartment in a cute Victorian in the trendy part of Hayes Valley that was a stone’s throw from Souvla. Jon couldn’t see them from where he was standing, and I didn’t call his attention to it. I held my gaze as they meandered down the SoMa sidewalk, and then looked back at my well-intentioned spin instructor.

“It was perfect,” I said. Jon’s eyes crinkled into happy little moons, and I couldn’t help but smile back for real.

On my walk home through Civic Center, I put Robyn’s “Dancing On My Own” on full blast out my little white earbuds.