Upon closer inspection I determined that they were not in fact cruel instruments of torture but rather high-tech exercise equipment, of all things: a treadmill, a medicine ball, some adjustable-weight dumbbells, and some sort of big rubber workout ball that I'm not quite sure how one would use. It appeared that I had been booked into some sort of "fitness suite."
Or, as the Westin people call it, the WestinWORKOUT(R) Room, where you can "recharge yourself on your own time, in your own room."
I have no problem with people who follow a rigorous exercise routine when on the road, even if I never quite manage such discipline on my own. Going for a jog in a new city is probably a great way to take in the scenery, and if the weather is bad or you're booked into one of those dreary motels off an Interstate exit, I can see how some laps in the indoor pool or a quick workout on the stairclimber in the hotel gym would go a long way toward keeping off those extra pounds despite three restaurant meals a day.
But isn't having the exercise equipment right there in your room just a tad excessive?
In their delightful 1975 phillipic The Taste of America, John and Karen Hess lamented the "solitary drinking" that seemed an epidemic within the rooms of "hotels that advertise 'free guest ice' on every floor'". It's a marked contrast to the nominally-sociable practice of boozing it up in the hotel bar, where there's at least an outside chance of actually interacting with similarly bored and/or lonely traveling souls.
The WestonWORKOUT(R) room seems the early 21st century's version of solitary hotel-room drinking: solitary hotel-room exercising. A depressing metaphor for the Bowling Alone generation.
I must admit, though, that the treadmill did come in handy. The handrails served quite nicely for hanging my suit pants at the end of the day when I changed into jeans for a visit around the corner to Gates BBQ.
A few hours later, as I lay on the bed stuffed full of hickory-smoked brisket, pork ribs, and ham, I suppose I took some small comfort in knowing that if I woke up at five a.m. with an overwhelming urge to exercise I had a handy treadmill just two steps away.
I woke up at seven, feeling quite fine.