Exercising amidst a different animal: Uncanny Valley’s mall cops

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Robot mall cop. This is how our streets will look from now on.

I don’t have too much to complain about in life right now. I can always find something if I look hard enough. For instance, my biggest gripe right now is a pair of trail running shoes that are messing with my delivery expectations. They weren’t supposed to come until Wednesday, February 15. Cool. Delivery date expectations set. And then: good news! I got an update text saying they would arrive two days earlier, AKA today. Cool again. But then: the anticipation is eating me up. It’s 7 p.m. and the goods still have not arrived. Thanks, UPS. Thanks for messing with my expectations and being a salty tease.

That’s my out-of-touch thing I’ll whine about.

Given that, one of the things I definitely steer clear from complaining about is my region’s general weather patterns, even when the nebulas get a touch moody. While my good friends who put roots down in Minnesota are braving zero-minus-twenty degree air and hair that grows stalactites after they step outside and blink twice, the most I’m shaking my fist at is a bit of misty atmosphere.

Where I live, the weather is generally 70 degrees in December through February. All I’m clearing from my car in the morning is a thin layer of nature’s dew.

That’s why, even though we’ve seen some heavy rain and super sad skies for the past month, I’m not fussing over expectations. I know it won’t snow. Plus, now when I look out past the trails I’m visiting, instead of seeing dehydrated land, the rivers are flowing again. My region’s been going through a nasty drought, and this bout of rain has pretty much cleared it up. All signs point to: good job nature.

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This picture was in another post, but basically, before January, the earth beneath that river was pretty thirsty. Thanks to the rain that junior ravine is all kinds of replenished.

I’ve also been pretty motivated ever since the start of this blog, so despite weather that wasn’t conducive to being outdoors, I’ve been finding ways to keep my heart rate up and those muscles pumping. For instance, I tend to bike on sunnier days, so instead of limiting my expensive machine to its natural roads setting, we scored a trainer on sale last year at REI. Seventy bucks for this thing that lets me feel less lazy while I catch up on Rick and Morty. (Who, is the question, is the actual Mortiest Morty? Does Rick do random stuff to create alternate universes? We may never know…)

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If you look to the lower left in the photo you can see the bike is hooked up to the trainer. This thing lets me avoid the night time creeps and helps me keep a little warmer since California might have sun but that translates to some cool evenings

So when I looked out my window yesterday morning to see 35 mph winds and only a few hours left before certain rain hit, the only excuse I made about my day’s activity was one that let me have a roof over my head while I still got to be active. Initially I’d planned a bike ride, so when I sprang awake early, I settled on something spandex-y and butt-padded. I didn’t plan too well though since I wasn’t quite anticipating such dreary conditions.

I love my trainer, but sometimes, you’re able to exercise better when you’re out of the house. So, reluctantly, I shimmied out of my women’s Pearl Izumi bike riding butt pads, re-applied regular spandex, and headed for somewhere a little less drizzly:

The mall.

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Ominous sky on my way to the mall, where I decided to exercise, because… ominous sky

I was reluctant to put my body to work at the mall, because I was absolutely in love with all of the outdoor spots I’d been hitting recently. I’ve mentioned that I’ve never been an outdoorsy person. Leave me in my bedroom with a space heater, and I’ll totally and happily blog my life away for hours. But I’ve also been looking for a little bit more out of life recently, and my outdoor surroundings were offering me that breathing room. Getting outside, and overcoming physical obstacles like hills, as cheesy as it might sound, was giving me opportunity to tap into a part of myself that I didn’t yet know well. I could examine myself, and understand more about my limits as I pushed on in an environment that wasn’t trying to cull money from me. Putting myself to work in a natural setting was bringing out a confidence I’d been lacking for so long, and desperately wanted. The mall, by contrast, was a setting I’d already spent so much time in. But it had never, which is maybe cliche too, fulfilled me quite as much. Every time I’d buy something and bring it home, that momentary thrill of the purchase wasn’t ultimately empowering. I had a thing. That was nice. But it didn’t give me what I needed. It mostly preyed on my insecurities, and took. So it was a little scary heading back into an environment I was actively trying to disconnect from. I also wanted to stick to the “wild” (I mean, maintained parks aren’t reallly the wild. It’s like a baby step. I freely admit that silliness) because the protagonists of adventure films made me want to disconnect from the consumer lifestyle since most of them decried commercial settings for the purpose traversing in nature gave them. (See: Snowboarder Jeremy Jones in Higher citing his inability to stay in a city for more than 70 hours because the mountains are pretty much his natural habitat.) But sometimes you can’t always choose to do exactly what you want, so you make the best of what you’ve got.

Plus, when I finally allowed myself to accept that the indoor track of the mall was my best solution in rain-impending windy weather, I realized the mall had its own setting-specific characters, like the one in the opening photo of this blog. But we’ll get to that in a moment.

Not only that, but, when we get down to the hard details, like I said, I don’t have too much to complain about in the way of weather here, and that includes scenery. When you look out the window of my local mall, you don’t just see the well-worn, gum-littered sidewalks of a city, or the never-ending  story of a parking lot. Some of that exists. But for the most part, you see what the picture below couldn’t quite capture: a big beautiful cluster of mountains.

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Check out my mall mountain view. Whoo

So basically, I was almost in the wilderness. I just had to invent my own obstacles on this makeshift trail. Escalators became both ascents and descents. The dizzy mall maze became the lap I was meant to beat. The people, hungry for their next purchase, became my unwitting trail companions. And then we ran into the most wildest animals of them all:

The robotic mall-cop. Let’s see it again.

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Robot mall cop take two

And yes, this freaking thing scared all of the expletives out of me more than once. It doesn’t quite look like a human at all, so the uncanny valley concept isn’t quite applicable, but still, the fact that it seemed to move autonomously, stop near you, and rear its “head” was super unsettling. On first sighting of the beast, I approached it to get a better look. When it moved toward me, I nearly screamed. And on the second sighting, I looked behind me, and there a red one was. I felt an eerie chill go through me, so I shook it off before I got sucked into a pattern of anxiety, and walked on.

That was one thing about exercising at the mall. You couldn’t really run. I mean, I’m sure you could like, low key jog (while pretending the mall bots weren’t creepily watching), but it would look out of place, and when you’re out of place, that causes  your general surroundings to panic. Especially something like a run. So, since I’m well past my punkier teenage days, I choose to keep the peace and stuck to speed walking and scouting for “hills.” And I tell you, going vertical and back down again was a pretty good workout, and I did work up enough sweat to write home about.

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One of the non-working escalators I went down several times. But not too many times, so I wouldn’t draw attention to myself from the bored sales associates manning the surrounding stores

All-in-all, I wouldn’t call it an ideal day. I didn’t get to follow through with my plans to take my bike to Coyote Hills and battle the verticals painfully on my bike wheels. But I would call it a good day. I didn’t call it quits, and I figured out a solid solution to my need (and desire!) to keep the activity in my life consistent. In it to win something, I am.

I also did the thing where I figured out you can discover something about yourself no matter where you are. Even if you’re in a setting that has previously not rendered the fruit. The fruit being ultimate fulfillment of some kind. As I was moving past the stores I used to go inside, I ultimately blocked out their commercial designs, and focused on the task at hand, which was staying active, and training my body’s muscles to be more acute, and more apt to withstand long spurts of activity. Eventually the stores and the products within turned to blurry pieces of material that I didn’t really need. I only needed to love myself (awe.)

Ultimately, I spent about an hour traversing the mall for a total distance of about three miles. Not too shabby! Especially considering I could’ve gotten spooked by the ominous robot cops and dashed out of there. Shows what you can do when you’re down to make something happen.

Next: I hope it gets sunnier here!

See you soon, folks. Good luck with your own daily goals!

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