Wednesday, November 14, 2018
Human Interest

Treadmill made exercise — and insularity — easier

William Staub, an engineer who brought to American gyms and households the exercise treadmill, subsequently cutting the amount of usable floor space in thousands of guest rooms and garages across the country, died at his home in Clifton, N.J., last week. He was 96, and his son said he was treadmill devotee until the end.

Mr. Staub, the story goes, had read a book called Aerobics in 1968 that promoted the health benefits of daily exercise. The book mentioned a treadmill, which at the time was a costly device and typically available only in doctors' offices. Mr. Staub developed a low-cost version, the PaceMaster.

By that point, America had abandoned walking altogether. Six million years of bipedal human locomotion had come to an end in a cul de sac surrounded by two-car garages.

This was the adolescence of the sit-down culture, the new television in the new house in the new car-centric subdivision, the drive-in and drive-thru, the golf cart and riding lawn mower.

Cities, and suburbs especially, had taken on a more open design, with wider streets and vast parking lots and timed traffic lights meant to move motorists quickly, and the pedestrian was left clinging to the edge of this dangerous new world.

And our view of the walker changed. What was commonplace became eccentric. If you walked, it meant you didn't have means to ride.

"If you want to be snickered at by the neighbors and snubbed by the PTA, just go out and take a walk," wrote Jeanne O'Neill in The American Home. "Or try to. Actually, you won't get very far. Somebody you know, or somebody you don't, will drive up and insist upon giving you a ride."

Into this world came Mr. Staub's treadmill, permitting the miracle of walking without walking somewhere. His product perfectly suited a society that seemed content to satisfy all its needs in the air-conditioned indoors.

Walking could be a private endeavor with a twist of the blinds. The action was what was important, not the environment, not the chance community encounters and opportunities for natural observation. Walking, heretofore a philosophical activity that inspired the greatest minds, had become a bare form of exercise, a way to stay fit.

And if the angle was right, you could even watch the television.

Hopeful spouses bought them for Christmas and adult children bought them for aging parents. See, you can walk miles without ever leaving the house!

The problem with the treadmill was, of course, the very thing that made it seem appealing: It was a stationary, soulless, solitary device, a human hamster wheel, a symbol of the suburbs.

So it wound up under the bed or behind the couch, waiting for the next garage sale or until the cousins came over at Thanksgiving and launched each other into the wall. Some sat unused for years, so long they disappeared into their surroundings, where they still hide.

We still use them, of course, especially at gyms, where banks of treadmills are fitted with flat-screen televisions, monitors measure heart rates and the push of a button can give us a steep incline. We walk through the hills and valleys without ever seeing the hills and valleys. If we can find a parking space, we can walk blissfully to nowhere.

Information from the Associated Press was used in this report. Ben Montgomery can be reached at [email protected] or (727) 893-8650.

Comments
Tampa Bay comic book artists and fans react to Stan Lee’s death

Tampa Bay comic book artists and fans react to Stan Lee’s death

Tampa Bay is home to comic book industry professionals and fans — even a superhero — who were impacted by the Marvel icon and his work.
Updated: 2 hours ago
Cuba bans tattoo parlors so getting one carries health risks. Tampa artists to the rescue.

Cuba bans tattoo parlors so getting one carries health risks. Tampa artists to the rescue.

"It is illegal, but everyone is doing it," said James Langner, 41, general manager of the eight Atomic Tattoos parlors in Hillsborough County. "It is being done in a real primitive way."
Published: 11/13/18
Hillsborough Sheriff's deputies investigating woman's death in Lake Egypt Estates

Hillsborough Sheriff's deputies investigating woman's death in Lake Egypt Estates

Hillsborough County Sheriff's deputies responded to the scene of a suspicious death at about 8p.m. Monday in the Lake Egypt Estates neighborhood near Tampa's Lowry Park Zoo.
Published: 11/12/18
Updated: 11/13/18
Pedestrian killed in crash with wrong-way driver while loading bicycle onto PSTA bus

Pedestrian killed in crash with wrong-way driver while loading bicycle onto PSTA bus

Pinellas County Sheriff's deputies are investigating the death of a pedestrian who was killed by an out-of-control vehicle while hitching a bicycle to the front of a county bus.
Published: 11/12/18
Stan Lee, creator of a galaxy of Marvel superheroes, dies at 95

Stan Lee, creator of a galaxy of Marvel superheroes, dies at 95

Stan Lee, the creative dynamo who revolutionized the comic book and helped make billions for Hollywood by introducing human frailties in Marvel superheroes, died Monday at age 95.
Published: 11/12/18
An empty foxhole, an anonymous grave, and a World War II mystery solved after 74 years

An empty foxhole, an anonymous grave, and a World War II mystery solved after 74 years

Jack Cummings posed on the lawn in his uniform, hands clasped behind his back, his Army cap perched on his head at a jaunty angle.
Published: 11/12/18
Hillsborough Sheriff's Office spurns ICE agreement but is still holding immigrants for the agency

Hillsborough Sheriff's Office spurns ICE agreement but is still holding immigrants for the agency

TAMPA — Ten months ago, Hillsborough Sheriff Chad Chronister stood among a dozen or so Florida sheriffs to announce a new arrangement with federal immigration officials to deal with a legal quandary.The new agreement with U.S. Immigration and ...
Published: 11/12/18
Congressman-Elect Dan Crenshaw visits Saturday Night Live to accept Pete Davidson’s apology

Congressman-Elect Dan Crenshaw visits Saturday Night Live to accept Pete Davidson’s apology

Last week on Saturday Night Live, Pete Davidson made the regrettable decision to make fun of Dan Crenshaw, a Republican Congressional candidate who lost an eye to an IED while serving in Afghanistan.
Published: 11/11/18
Amy Scherzer's Diary: Weekly Wrap-Up of the Tampa Social Scene

Amy Scherzer's Diary: Weekly Wrap-Up of the Tampa Social Scene

Amy Scherzer's Diary: Weekly Wrap-Up of the Tampa Social Scene
Published: 11/09/18
Judge okays wedding anniversary trip for Lakeland store owner facing murder charge

Judge okays wedding anniversary trip for Lakeland store owner facing murder charge

LAKELAND — A former Lakeland city commissioner charged with murder in the fatal shooting of a man he suspected of shoplifting is on house arrest, but that won't stand in the way of a weekend trip he had planned with his wife next month to Sava...
Published: 11/09/18