Several years ago, I received a gift certificate that ended up sitting in the drawer until last month. It was to a day spa about ninety minutes or so away from home that boasts mineral baths and restorative mud. We almost used it in the winter, but I was concerned that outdoor mud bathing might be even more uncomfortable when the temperature drops below 70.
Therefore, we headed out on a very hot Saturday afternoon to take in the restorative offerings provided by this century-old oasis. I knew we might’ve made a mistake when we reached the parking lot. We arrived late morning and had to park in the very last row. A thought occurred to me that we should turn back, but after having gone through really heavy traffic, a detour and a general sense of commitment, we parked in the blazing sun and gathered our things for the rather long walk to the entrance.
There were six cashiers to handle the crush of recent arrivals. We were shown a menu of offerings, including heated rock treatments, which you could get just as easily from sitting on one of their sidewalks, various types of massages, scrubs, rubs and tubs. We could have our pores vacuumed, our scalps stimulated and skin revitalized if we were willing to pay the price.
It seems that our gift certificate, generous as it was, afforded us entry into the place. Everything else was an additional cost.
We checked in, found lockers and decided to have lunch. Though I have never been to a cheerleading camp, I felt as though I’d wandered into a small cafeteria where some very excited and energetic women of various ages were pushing and shoving to get their food, using their fiberglass trays as shields. Most of the men had become timid and were waiting patiently at the backs of the lines. I was shocked to see the level of immodesty, considering what we hear about body image issues. However, it seems that these ladies had stowed their concerns in the lockers along with any clothing that would cover areas of normal concern.
When you’re in a place like this with “doing the healthy thing” on your mind, I looked at the salad bar. Iceberg lettuce, pale tomatoes and dressings from a restaurant supplier are not healthy alternatives, especially when other items are grated cheese and chopped bacon that may never have been on a pig. I moved onto the next station. I didn’t think an entire pizza would look good, and evidently it didn’t taste good from what I could hear on the wind. The third station consisted of various sandwiches, and after ruling out a burger, a club sandwich and a ham stack, I thought the best thing was to go with the veggie burger.
Considering the fact that I waited for seven minutes for this burger, I thought it would be warmer. I didn’t order cheese, but it wouldn’t have melted unless I’d set it in the sun. We passed the beverage station, and I got a tall cup of water from the tap. Perhaps there were minerals in it, and it was certainly more affordable than $4 for a bottle of water. Two cashiers and the lines were backed up. Our line was shorter, but it wasn’t moving because a couple in front of us wanted to see the manager about charging their meal to their account. You have to set that up when you check in, and apparently they didn’t do it and had no cash. The woman refused to step aside while a manager came, and I’m not so sure I wouldn’t have done the same.
We finally got to a table, and in reviewing the receipt, we discovered that I’d been charged $2 for tap water. Had the water-shortage apocalypse happened while we had waited in the checkout line? Since when do you get charged for tap water?
You get charged when you select the larger size cup that prevents frequent trips for refills. The stack of those larger cups are kept far enough away from the tiny unlit sign mounted in a shadow that says you will be charged for any beverages in those cups because you can get refills all day long.
I marched right back to the cashier, waited in line and demonstrated that I had tap water and was not going to pay $2 for it. She informed me about the sign, which I would verify after lunch. Be that as it may, the cost was $2, and she said that she was unable to make credits to accounts. However, I was free to select a dessert.
“Any dessert,” I asked? Any dessert.
“You can have a piece of cheesecake.” That sounded wonderful.
“That’s very kind of you,” I said.
“Well, it’s four dollars a slice, so I’ll have to charge you an extra two dollars if you get it. If I can get your name, I’ll charge it to your account.”
I was livid. “No thanks. What can I get for two dollars?”
“We have the two-cookie packets. They’re baked fresh daily.” The label seemed to back up that statement.
“I’ll take them.” I grabbed chocolate chip cookies and got back to the table where my veggie burger had grown even colder. The bread was tough from the microwave and I wondered what Gordon Ramsay would do if he were to bring a camera crew to film the opening scene of one of his shows. I felt sure he would shove the plate to the end of the table, hurl insults at the person who prepared it and ask for another disappointing dish.
I opened the cookies and took a bite. Those were not chocolate chips, but raisins, and they were gluten free. So they finally decided to put out a version of a healthy alternative just when I was giving in to the idea of decadence after a particularly bad lunch. They were piling nachos nine inches high for some of these gals, and they were selling burgers and pizza and soft drinks with high-fructose corn syrup, but the “baked fresh daily” cookies tasted like some hideous fiber bar that you get at the health-food store. I filled up my costly water cup and walked out.
We were immediately hit in the face with the heat, and after pausing a bit, we decided to walk around to get an idea of what we might want to do. We stopped for a few moments to view the mud experience. From a safe distance, we watched people approach the tall display of reddish mud. They would take fistfuls and rub it all over their exposed skin. They would bake with it on as they lay in the sun. Eventually, they would rinse.
We heard some woman in a uniform announce, “May I have your attention? If you would like to be hosed down before going into the showers, we’re lining up now.” A couple of minutes later, a team of uniformed staff got behind the patrons and hosed them down with high-pressure soap. There were three African-American ladies standing there screaming from the coolness of the water, and their mother was standing next to me watching. “I don’t want any part of that!” she said to me. I replied, “I don’t either. It looks like a civil rights violation.” She laughed and said, “Selma all over again!”
We left her shaking her head, and we walked the entire property, which seemed much smaller than the map they had provided. We passed by the large pool where the seniors were having their workout. It looked like the touring company for Cocoon. The mineral baths were adjacent, and I came down with a case of the “skeeves.” I could smell the sulfur, and the water looked cloudy. I couldn’t imagine how these people were getting into that water just as the last person got out. No skimming, no showers, no sign that you wouldn’t catch something worse than what you were trying to get rid of. It suddenly occurred to me that I can never be in a situation where I must dip in some mystical waters for a hoped-for cure.
We grabbed two towels and headed for the hot tub and cold plunge combination. We found beach chairs and kicked off our sandals. The short distance to the pools was like walking on hot coals. If the owners had realized this, I’m sure they would’ve charged for the experience.
The hot tub was crowded, which was odd when considering that it was over 98 degrees that day. We eased our way in, and I was ready to get out immediately. The sign indicated that to get the full experience, you should take a hot dip, a cold plunge and repeat this four to six times. I was already hot from the day, so after the hot tub, I didn’t care if the plunge was as cold as the icy north Atlantic. I needed relief!
I have to admit that the cold water was the most pleasant part of the day. It wasn’t a big pool, but I kicked around a bit until I thought I was fit for repeating a dip in the heated water. The second immersion into the warmth wasn’t as bad as the first. We were actually sitting there talking with other guests about the pleasantness of this experience when a skinny guy in his early thirties slipped under the water and came up sniffling and snorting. He then proceeded to blow his nose, one nostril at a time and straight into the water.
“That’s disgusting,” I sneered. His lady friend gave me a weak smile while he remained oblivious. I suddenly felt that I was bathing in the Ganges, so hastily removed myself and got into the cold plunge hoping that those chilling waters were cold enough to kill what might be clinging to me.
I’d had enough. It was time to go! I hated to be a jerk about a day that had been given to me as a special experience, but it seems every time I swim in a public pool, I come down with something. I had to get to a shower.
There were about eight showers in the locker room. They had beautiful tile and changing areas. There were multiple shower-heads and an array of various soaps, shampoos, and body scrubs. If they’d had one that was made out of pumice, I would’ve dispensed it and removed the lop layer of my skin.
They may have had one like that, but I couldn’t see. I couldn’t get my eyes open. There was a high shower-head angled above me. I had turned the single handle on the wall, but nothing had come out of it. Instead, there was an extra large fixture, unseen by me, positioned directly over my head, and it dispensed water with the pressure of a fire hose. I spent a few minutes groping blindly for the faucet to keep my skin from burning off while the slow drain caused the water to reach my ankles.
I managed to put a stop to the water while I figured out how to work the shower, which came with no visible instructions. Perhaps they were mounted on a wall outside with tiny print like the $2 water cup. I soaped the best I could, endured a final rinse with the intensity of Niagara Falls and checked out as fast as possible. I was thankful to get home so that I could take a decent shower and finally relax.
© 2014 by Patrick Brown