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Fitness Across America--The Midwest

Too often, the fitness and health club industry is viewed strictly by the bottom line or interpreted from company or industrywide trends. But there are plenty of other stories and trends to be found inside the four walls of almost any type of fitness club.

What better way to find those stories than to take a tip from the late John Belushi and the rest of his Delta House brothers and go on a road trip?

The editorial staff of Club Industry traveled by planes, trains and automobiles to visit various clubs from different regions around the country. Occasionally, they got lost along the way or found an empty club waiting for them and maybe found a toga party or two as well.

Those visits — without the toga party stories — continues, ripped out of each staff member's own travel log.

This month, managing editor Dawn Hightower, begins Part 2 of the journey with her travels from the Midwest.

Day One

Touching down at the Minneapolis airport ends my short and uneventful flight from Kansas City as I begin the first leg of my Midwest club visits. Collecting my bags I head to the Hertz pickup counter where the clerk hands me the car keys and directions to the hotel.

After checking in at the hotel I decide to drive downtown to scope out the location of my first visit. (I have never been to the Twin Cities.) Feeling confident about where I'm supposed to go in the morning, I meet a friend for a walk around one of the lakes and then enjoy a leisurely dinner before heading back to the hotel. As I settle into bed, I realize I am excited about tomorrow and the first of what I hope to be enlightening club visits.

Day Two

Life Time Athletic Club, Minneapolis, MN

My first appointment is about an hour away. I leave the hotel in plenty of time to allow for rush hour traffic. As I navigate the city's one-way streets in my rental car, I find the parking garage and make my way to the Life Time Athletic Club in the historic Grand Hotel. Chris Fazi, the general manager, dressed in a suit, meets me outside his office where he begins to tell me more about this plush facility set in a turn-of-the-century hotel.

According to Fazi, this club is set apart from its suburban clubs because it is in the heart of the financial district and caters to people who live in the suburbs but work downtown. Members are in their mid-30s to mid-40s and are up and coming executives making about $80,000 a year.

Because Life Time Athletic Club is also a business club, it needs to be well rounded to suit members' business needs. “You need to have that business and social aspect along with the athletic programs and the group fitness,” says Fazi.

On the fitness side, the club tries to stay a step ahead of other clubs. “I think our athletic programs are fantastic,” says Fazi. “Our squash program is one of the best in the country — we have national and international tournaments on some of the best courts in the country.” The Life Time Fitness triathlon is a big deal for the club and was broadcast on NBC in August.

In addition to the sports component, Fazi says members enjoy group exercise and its varying trends. Classes thatdevelop core muscles are popular. “Five to 10 years ago, nobody knew what core was,” comments Fazi. “Once we get members in, I think we blow them away with our offerings.”

As we walk around the busy workout floor, Fazi points out the arangement of the machines, what type of equipment is offered, and goes into detail about the remodeling. In the background a personal trainer is taking a woman through the paces on one of the Pilates Reformers.

Walking down the hall toward the locker rooms, we detour through the pool area, which looks like it was modeled after something at Caesars Palace in Las Vegas. Fazi waits outside while I check out the locker rooms, which are beautifully appointed and have all the amenities, as well as a separate sitting room with television, couches, phone and coffee tables. After members workout they can relax in the locker rooms (which are better equipped than my hotel bathroom!) or head to the LifeSpa for massages, pedicures and haircuts. Members can also wind down at the juice bar or sweat it out in the sauna and steam room or eat sushi at the swanky Martini Blu, where I had the opportunity to enjoy lunch.

Even though the club opened in 2000 after about 13 months of extensive renovation, the club has maintained the old world charm of the historic hotel through its cherry woodwork and updated art deco-style lighting, while offering the latest in equipment and top-of-the-line amenities and services.

For the more than 2,000 members that come to work out and do business at the club, service is number one, says Fazi. “Because if you come in all stressed out from a hard day's work, the last thing you want is somebody grumpy behind the sales desk.”

That's why the cleanliness of the club, properly working equipment, and smiling faces at the front desk are important to Fazi who is notorious for checking, double-checking and even triple-checking to make sure the club is in more than just working order.

Midtown YWCA, Minneapolis, MN

Feeling comfortably full from the chicken salad I had for lunch at Martini Blu, I navigate the parking garage and drive to midtown to check out the YWCA, which is just off the highway. Thankfully, I don't have to deal with one-way streets and construction that I encountered this morning, which caused me to drive in the bus lane. (I ignored all the dirty looks I was getting as taxis and buses zoomed by.)

As I walk up to the building, I notice how large and open it is (90,000 square feet). The main lobby is fairly small, but as I find out from Sue Duoos, it was designed that way to make sure that people got contacted right away and didn't lounge.

In addition to meeting with Duoos, who is the health and fitness director for the midtown facility, I also met with Karen Sterk, the uptown YWCA director and Nancy Hite, the chief executive officer of the downtown YWCA, who help fill me in on the Midtown YWCA's background.

Fundraising began in 1996 and the club opened in August of 2000. Many partnerships were developed, but the one that makes this YWCA unique is the partnership with the Minneapolis School District and the Minneapolis Sports Center, which is the largest sports center in the Twin Cities, offering 50,000 feet of space.

The Midtown YWCA is part of a community reinvestment project. “This community has been in decline for a number of years and the city, county and state were all concerned about revitalizing this area. The development of an anchor community center like this was a way to bring about revitalization of the East Lake Street area,” states Duoos.

The YWCA is beginning to see the benefits of the revitalization with a light rail system being built across the street from the center in April 2004, which will bring in more potential members. Because of the diverse neighborhood, the YWCA caters to Latinos, Somalians, Haitians and the largest urban American Indian population in the United States.

“We believe everybody deserves access to the opportunity for a healthy lifestyle. We have much more of a diverse customer base,” says Duoos.

The YWCA is vested in helping women and one of the programs that catches my attention is Women's Wellness, which works with low-income women of color and educates them about exercise and nutrition. From that program developed a certified fitness instructor training program whose graduates enter an internship and then are hired by the YWCA.

Taking care of children's needs also factors into the Midtown YWCA philosophy. “We're trying to get children involved at an early age, to be active rather than sitting around and clicking the remote control.” Duoos notes.

As we tour the three-year-old facility, I notice the openness of the two-story building creates a friendly and welcoming feel, which is the YWCA's goal. From the second floor, I can see the pool and its fountain, as well as a great view of downtown. We then walk down the hall to check out the large, windowed fitness room and the mirrored group exercise rooms.

With more than 9,000 members at the YWCA, there is a sense of community and a loyal base of members. “We have above-average retention at this center. People are attached to our place because of the sense of community. In today's economy, it's cheap and healthy entertainment for the entire family,” sums up Duoos.

Regency Athletic Club and Spa, Minneapolis, MN

As I leave the Y and drive back downtown to the historic arts district, street names look familiar as I locate the parking garage. I take the elevator to the club level and meet with Heidi DeCoux, general manager of the Regency Athletic Club and Spa, in her glassed-in office. She has tours scheduled, so we chat briefly about the facility and what sets it apart.

“Basically, we are your hometown club in the big city. We're small and intimate,” says DeCoux. “If you don't live or work within 10 blocks, you're not going to be a member.”

With 1,000 members, the staff knows all of them by first name, which gives the club a personal touch.

Situated on the sixth floor of the Hyatt Regency, the club is small and intimate, but not overcrowded. DeCoux says the club is made for 2,500 members, but they cap membership at around 1,200.

The club is on an upswing after the difficult year or two with the downturn in the economy. “This summer we have been hitting goals again, so it's been great,” states DeCoux.

Because the Regency Athletic club is based in the hotel, a significant portion of its revenue comes from hotel guests. The club also caters to three convention center hotels. So when the Sept. 11 incident happened, the club took a hit as well when the hotels and convention centers were basically vacant for five or six months, says DeCoux.

Now that hotel occupancies are rising, guest revenue is coming up as far as club membership, DeCoux states. “You can tell that people are making fitness a priority and getting back into the swing of it.”

The biggest challenge the club faces is people moving because of their jobs. The club's member benefits program helps with attrition though, because people value their membership and they get more than just a workout facility.

“For example, at Christmas time, the members get up to half off the Hyatt Regency and the Millennium Hotels, so if members have family or friends coming in for the holidays, they take advantage of that,” points out DeCoux.

The Aveda Spa also just opened and starting this month, the club will offer wet and dry treatments in the women's locker room. The club also has a chiropractic clinic.

The Uppercut boxing gym was added two years ago and 16 boxing classes are offered a week, and in the winter even more classes are offered. Regency has the biggest boxing gym in Minneapolis, DeCoux informs me.

Getting to know members and meeting their needs, whether through fitness, sports activities, wellness, and member appreciation events, our members feel they get a lot for their money, emphasizes DeCoux. “That's what members like about us.”

The club goes out of its way to have a clean, high-service environment at an affordable rate. “It's an excellent value and it gives members no excuses not to take control of their health,” says DeCoux.

fitness CROSSROAD, St. Anthony, MN

My last appointment of the day takes me away from the city to the suburb of St. Anthony to the fitness CROSSROAD club. I sit through rush hour traffic and make a few wrong turns, but finally pull up in front of the club. It is conveniently located in a shopping mall, just not the one that I had turned into a mile earlier. I gather up my gear — tape recorder, camera and extra film, and walk into the club to meet with the owner, Barry Tedlund and general manager, Randy Witthus.

The club's role, according to Tedlund, is that when people come to his club, he and his staff want to help them find what they are after and what kind of success they want. We figure out ways we can increase that success and the role the club can play to make sure we help them.

As Witthus points out, their concern is that when members pass the front desk and turn the corner, they see their living room — a comfy area, with plants, cable television, foosball, a snack counter, and of all things, an organ. The point is for the member who has never been to a health club that they don't walk in and right away see equipment that they may not have any idea how to use.

The atmosphere is why a lot of people come here, says Tedlund. “When they walk through the doors, they see a smiling staff and an unintimidating place.”

The club also caters to families. It offers kids' programs and exercise classes. A childcare facility is available for a low hourly fee, so when the club sponsors parents' night out, parents can leave the children with qualified staff who are infant and child CPR certified. And there is plenty to keep the children occupied from arts and crafts and reading to computer games and field trips.

“Having a club with a smaller membership base allows us to get a feel for what the parents and the kids are looking for,” says Witthus.

The club also has formed a relationship with the local Curves, opening its group fitness classes to Curves members, as well as its childcare on a fee-for-service basis. “If we can help Curves members by allowing them to attend a yoga class here or get some cross training along with taking care of the kids, we find it's a win-win situation,” says Witthus.

There are three things the club is trying to accomplish according to Witthus: to provide an educational center; to provide a facility that is clean; and to provide a workout experience so members don't have to wait on a piece of equipment.

Personal trainers add to the experience. In addition to working with clients, the trainers get paid an hourly rate to help on the fitness floor. “I wanted to have more personal trainers on the floor because you go into the big clubs and you want help with a piece of equipment that you don't know how to use and the trainers give you the sense that they're there more to make money than to help you,” says Tedlund.

Although the club is two years old, its main focus is still attracting members. According to Witthus, the largest challenge is inactivity. “That's why the first impression [at the club] is so important because at some point we hope they get the message that increasing their activity is what they need to do and will remember that we're just down the road from them,” Tedlund says.

The idea of a locally owned club is intriguing to members. They feel there is a tie to the community and a sense of commitment to the membership. “I think as time has passed people have seen that,” says Tedlund.

As owner of the club, Tedlund feels good about the opportunity to be in business and do something good for members and the community. “I can't tell you how many times people have come in here commenting how they want to get away from the big club scene.”

Day Three

Wisconsin Athletic Club, West Allis, WI

After another uneventful flight from Minneapolis to Milwaukee, I check into my hotel room and call up my voice mail to find that my first appointment has been canceled. This gives me time to grab a late breakfast, so I run to the Perkins next door. An hour later, I grab my maps (noting that a compass would come in handy) and head down the road to the Wisconsin Athletic Club in West Allis where a smiling Chez Misko, vice president of operations for the five clubs in the area, greets me. The club is busy and noisy as Chez and I avoid workers and step around workout machines still wrapped in plastic while he points out the remodeling that will benefit the members. Nobody does more for your fitness is what the club is about says Misko. “We feel we can make a difference in people's lives.”

Now that the economy is picking up the club is making sure its membership proves to be a value and that's what the recent marketing campaigns have emphasized. “I think when people feel it's important to spend their money on themselves and make sure that they are healthy and live longer, people will spend their discretionary dollars more readily,” Misko points out. The clubs have actually sold more memberships this year than last year.

The West Allis club is the corporate office and has been in business for 27 years. “You can't change the history, the feel and the comfort level that's created when the club has been in business for as many years as we have. There's just a different feeling when you walk into a club that has that,” emphasizes Misko.

The gentleman that opened the club in 1976 still opens the club three days a week and is the head of the racquetball league, which is big at the club. The club has members that have been there for 15 to 20 years. And many staff members have been there for many years as well. “I think that's helped us solidify our place in this marketplace,” states Misko.

The club was an eight-court racquetball facility, which went from eight to 12 to 16 courts. Then as racquetball diminished, the club was changed to a multi-use facility with fitness and group exercise space. According to Misko, the club still has 20 racquetball courts and the largest racquetball league in the country.

The club's staff is also evolving. A couple of years ago, the WAC University staff training program was started. “It's really been a great way for us to train our staff. It also helps with retention of staff,” says Misko.

The club gives back a lot to its staff through its training and social activities. “I think for a club our size, a five-club chain that has about 350 employees, this is pretty unique that we spend as much time and as much dollars as we do because we have to pay the instructors and we pay all the staff to attend these training sessions,” notes Misko.

As far as the 2,500 members at this club, Misko feels that if we can make fitness fun, we can retain them longer — that's what we look at as one of our greatest challenges and one of our greatest opportunities. “Every year the club has to continue to move forward. We have to continue to raise the bar in every area of the club or you fall prey to the competition and you fall prey to not servicing the members,” confirms Misko.

Milwaukee Athletic Club, Milwaukee, WI

As I drive to downtown Milwaukee (another unfamiliar city), I find myself stuck in rush hour traffic. I call Julie Frinzi, the marketing and membership director who was to take me around the club, to tell her I've been sitting on the interstate for almost two hours and was running late. After dealing with one-way streets trying to find the parking garage, I pull up to the exclusive private club and hotel in the heart of the city.

Eight men established the Milwaukee Athletic Club in 1882 for the purpose of “developing bodily powers through gymnastics and other exercises.”

The club moved to its 12-story site in 1917. The non-profit club, in addition to providing athletics, offers a range of services to its members from restaurants and guests rooms to separate men's and women's athletic facilities and a coed fitness studio. As a private club, says Frinzi, membership is by invitation from a member. “It's mainly referral but if a person called, we would still take them through the membership process, so it's never a stumbling block.”

Even though there are four or five private clubs downtown, Milwaukee Athletic Club is the only full-service city club that serves the business, social and athletic needs of its members, states Frinzi. “We provide fantastic camaraderie and social interaction. We take all of those athletic services and programs that you would find at a fitness center, and we're building in the whole club atmosphere.”

Membership in private clubs has been declining for years and Frinzi says there are several reasons — the economy and not being able to deduct club dues. “I think companies used to pay for their employees to be members and they aren't doing that as much any more.”

Even though the club was originally a men's club, women have always been allowed. The club was built with two of everything for the men and the women. Our female members love that, says Frinzi. “In fact, in selling a membership that's a nice point, because women don't feel self-conscious about working out.”

As I follow Frinzi, we take the elevator up to the open-air deck on the 12th floor where I admire a beautiful view of Lake Michigan. A member party is going on as she shows me around. (It is close to dinner time and the appetizers look appealing, but I ignore my growling stomach and devote my attention to Frinzi as she points out the rooftop racquetball court.)

Next, we head to the women's athletic department, which is cozy and well equipped and the mirrored walls make the room more expansive. We walk through the elegant locker rooms (on the way to the pool), which seem to extend forever and would rival any resort, with their dark wood, marble and tile. The pool is surrounded by a hand-painted mural done by a local artist. Frinzi says they wanted it to feel like you were not in the lower level of a gym.

The 900 men that belong to the club workout in the men's athletic department on the sixth and seventh floor, which I wasn't allowed to visit. The only difference between the two, according to Frinzi, is that the men's has a gym.

From the business side to the social side to the athletic side, Frinzi says the club offers a fabulous environment for the enjoyment and benefit of its 1,600 members.

Heroes, Madison, WI

Rush hour traffic has thinned to a trickle as I follow the interstate signs to Madison, which is a couple of hours away. I look forward to the scenic drive to visit my last appointment of the day (actually evening) at a club called Heroes. Dusk is settling as I pull up to this huge pink (later learned it was Tropical Breeze) stucco building with flashing lights. I walk into the building that looks like a sophisticated fun house of fitness. While I wait for Rob West, the owner and president of Heroes, I explore the 600-gallon exotic fish tank, admire the life-size knights in armor standing at attention on either side of the front door and wonder why trapezes are hanging from the ceiling.

The “G-MAN” as West calls himself after the cartoon characters that his club's theme is based on, meets me at the juice bar and speaks with pride about the uniqueness and thought behind his club. The club opened in 1998, but West played with the concept for about three years before building. According to West, he looked all over the country for an architect that could help him implement his unique ideas and ended up partnering with Rudy Fabiano, whom he considers an amazing and brilliant architect.

The inside of the club has just as much meticulous detail and cartoon whimsy as well as being high-tech. West says his goal is when you walk through the door you're going to feel inspired…you want to go in and you smile.

West designed all of his logos — the Heroes characters design concept — and worked with a Disney animator to develop his ideas.

West is on the cutting edge when it comes to outfitting his club from the extreme sound system to filtered air throughout the club to computer animation to top-of-the-line fitness equipment, to the quality of materials and craftsmanship to quirky touches like real trapeze harnesses that trapeze artists train from. “What better thing could you have than trapeze artists hanging from the ceiling doing neat things as you're working out?” laughs West.

The G-MAN's concept is while working out and in between workouts you will be stimulated, engaged and have fun.

As we tour the club, animation flashes on the walls and stereo sound can be heard in every corner. As members work out at the various circuits they have a view of a stage where live entertainment is sometimes featured — from rock to jazz to punk. Members can call in song requests to the D.J. from red phones around the club. “This is an ultimate nightclub,” says West.

But for West, the main thing is to help people feel good about themselves when they're here and that runs the gamut from getting an excellent workout on the equipment and in the unique group classes, to enjoying the smoothie bar or working with his body mechanics, to getting a neuromuscular massage — all in an atmosphere that inspires people who walk through his club's doors.

People may say this is overkill and West agrees, but that's what creates the experience, he points out. “The whole mood of this club is to make you want to stay and make you want to come back. A lot of health clubs blend together and you start to feel there's a certain way a health club has to be, but it doesn't have to be that way,” emphasizes West.

Day Four

After a refreshing night's sleep, it is time to drive to Chicago. I'm on the road for a couple of hours when the orange construction barrels and flashing arrow loom into view. I resign myself to a day of delays. I finally arrive at my hotel by the Midway Airport. After checking in and getting my free chocolate chip cookies at the front desk, I settle in to review my club visits for tomorrow.

Day Five

Lakeview YMCA, Chicago, IL

Looking out the hotel window, I see a foggy view of the Chicago skyline as I review my directions for my visit to the Lakeview YMCA. After navigating through traffic, I pull into the small parking lot with little effort. I walk up to the old brick building on a tree-lined residential street, and notice scaffolding along the front of the building. I was to soon learn that maintaining the infrastructure of the old building was a challenge for this YMCA.

Richard Clegg, vice president of operations for North City YMCA Group, greets me in his air-conditioned office as he talks about the appeal of this YMCA.

Lakeview opened in 1928 when a philanthropist wrote a check for $185,000 to build a hotel for people coming into the city looking for work. “There's a lot of duct tape and tender loving care in this building, but it's still standing,” says Clegg.

The neighborhood and the type of people this facility serves set it apart from the seven YMCAs in the area, Clegg states. “When the community changes, the YMCA changes in terms of how we serve the community. Five years ago this neighborhood was different. It continues to gentrify. Now it's the largest population of single adults between 22 and 35.”

Of the approximately 7,000 members, 85 percent are single adults. The other 15 percent are families with preschoolers. The Y caters to low income families and offers scholarships for those that can't afford the fees. The scholarships are also available to those who were making good money, but lost their jobs. “When Arthur Anderson went down and when Boeing did some major cuts, we saw the impact because those are the types of people that are also members here. So we'll scholarship them,” states Clegg.

That's what is so interesting about this Y. According to Clegg, you could have the CEO of Bank One running on a treadmill next to somebody that has a scholarship who's down on his luck and just trying to keep physically fit and get himself back on his feet.

With all the traffic that comes through its doors, maintaining the old building has been a challenge for Clegg. “We had six feet of our façade begin to fall forward, and that's costing us $1.3 million to repair. We are also maxed out of every square inch of this facility — there's a lot of walls you can't knock down in a 75-year-old building,” he sighs.

But despite the infrastructure woes, the club attracts quite a few people with its offerings. According to Clegg, they offer classes that serve from the cradle to the grave. “We used to be in the business of offering everything and that sets up any organization for mediocrity or even failure. We figured out what we can do best and defined that.”

The SRO (single room occupancy) is also part of this Y. It houses 224 men who have transitioned from shelters. Clegg says some have been here for 30 years and they call the Y their home, like Lester Lockett, who was one of the original American Negro League baseball players.

The staff is an important part of the Y. Everybody has to be CPR and first-aid certified. Clegg says his staff is one of his successes. “I could put my staff up against any other health club or YMCA staff,” says Clegg. “I have quality people with dedication, drive and the ability to invent things and look outside the box.”

Aside from the successes, the greatest challenge he faces is getting the community to say that the YMCA is not a club. “We do health and fitness, but we are a community organization. We do much more than swim and gym, which is the perception when somebody says YMCA,” explains Clegg.

Bally Total Fitness, Chicago, IL

After winding my way through a maze of residential streets and a mass of traffic because of the Cubs game, I make it back to the interstate and head toward downtown to Bally Total Fitness.

I take the elevator to Bally's and walk into a high-energy atmosphere marked with the bright red club banners hanging from the ceiling. This Bally's is located in a shopping center, with a great view of the cityscape. As I watch people workout, Sam Premtaj strolls up. He is the general manager and has been with the company for more than 17 years.

He explains that there are eight Bally Total Fitness clubs in Chicago and this one opened in 1988 and is one of the highest volume clubs in the nation. “We have approximately 3,000 members using the club a day, but it's impossible to tell how many people are members because you can purchase a membership that allows you into any other Bally Total Fitness facility.”

The neighborhood around Bally's is transient. According to Premtaj, a lot of people who move to Chicago live in this area because it's not as expensive as downtown. The membership is comprised of people in their 20s and early 30s making $25,000 to $35,000 a year.

Premtaj says because membership is transient, they know they aren't going to be here for a long time and they don't want to commit to anything long term, so the club offers monthly memberships.

As we stroll through the club checking out the cardio and strength areas, Premtaj points out the group exercise rooms. This club offers a variety of group classes in three different studios. Premtaj says Bosu and Kwando are popular, as well as Spinning, yoga and Pilates. One class that was short lived, though, was the trampoline class. “It didn't kick off as well as some of our other new innovative classes,” says Premtaj.

Through major renovation about two years ago, the club offers 55,000 feet of space. After relocating a stairway and tearing down walls and moving offices, the club added more cardio equipment and moved the group exercise space downstairs and expanded the free weight area to most of the top floor, with the track.

Keeping members happy is important, says Premtaj. “We keep members by making sure they are serviced properly and that the equipment is working properly.”

Members stay happy because of the Rapidtron check-in system. (This was the first electronic system I encountered on the trip.) It lets members check in without having to stop at the front desk. Premtaj says that after someone's had a hard day at work, they want to come in and work out, swim or take a group exercise class and relieve stress and that doesn't happen when they have to wait in line.

The atmosphere at Bally's is energetic. “Whoever comes here is doing something positive — they're getting in shape. “It's a high-energy and high-volume club — with 3,000 people walking through the door every day, it's exciting,” smiles Premtaj.

Day Six

After sitting in O'Hare for four hours this morning because of the power outages on the East Coast, I finally board the plane heading to St. Louis, MO. Because of the delayed flight, I missed my appointments. I pick up the rental car and call my uncle to let him know I'm coming for an unexpected visit. Rush hour and an accident have me sitting on the interstate for two more hours, which gives me time to reflect on the week's worth of club visits. I had seen quite a bit and realized that no matter what city I was in, from suburb to downtown, every club was serving a niche and there was pride in how they ran their clubs.

Day Seven & Eight

Saturday dawns bright and early. I decide to flip through the phone book to set up some club appointments, but no one was able to meet with me on such short notice. I remember driving by a Curves on the way to my uncle's in Imperial, MO, so I stop by and chat with the assistant at the front desk who shows me the circuit and tells me how Curves has gotten her into a regular exercise routine. I thank her for her time and head back to the house and spend the rest of the day with my aunt and uncle.

The next morning after a home-cooked breakfast, I stow my stack of maps in the trunk along with my bulging luggage, wave goodbye to my uncle and aunt and drive the four hours home back to Kansas City.

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