Unto these hills, Richard Simmons


By Evalyn Baron
Published July 2011

I’ve never thought of myself as an old woman, but I’ve begun to feel like one since I’ve come to live in a city built on steep hills. My body, which has performed well in previous cities, tells me it’s not quite ready for my new hometown.
However, my hill-o-phobia has not robbed me of my eyesight. I’ve begun to notice a fashion trend in my neighborhood, which is good, because the day I stop being aware of fashion is the day I’m not just old, I’m dead.

The women of Russian Hill dress at all times as if they’re off to the gym, or have already worked out all morning. No doubt they’ve been engaged in something just like that, because in this town, walking your dog can be a step class, and going to the corner Walgreens can serve as your daily StairMaster session.

Because you don’t have to pay an extra Groupon dime for this “membership,” it’s a real bargain. Welcome to the health club that is San Francisco – open 24/7. Bring your own water and towels.

The fashion trend? Young women and mothers dressed in black spandex leggings to just below the knee; layered, pastel tank tops (more than one at a time to create visual interest); and a tight sweater or sweatshirt worn or tied over the shoulders. Shoes are the latest in “articulated footwear,” and they must own more than one pair because, even though this is a hard-walking constituency, their shoes look as clean as their fresh-scrubbed faces.
And I’m beginning to suspect that San Francisco females don’t sweat, which plunges me into even deeper despair, because I do. I sweat a lot. I adore this city and look forward to walking it with ease one day, but still, I sweat and they don’t seem to.

So here I am, high up in my new town and sweating, with the familiar law of gravity reversed: she who walks down must eventually walk back up – that is, if she wants to return home. But, the nightmare part, aside from a potential heart attack at the end of every outing, is that I look lousy in spandex.

Even when young, I knew better than to wear it. But now I feel I must go and buy something made out of it.
I wonder if a headband would count.

But back to the walking women of Russian Hill. Their shiny hair is usually pulled back. When I walked behind a group of these beauties the other day, with their long ponytails swinging in sync, it was like walking behind a cadre of high-spirited fillies. All pony tails swing the same, I guess, due to the laws of hair gravity.

Some have earphones plugged in and I wonder what they listen to these days. My favorite Broadway shows probably wouldn’t appeal to these youngsters, so chances are you won’t see them breaking into energetic, arm-flinging, Michael Bennett dance moves like you’d see me do if you caught me alone on a flat stretch of land while
A Chorus Line plays on my iPod. I may look ridiculous, but it keeps me going!

Another variation of this fashion trend includes high-end baby strollers. I’ve seen these buggies pushed in front, in the traditional manner; pulled behind to stretch the backs of arms, with mommy’s head lowered for good neck stretching; or with arms outstretched in front for maximum muscle work, backs straight, curved and rounded up in good Martha Graham contractions, or lowered into a dip to increase flexibility. Using their baby strollers as weight machines, these smart moms find ways to thoroughly work out, with resistance increasing as the kids grow.

Russian Hill gals not only bring home the bacon up these hills, but they conduct rolling workouts, often doing both at the same time. But that’s OK because they’re dressed for it, in the latest of what I now call Russian Hill sweat-chic.

So though I may feel old, with my body continually agreeing, I am not blind to these newly noted fashion “musts.” And because the only way to get my body into shape enough to keep it quiet is to strengthen it by daily walking – sans stroller but with plenty of groceries – I too shall dress for the challenge.

Dressing well has always been my best defense against a disappointing body. So point me in the direction of the nearest sportswear outlet, leave me alone for an hour, and don’t peek. Next time you see me, I may be hugging the mailbox bolted to the sidewalk of the hill I live on, gasping for strength to continue, but I’ll be looking cute in all my new, colorful tank tops. As for the spandex pants?
Don’t worry. I promise that will never happen.

Evalyn Baron is an actress, director and teacher who has worked on Broadway and at regional theaters across the country. Thanks to a successful TV and radio career, she can now abandon these efforts and finally get some writing done.