Owner of 'no-nonsense gym' in Dallas helps his regulars strengthen body and mind

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by By ROY APPLETON / The Dallas Morning News

kvue.com

Posted on August 15, 2009 at 4:37 PM

Updated Tuesday, Oct 20 at 10:57 AM

Cracked paint, in mustards and fleshy creams, peels from walls. Mirrors, posters and pictures reflect the present and past. Holes pock the pressed tin ceiling. Fans chase the heat. The sun and fluorescent tubes cast a subtle, uneven, ever-changing light.

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Ironman of Doug's Gym in Dallas still going strong (DMN - Video/editing: Roy Appleton)
July 21, 2008
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Doug Eidd could fix the place up some but probably won't. "The commercial guys like the old look," says the ironman of downtown Dallas.

You can find him six days a week at 2010 Commerce St., a place little changed since he arrived in 1962.

Inside Doug's Gym, the sights and sounds can be routinely rich. People climbing the creaky wooden stairs to get a grip. Arms pushing, pulling the pounds, fists attacking the bag or mitts. Feet skipping rope or walking the floor between stretch and strain. The huffing, puffing, bending, sweating. The clanging of weights.

Through his windows, Doug has seen and heard the memorable and mundane.

There was all the commotion outside the police station across Commerce Street after President John F. Kennedy was slain. For years, there was the daily energy, the people and traffic and merchants, the extra crush of Christmas shoppers. Then came the shutterings, the emptying and decline. Now his view includes a new high-rise apartment building and land cleared for a central park.

Through 46 years of ups and downs, comings and goings, Doug's Gym has been a constant in the city's changing core - a factory for building muscles, burning calories and lifting spirits.

And pressing on is Doug, a man of perspectives, going strong at 77.

Beyond the commercial guys, his setting has attracted production crews for television's Walker, Texas Ranger and the movie Tough Enough. It has also drawn countless members, in varying shapes and sizes, beginners to specimens.

Some want personal training - Doug's knowledge and encouraging push. "Good. That's good," he tells a red-faced J.R. Martinez, who has dashed off a 12-repetition set of 135-pound curls. "OK, now walk around and hit the bench next."

Others just pay to use a gym far removed from the corporate, mass-market, spandex scene. Want that hard-driving, pace-setting sound? Doug's radio, when you can hear it, only plays the musical "legends" on KAAM. Stationary bikes? None. Juice bar? Doug has a water fountain.

"This is a true gym, a no-nonsense gym," says Joe Prouse, a 36-year Doug's veteran, during a pause in his day's program. "It's hard-core," he says, heavy on the free weights.

The Dallas barber is among the latest corps of regulars - teachers, artists, real estate brokers, lawyers and others - who come for the physical exertion and more. For starters, there's the camaraderie and Doug's take on the body and health.

"Nature, if left alone, wants to destroy us all," he declares while watching Mr. Martinez lift away. "If we can't prevent it, we've got to interfere. Left alone, we'll become a pile of crap."

And there are the musings on economics, politics, current events, whatever bubbles up. A local twist on the ancient Greeks' balancing of body, mind and spirit.

"I've lost 40 pounds, but I've gotten bigger up here," says Anthony Orozco, pointing at his head. "I come for him," he says, motioning toward Doug. "If I get a workout, fine, but I always leave feeling better."

Mr. Prouse, 67, leaves after another cleansing of sorts. "You come up here with a lot of questions, and when you get through working out, you don't care about any of the answers and you don't have any questions," he says. "It's the cheapest form of psychiatry."

'Not bad' for age 77

When he's not directing a session or walking about the gym, cordless phone in hand, Doug might embark on his own daily ritual - lifting weights, jumping rope, pounding the bag, whatever he devises "to condition the body, keep myself up."

"See this," he says, smiling and slowly flexing his left bicep. Measuring 17 inches around, he says, the grapefruit-sized bulge has shrunk only slightly in 50 years. "Not bad for an old man with one foot in the grave."

The iron-pumping man, with gray, thinning hair and matching mustache, will often settle in behind his cluttered desk. When the locks muss, the look can be Einsteinian.

The former City Hall, now the municipal courts building, dominates the view from his office windows. An old metal filing cabinet, shelving and time-worn chairs fill space near his desk. A stack of white paper awaits his next explanatory scrawl.

"Politics is Saturday night wrestling. You've got good and evil and you've got the referee, the Supreme Court," he says, drawing the players and relationships in rough circles and lines. "And then you've got the guy with the microphone [news media] stirring them up. And behind the scenes, you've got the promoters, the ruling class. And nobody wins. It goes on and on."

His office walls bear framed newspaper clippings, photographs of bodybuilders and shots of a younger, smiling Doug and friends. He will chat with whoever shows up. "Where you been?" he roars at a returnee, who confesses he missed and needs the gym.

"What's the market doing today?" he asks another visitor, the conversation drifting to oil speculators, the housing meltdown, debt overload, the Great Depression and the perpetual shafting of the Little Guy.

"We don't have a country; we have an economic system," he says. "And one mistake after another breeds another."

Usually dressed in T-shirt and trousers, Doug might smoke his pipe or a cigar while reading a newspaper (The Financial Times and The Wall Street Journal are favorites). Never a novel. "That stuff's make-believe."

Or he might dip into his underlined, spine-broken copy of Schopenhauer's Selected Writings.

"Listen to this," he says, reading the German philosopher's words: " 'Still, it should not be forgotten that when this passion is extinguished, the true kernel of life is gone, and nothing remains but the hollow shell; or from another point of view life becomes like a comedy.'

"Now don't write about this," he says. "I'll have a bunch of crackpots up here."

'I've beat the game'

Doug's passion for exercise is far from hollow.

"You need to work all parts of the body," he says. "You've got to go at least 30 to 40 minutes at a good pace to burn enough calories. You've got to get your breathing up. You need the blood to gush through your body.

"You've got to make it part of your life," he continues, his voice rising to overcome the radio and humming fans.

Doug says his health is so far so good thanks to his life in training. "I've beat the game," he says, proudly boasting he has never downed a prescription drug, much less steroids ("I told people they were crazy to take that [expletive]") and last saw a doctor for medical reasons when discharged from the Air Force after the Korean War.

"I had a toothache once, and a dentist gave me a prescription. I didn't fill it," he says.

His life and business have worked out, one way or another. Besides Sundays, he has closed once - for a week after the death of his wife of 45 years. "I've never had one serious injury up here and not even a fight," he says.

And when will Doug end his run, stop driving in from Hurst, leave the neighborhood now thick with vacant buildings and parking lots - one he once shared with the Statler Hilton Hotel, restaurants, an Elks lodge, union hall, formal wear shop and others long gone?

"Hell, I might be here two or three more years. Who knows?" he says. But then the gym "keeps me exercising. It gets me out of bed in the morning. What else am I going to do?"

Who knows how his part of downtown will change in two or three or more years. "That's all right. That's good," he says of the projects now taking shape. "They've got to clean it up a little bit, and it might get better as time goes on. But if you've been down here as long as I have, you've heard this story a thousand times."

Turning his attention to some building at hand, Doug watches J.R. Martinez, lying on a bench, muscle his way through another round with 65-pound dumbbells.

"When he goes over 12 reps, I add weight," he says, counting each lift aloud. "Ten ... Eleven ... Twelve. Come on, J.R., you've got a record. Let's go."

AT A GLANCE: DOUG'S GYM

Address: 2010 Commerce St. in downtown Dallas

Phone: 214-742-3758

Hours: 11 a.m. to 8:30 p.m. Monday through Friday, 11 a.m. to 6 p.m. Saturdays.

Cost: Members pay $250 for six months. Training fees vary depending on a person's physical condition and gym experience.

Web site:

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