October 20, 2006
Volume 34
Issue 42
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Friday, Dec 04, 2020



Tour De Life by Beau Burriola
The Five AM Crowd
Almost nobody is awake at 4:00 AM. That's why I like this time of day. As I have almost every day for five years now, I roll out of bed to start my pre-pre dawn ritual. In the early, early morning, I see the world much more clearly: the tiniest sounds are more vivid, the smallest brushes of cold air against my skin are felt much more deeply, and the big charade I feel like the rest of the world gets caught up in hasn't yet begun. When almost nobody else is awake, the day belongs to me.

I decided to start this morning ritual when the doctor told me I had HIV. Far from wanting to go to the gym to get pretty pecs and arms to flex, I was there instead to try my hand at living a more wellness-centered life. If I hadn't done enough to protect myself from HIV, I could at least now start to be responsible enough to make the most of it by being healthy. Still reeling from my diagnosis, I was too cynical to join the after-work gay crowd, whose infamous narcissism (real or imagined) represented everything about getting HIV I regretted; I decided instead to get up as early as possible to avoid them. That's how I became part of the Five AM crowd.

The Five AM gym crowd, smaller by comparison to any other Gold's Gym hour, is a dedicated few folks. There's Lunge Lady, an incredibly skinny gal who walks the length of the gym back and forth for a whole hour every day with fifteen pound dumb bells in each hand. There are the three chatty ladies who jump onto the same three elliptical trainers next to one another, providing an amusing commentary to the soundless news channel and newest members coming in. There's the Big Guy, who walks at a reasonable pace on the treadmill every day, less big every day. There's the serious looking old man, who pedals away on the same bike every day as fast as his legs will go, and who smiles and waves at everyone who walks by. There are the two forty-something gay men who I've chatted with over the years, watching them look younger each year than the fifty-something men they seemed to be when they started.

As strangers thrown together in the common pursuit of personal wellness, we might not have much in common at all, but I find that I've come to rely on these people. On the early morning of 9/11, we all stood crowded around the largest of the gym TVs, many of us talking to one another for the first time ever. When Lunge Lady was out for her second knee surgery, we welcomed her back when we saw her slowly bobbing up and down around the gym. When the old man smiled one morning and described how his daughter started him there after a small stroke he had, I understood right away. When Big Guy lost fifty pounds, we all knew about it and congratulated him. When the two older gay men one morning were talking about the new meds that one of them had started, I knew just how he felt.

In a way, the Five AM crowd seems so different from the after work crowd. Rather than the mean-looking guy who lifts up his shirt to check out his own abs in the mirror, or the guy who slams down his weights so that all the gym might hear that he's lifting the heaviest weight of anyone, our little band seems to be made up of people there for very different reasons. Most of us seem to be recovering from something, fighting something else, or really looking to change who we are.

I can't imagine going without my morning ritual now. It's as much about the attitude of wellness that the people around me have as it is my own, and it confirms why I get up at four AM and how I see the world. Four o'clock in the morning is just too early for the usual BS, and for a couple of hours every day before it all begins, these couple of hours are another big weapon in my fight against HIV, just as the friendly old man is defeating heart disease, as Lunge Lady recovers from another knee surgery, and as not-so-Big-Anymore-Guy saves his life entirely.

In the early, early morning, I see the world more clearly. From the looks of it, I'm not the only one.

Beau Burriola is a local writer forever pursuing a balanced and healthy life. E-mail him at
visit Beau at

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