Guy Adams: Empty gyms, sweaty homes

LA Notebook
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The Independent Online

Remember the ThighMaster? It looked like an oversize hairclip, contained a large spring, and when properly manipulated claimed to help you "squeeze, squeeze, squeeze your way to shapely hips and thighs". Or what about the Ab-Wheel? Held in your hands while you performed upside-down sit-ups, it would allegedly (if you didn't put your back out) produce a body-builder's "six pack," in just 90 days.

Then there was the Step. For a brief, halcyon period during the 1990s, the makers of this glorified plastic plank found a lucrative market among bored housewives hoping to atone for chronic daytime telly habits by jumping on and off it on a semi-regular basis.

Such is the allure of home exercise devices, which follow a grimly predictable life cycle: first, they get bought, for an over-inflated price; then they're used diligently for a couple of weeks; finally, the owner grows bored and consigns them to a lingering death at the back of a suburban wardrobe.

Until this year, that is. For with Middle America officially bankrupt, New Year fitness nuts are foregoing expensive gym memberships and (in a trend soberly documented by this week's LA Times) returning to the long-abandoned work-out kit they bought in 1980s and 1990s.

In health-obsessed California, this marks a major socio-economic shift. Posh gyms are going out of business. Cheap ones are suffering. Even Venice's ultra-gritty Muscle Beach seemed short on its usual quota of heaving trolls when I wandered past this week.

But not everyone's on their uppers. Jane Fonda, at 72, has been suddenly rediscovered by home work-out fans. Her original VHS workout tapes are now fetching up to $50 on eBay, while her website has begun shifting its unsold stock of 1980s "Spandex workout shorts." If only Wall Street bankers were as canny as Ms Fonda, we might not have had a recession in the first place.

Just how wet is this?

Snow brings chaos to Britain, but in California we also suffer during inclement weather. This week, my home was left powerless for an entire afternoon, thanks to what South California Edison described as "rain on the power cable". Finally, a corporate excuse more pathetic than "leaves on the line".

Welcome to the ex-pistols

The LAPD have proudly issued a press release claiming credit for a big drop in the number of locals celebrating New Year with a "negligent discharge of firearms in the air". Just 212 incidents were recorded, a year-on-year decrease of 42 per cent. What happened to the old Wild West?