And that after life there is only darkness.
Sunday afternoon. Union Square. Reebok FitHub. A rubbery oasis of CrossFit propaganda, stretchy fabrics, and sneakers the color of Lucky Charms marshmallows. All around the room, mannequins perform triumphant feats on top of platforms. Painted on a wall, in all caps, something dumb and grandiose about togetherness. Survival. Transformation. Outside, life is tedious. You are frail and ordinary. In here, you can dress like an astronaut and learn to climb mountains.
Standing in a circle, half a dozen blonde girls wait to begin a pilates class. "I have a friend who does CrossFit and she's like, jacked," one of them says. They all nod.
Across the room, Today Show correspondent Jenna Wolfe recites slightly modified versions of the same bit for a camera crew: "A 45-minute cardio workout? I gotta earn my juice!" Jenna has tan calves and perfect forehead skin and hair knotted back in a way that expresses both softness and competence. Sometimes she says "juice" and it has 13 syllables. Sometimes she pronounces "juice" as if she were reading paternity test results. Juice? I can't believe you're not my dad, Juice. The key to being a television human is perfecting the art of fabricated astonishment, dismay, confusion. Can you BELIEVE it? Fourteen inches of rain tomorrow in DES MOINES. Her vocabulary is all gosh and holy moses and neutered Ned Flandersy exclamations. For the next four hours, this will be our narrator, our documentarian; a walking, breathing text message from your mother.
Read on Munchies: The Dangers of Juice Detoxes Are Terrifying
We have gathered here in this Reebok FitHub to do pilates together, and then go on a Juice Crawl, which is like a bar crawl, only with juice instead of all the means to make ruinous romantic decisions. The concept was devised by Anna Garcia, a woman whose kindness is so immediately evident I feel slightly ashamed addressing the absurdity of this event. About four years ago, Anna developed severe cystic acne and was told by a doctor that she was almost pre-diabetic. She became a vegan, stopped drinking alcohol, and along the way conceived of this nutrient and friendship extravaganza.
"Did you guys see the Seth Myers thing about juice crawls? It was kind of hilarious," another one of the blonde girls says just before we begin pilates.
And so, here we are, The White Experience, 2015: $57 for juice, isometric exercises, and asides about late-night hosts making lukewarm jokes about minor phenomena in an internet economy that burns through Drake gifs and ukulele covers of Fetty Wap songs like coal. These are a people obsessed with challenging the limits of their own randomness, with riding the hardest for the softest shit. Treasure hunts, ugly sweater parties, dressing your dog up as Walter White, singing the Fresh Prince theme at karaoke.
After pilates, we line up at the FitHub exit and do two takes for the Today Show cameras. Anna shouts some generic Journey-at-the-Meadowlands "Are you guys ready?!" incitements over an actually-operational megaphone, and then, one by one, we leave.
The first bar we visit is Juice Press, the Starbucks of this whole racket, with over two dozen stores and a valuation of $100 million. Everything is meticulously designed to crack into that place in your brain defenseless to idiosyncratic fonts and nostalgia and tiny containers. There are charming, bubbly cursives and Vital Information Helveticas. ProViotic supplements in matte silver canisters at the checkout counter with official-looking science symbols on them. Every juice bar's ethos is a mix of vague nutritional science, spiritual hokum, puns, and employees who seem relentlessly enthusiastic about being a part of The Revolution. At Juice Press there are booklets by the door that use words like alkalize and synthesis and distillation, blurbs about the grave dangers of protein consumption, convincing you of an ugliness and a wrongness so that it can sell you rightness and beauty. There is an implication the moment you walk in the door: join us or... if not die, then witness your libido vanish and your epidermis become slack yellowed clumps. You realize the message is always the same, whatever the product, wherever you are, no matter how bombastic the literature, no matter how much potassium in the antidote: would you enjoy fucking hotter people?
The juices themselves ranged in taste from "slightly melonish" to "what if you could drink your grandfather's arm hair?" The vast majority were complex and interesting and at times irresistible. But there was something distinctly unsettling about an event, an experience, a moment so conscious of itself, so programmed to be Discussed, to possibly-infuriate, a slow-lob morsel into the teeth of Going Viral. Jenna peeling off with various participants and asking them to describe the thrills of drinking juice and eating quinoa with all kinds of manufactured disbelief; staged "chugging" contests; participants taking "shots" together.
On a previous crawl, participants were each given a pair of headphones with a synchronized playlist so they could all wander from bar to bar listening to the same music. At one point, they entered a Samsung store and began to dance around a security guard. Drunk on righteousness and hey-everyone-look-at-us is hardly different than drunk the old fashioned way. At least those people eventually go to sleep.
It is the feeling of cornball recreation disguised as something more substantial. Passing curiosities elevated to crusades, "wellness" and GMO awareness and Making a Difference. People particular about pulp removal and aggressively trying to avoid making phallic jokes about zucchinis. At one point, at the second bar, Jenna said, "Remember, there's no bathroom in this place, so let's keep the drinking to a minimum, or I'm gonna have to, you know." *crowd chuckles* Television people: just like us, bladders and everything.
There are two types of juice shop aesthetic: fruit stand and laboratorial. One is rustic and wholesome and wooden. The other is industrial minimalism, stainless steel and exposed air ducts, bushels of banana sitting on shelves, like they just decided to put up a factory in the heart of a jungle, and now things fall out of a tree, through a purifier, and directly into the mouth of someone with strong opinions on cacao nibs. Everything has an architecture, from the menu arrangements to the tiny spoons with the complementary salad samples in 2 oz. soufflé cups, this sort of endearing Leslie Knopeish maybe-on-purpose-maybe-not silliness. The magic of these juice bars, something so precious and impressed by itself, is to insulate you from the foxholes of your real life. Here is your need. Here is a chart that explains why this is important. Here is a vial of liquefied cucumber for $9.
All of it is an infomercial for being better than you are now, better than you were yesterday, better tomorrow than you could have fathomed, working up a sweat as you thunder through your microscopic problems and emerge with the corpses of your SoulCycle class and his ambiguous response to your dinner invite in your rearview mirror. On the horizon is nothing but #riseandgrinds, every single recipe you will never attempt, every quad exercise you will put off till tomorrow, every baby mobile made from refurbished doorknobs you will never have one day, but in this moment you will, you are the perfectest marketing professional in the history of your suitably gentrified neighborhood, and it's Sunday, and tomorrow you have to work, but not right now.
We enter the last bar, Terri, on West 23rd. It is bright and narrow, with rows of plastic cups half-filled with lush red and green and yellow liquids on a counter in the back corner. Participants take as many as they like. Jenna and her producers convene to discuss the narrative of the segment. They need an ending. They look for a bathroom, presumably to stage an I-can't-hold-it-anymore scene where Jenna bursts through the door. There is no bathroom. She wanders back to the middle of the room. Standing there, Jenna chews her bottom lip, eyes wide in concentration, searching perceptibly for an alternative. She is puzzled, Real Human puzzled now, turning over ideas semi-audibly in the crowd, her back to the counter. Outside, the sun is setting, everyone is hungry, it is getting cold. Across the street, booze and toilets and charbroiled animal flesh. Sometimes there are no fake answers, sometimes the mirage takes the day off. The world is a motherfucker, even when we try to make it otherwise.
Follow John on Twitter.