Rich Wilhelm

Archive for the ‘Friendship’ Category

When Your Workout Buddy Starts to See Another Gym

In Friendship on April 11, 2019 at 4:51 pm

This is a true story. It is also a fresh story, so please forgive me if my emotions go unchecked.

My workout buddy has started to visit another gym.  He let me know last week, via a text message, that he has moved from Planet Fitness, where we’d been working out in the early mornings, back to the YMCA, which is where we’d first met. A text message! The nerve! The unmitigated gall!

OK, fine. I am still trying to process this. Let me give you some history, as I attempt to pull myself together.

Having —  and being — a workout buddy might not seem like a big deal for some people, but for me, it felt like a vaguely unattainable goal. Going back to my first junior high school P.E. experience, when I walked into the gym with my shorts on backwards, most of my public exercise moments have been awkward at best. I was not fond of the deep end of swimming pools, I inevitably rotated in the wrong direction while playing volleyball, and the thought of wrestling another guy filled me with existential dread.

Despite all this, about 20 years ago I joined the Phoenixville YMCA and became one of the regular early morning Y people. For years, I saw the same faces and did eventually get to know some names, but these acquaintances fell short of “workout buddy” status. We might exchange a good morning nod in the locker room, or out by the treadmills. We might or might not have known each other’s names.

If I encountered one of the early morning Y guys outside the Y, say at Giant or Acme, there might be a glimmer of barely perceptible recognition, or maybe a slight variation of the good morning nod. But that was it. It was an odd way to know someone, especially if you showered in their general proximity four or five times a week. But I was just as responsible for this social awkwardness, as I didn’t go out of my way to introduce myself to them any more than they did to me.

I did occasionally try to have workout buddies. In fact, I even went out on a Friday night with one of  the early morning Y guys and we played a few games of the greatest sport ever invented – bowling.  And while that was fun – because when is bowling not fun?? —  there also wasn’t any particular spark between us that could lead to a more permanent workout buddy status.

I also can’t forget the time my wife’s British friend Jim came to stay with us for a week. Jim tagged along with me to the Y on the mornings he was in town and, to my chagrin, Jim instantly made friends with the early morning Y guys I’d been seeing for years. I suppose the guys were beguiled by Jim’s accent. I just stood there, jealously wondering what Jim’s secret was.

So, I’ve never felt like a good candidate to be a workout buddy. This made me sad, but I  got on with my life, which, outside the gym, is actually pretty cool. I am, after all, a cemetery tour guide!

However, this situation changed about two years ago when I met my current workout buddy.  He and I probably saw each other for several weeks around the gym before we decided to break through the wall of gym anonymity and introduce ourselves. Soon after, we unofficially became workout buddies. I say “unofficially” because, as far as I know, there is not a specific ceremony in which the title of workout buddy is bestowed.

I should note that, while we have quite a bit in common, my workout buddy and I are in different stages of life. He is younger than me, to the point where another Planet Fitness patron mistook us for father-and-son. We are both dads, but my sons are 21 and 16 years old, while my buddy’s adorable kids are just three and one.

As workout buddies, we’ve had loosely-defined roles. We don’t spot each other while lifting weights or anything like that. We’ve mostly just been in the gym at the same time, doing generally the same things. But having him around last year was enough to inspire me to keep coming to the gym on a regular enough basis that last October, I completed my first 5K, Laurel Hill Cemetery’s “Rest in Peace” run. This is the only public athletic event I’ve ever done — other than once being in a bowling league, of course – and I probably would not have done that if not for my workout buddy.

Most importantly, from almost the moment we introduced ourselves, we began an ongoing post-workout conversation in the gym parking lot before moving on to start our work days. Just your basic talk – kids, jobs, houses, music, movies, with the occasional foray into religion or philosophy or politics – but the kind of conversation that gets the day off to a good start. The kind of conversation that, over time, turns workout buddies into friends.

Now, though, my workout buddy has renewed his family membership at the Y so his children can take advantage of the swimming pools and classes there. But I have been there and done that when I was a younger dad. With a grown and a nearly-grown kid, it doesn’t make sense for me to go back to the Y, at least not at the moment. So last week, in the short run, I lost my workout buddy, and I’ll miss our morning routine. But in the two years that I’ve known my workout buddy, I’ve gained a good friend in the long run. That sounds like a huge net gain for me.

Maybe we’ll go bowling sometime.


“Don’t Go To The Malls!!” A Record Store Day Tribute to Sounds of Market

In 1980s, Friendship, memoir, Music/Memory, record collecting, Record Store Day, record stores, records on April 16, 2016 at 11:16 am


Today is Record Store Day 2016. To celebrate, I may stop by Deep Groove Records, here in Phoenixville, to say hi to my friend Frank, who owns the store. But I thought I’d also reach back and republish the following entry from my old blog site. It is about Sounds of Market, one of the classic record stores in my life. Sounds of Market closed for good a few years ago, but this is how I felt about it after I visited in February 2008.

When Rick, Greg and I first met, it was all about the music. They were freshmen at college and I was going into my third year when we all wound up on the same dorm floor. Listening to music, talking about music, acquiring music and talking about acquiring music were the first bonds we shared as friends. As time went on other common interests would reveal themselves for the three of us, as well as various things that Rick and Greg would be into, or me and Greg or me and Rick, but at first, music was the driver of our early friendships.

Of course, back in the mid-1980s, the compact disc had just been introduced and no one yet connected the letters “M” and “P” and the number “3” to music. If you wanted to find music, you actually had to go to a record store and the record stores of center city Philadelphia played a great role in all of this music bonding that Rick, Greg and I shared. I had been acquianted with these stores since starting at Temple University and even a little bit earlier than that.

I remember one Saturday afternoon when I was a senior in high school, participating in a radio internship program at KYW, the leading newsradio station in the city. I walked down Market Street from KYW to the Penn Center train station that day and I was completely beguiled by the stores I passed along the way, stores with names like Funk-O-Mart. Exotic music, then often referred to as “urban,” spilled out of the doorways of these stores, but I’m not sure I was ready at that point to walk in and find out what was inside. This was music that sounded very intriguing to me, but I wasn’t yet certain if I was “allowed” to like it.

By the time I met Rick and Greg though, I had been visiting the center city record stores for awhile and I was quite happy to now have a couple of guys who were usually just as ready for a trip downtown as I was.

These trips would often take place on Friday afternoons, but also on Tuesdays, the day when new albums were released. The journey on the Broad Street subway line would usually take place after classes, though it may have occasionally happened that classes would be skipped if something particularly hot, like say Prince’s Parade album or the Rolling Stones’ Dirty Work (which I believe Greg, a big Stones fan, bought on his birthday) or even Yes’ Big Generator or Heart’s Bad Animals albums, were set for release that day.

Our first stop once we hit the City Hall area would usually be the Sounds of Market store at 13th and Chestnut Street. Sounds of Market was a chain of three stores, another being at 11th and Ludlow and the third being…well, I can’t remember where the third one was, but I know it exisited. All of the Sounds of Market stores were run by people with vaguely Middle Eastern accents, though I don’t think I ever accurately determined the ethnicity of the folks running the stores. I do remember that at the 13th and Chestnut store, one of the managers would exhort all of us shoppers to buy more music and would warn us, “Don’t go to the malls” for our music buying needs.

He was right about that, of course. Sounds of Market had it all over Listening Booth or Sam Goody in terms of selection and (especially) price. Records were typically a few dollars cheaper and the promos that they sold (on the sly, I would guess) were even cheaper than that. I remember one day I went in and bought a new album that I didn’t even know was coming out, for $3.99. I didn’t know much about it, but I knew the artist so I figured for four bucks I’d give the album a shot. It was Graceland by Paul Simon.

With the price and selection, Sounds of Market encouraged adventurous listening. Rick and I once went downtown vowing to each buy five new albums by artists that we were only vaguely familiar with. I remember that we both bought The Sound of Music by the dBs (largely, in my case, at the instigation of my friend Ed’s stellar review of it). I bought a Fetchin’ Bones album and Rick bought Game Theory’s Lolita Nation that day as well.

Another time, on some kind of ridiculous whim that was fairly common to all of us in those days, Greg bought two huge hit albums of the era–Phil Collins’ No Jacket Required and Bruce Springsteen’s Born in the USA–simply because he disliked both artists and wanted to make fun of their ubiquity by buying into it. Or something like that. Somewhere around here I have a photo of Greg, sporting a Phil Collins album (the cover of which eventually became a scratch board for his and his wife Kim’s cat) and a smug expression on his face. Sure, the logic behind his purchases that day was twisted but the whole thing became an event and I’ll bet even today Greg might listen to “Sussudio” now and then, had he not given me his record collection on my 40th birthday. Speaking of which, here is the Phil Collins album cover in question (note the scratch marks; clearly it was Collins and not Mr. Ted Nugent who gave Greg and Kim’s cat “Cat Scratch Fever”):

This is the building that used to be Sounds of Market at 13th and Chestnut. It’s currently vacant [at least it was in February 2008]:

Once we were done shopping at 13th and Chestnut, we’d head up to the 11th and Ludlow location. At that time, audio equipment was sold in the front with the records in the back. The staff here was just as entertaining as at the other store. Once, while the very brilliant Prince b-side “Shockadelica” was playing, one of the regular clerks played an air guitar solo that eventually had the guy sliding across the floor on his knees. I wonder if that guy has discovered Guitar Hero; he’d be a natural at it. Incidentally, Prince b-sides, in all their flaming weirdness and glory, were the perfect soundtrack to the Sounds of Market experience.

And, of course, Doug E. Fresh’s “The Show” would always sound just right at Sounds of Market.

The 11th and Ludlow Sounds of Market still exists and here it is, just this week [Note: that is to say in February 2008. And of course, in April 2016 SoM no longer exists.]:

The exterior looks pretty much the same way it did 20 years ago, but inside it’s a different story. The audio equipment is still upfront on the first floor, but the back section that used to house the music is now empty. You need to go up to the second floor to check out the hip-hop and rhythm and blues and world music sections, while the rock, folk, jazz and blues sections are all the way up on the third floor.

Obviously there is no vinyl to be found, but that’s not the only big difference. Everything now seems just a bit more sedate and sterile than it did when I was frequenting Sounds of Market. The music isn’t playing quite as loud as it did back then, the salesmen don’t exhort you to spend your cash and clearly no one on staff needs to wear kneepads in the event they are moved to slide across the floor while air-jamming to a Prince b-side. The selection is predictably fabulous and the prices are still cheaper than the malls (if there are indeed music stores at malls anymore), but only marginally so.

So, the store is still there, but for me anyway, the adventure is gone. I’m still looking for new interesting music and sometimes I even find it, but stores like Sounds of Market don’t have any role in that quest.

That’s OK though. I still have the music I picked up “back in the day” at Sounds of Market and, more importantly, I still have the friendships. Which is really what the Sounds of Market experience was all about anyway.

Plus I still have Greg’s copy of No Jacket Required, which will come in handy if we ever get a cat.

The Copco Lake Five Year Photo Guys and the Art of Time Standing Still

In Friendship on September 26, 2012 at 2:59 am

Maybe you saw the story this summer about the five guys who took a photo of themselves at a lake back in 1982 when they were 19 years old. They have restaged the photo every five years since then.

The same five guys. The same location, Copco Lake in California.

This is a classic feel good story that happened to emerge during a week when it seems as though many people needed something to feel happy about.

I read about these guys on CNN’s website and enjoyed the story, without thinking about it too much in that moment. However, I have found with the passage of a day or so, that the story has really gotten into my head and heart.

What I’m finding is that the stories that have emerged on CNN and elsewhere and, of course, the photos themselves, are creating more questions in my head than they are answering. I find myself wondering about the demographics of these five guys: what are their political, social, religious views? How have these views changed over the decades and how have those changes affected the dynamic of the friendships?

And then there are questions like “I wonder who each guy in these photos considers his best friend among the other four?” and “How does the friendship dynamic change when two, three or four of the guys are together with the rest not around?” And, of course, it’s hard not to wonder if there haven’t been fallings out through the years.

Lots of questions emerge, which are wisely not answered by the photos themselves. And, while I have those questions, ultimately I don’t think I want to know the answers, as this is really none of my business.

What emerges from the photos is the fact that five guys who have apparently known each other most of their lives still like hanging out together. And that is all we really need to know.

I do know that if I had been part of a photo like this with four of my friends when I was 19 (in 1984) that I can very clearly tell you who two of the other guys in that photo would have been but I can’t say for certain who the other two would be, as some of my friendships were in a state of flux at that point. I can also say that, once the five-year-tradition started, there surely would have been years in which not all of five of us would have showed up. In some of those years, I would have been the one who chose to miss the picture.

None of the five Copco Lake guys have ever missed a five-year photo.

In the wake of the media attention, some readers/viewers have focused on the toll the years have taken on some/all of the Copco Lake guys. I understand the interest in that, especially given how superficial we all can be about physical appearance, but again I’m way more fascinated by the many, many strands of experience and memory and friendship that the photos represent than I am by how paunchy or gray-haired some of the Copco guys may have gotten. And anyway, being in the same general age bracket as these guys, I’ve got my own gray hairs and other signs of the aging process to confront.

Some people might look at the Copco Lake photos as some kind of exercise in nostalgia but to me this is just as much about now and the future as it is about the past. The photos (and more importantly, the process of making sure they get taken every five years) remind me very much of the Rush song, “Time Stand Still,” in which the narrator notes:

“I’m not looking back
But I want to look around me now
See more of the people
And the places that surround me now.”

Yes, of course, the Copco Lake guys have a shared past that bonds them, but they seem pretty comfortable being friends with each other as they find themselves now. And I guess that is what will allow the friendships to move forward into the future. That seems to be what would allow any of our friendships to move through our lives with us, rather than become static memories.

In any event, I consider myself lucky to have made many great friends throughout my lifetime, and even luckier to realize that nearly every one of those friendships still exists in some form (even those friendships that got bruised a bit or went dormant for awhile along the way). The Copco Lake guys are reminding me that I really ought to celebrate the friendships I have and to see to it that these friendships live as much in the present as they are rooted in the past.

Thanks for that reminder, Copco Lake guys.

You can see the rest of the Copco Lake guys’ photos here:

Patrick F. O'Donnell

Children's book author, ghostwriter, content creator, editor.

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