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PALM LATITUDES

THE SCENE : Morning Becomes Athletic

October 23, 1994|Maria C. Iacobo

Susan DallaBetta's unborn baby doesn't know me yet. But I know a few things about him. His name will be Joseph (Joey is his nickname) and his arrival will interrupt his mother's favorite part of the day: early mornings at the gym.

It's not that she's a fitness fanatic. For DallaBetta and me and probably thousands of others across Southern California, the gym, particularly in the mornings, has become a new town square or corner market. Our pre-dawn workouts are an opportunity to build up more than our bodies; they help us strengthen our social bonds.

Every weekday morning, we grunt and sweat and chat, discussing discuss work, love, bad hair days, whatever. Though I know most of them only by their first name, we share advice and comfort. Some discussions have been deeply intimate--I've learned about the best cream for sore nursing nipples and listened to one woman's anxiety over her mother's growing depression. Usually topics are far less serious: My movie trivia acumen has been challenged, my resume honed.

We're a dedicated bunch. "The people who are here in the morning are pretty religious," says DallaBetta. "If they're not here, you wonder what's happened. Are they sick? Did somebody die?"

John Walsh, director of the Getty Museum, says he gets a feeling "solidarity" among the morning crowd. "You see these people with their clothes off, eyes popping out, doing these clumsy things you wouldn't see them do any other time," says Walsh.

That might explain another morning phenomenon: We talk about our love lives, but no one comes here seeking to improve them. Says Steve Franklin of Encino, who stops here before starting his day as a CPA: "Nobody's really here for opposite-sex encounters, like they are in the evening," And that's fine with us. After all flirting here would be like flirting with family.

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