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I take a sip. It tastes like sugar water with a splash of bottom-of-the-can tuna juice.
"We have other flavors!" she shouts as I walk off. "If you like fruit punch...."
The expo is a land that smells of skin tanner, mint body lotion, regrettable body odor and intestinal gas; a land where a tub of metabolic whey is akin to a pan of gold nuggets; a land where people wait in winding 2½-hour lines to receive a free Guatemalan-knit 20% cotton T-shirt, a small bundle of pills and a coupon for GNC. Here, bejeweled bikinis sell for $450 and official Arnold robes are a mere $250. Every other table features "fitness celebrities" signing autographed pictures. I received photographs and/or posters from such luminaries as Karla Marie, Anthony Pasquale and Holly Barker.
While interviewing an Incredible Hulk--like figure named Andrew Wright, the 2010 NABBA Keystone Classic overall winner in the Mens' Novice division, who stood at a table pitching some sort of egg-white-and-chocolate beverage, I paused for a moment to flip a page in my notebook. "You want me to sign a picture for you?" asked Wright. "Uh," I said, "I gu—"
"Who should I make it out to?"
I'm sure my six-year-old son, Emmett, will take the inscription—train hard, diet harder!—to heart.
I also met David Schachterle, a veteran bodybuilder whose upper chest was covered by two enormous tattoos that, he said, took more than 50 excruciating hours to fill in. "I can admit," he said, "there have been times I thought it might not have been the best decision." There was Samantha Santiago, a 21-year-old woman who was paid by T-Mobile to walk the expo in what looked to be a gigantic green condom but is actually the Android mascot. "Everybody wants to do this job!" she said, a hint of sarcasm escaping the two tons of fabric.
There were the two scantily clad women, Megan Stagg, 22, and Vanessa Blouin, 28, hired to pose in front of a giant MuscleMag cover, arms wrapped around one convention goer after another. "Except for standing for nine hours a day," said Stagg, "it's actually fantastic and fun."
There was Kathy Amazon, a muscular 6'2" woman who had people gawking and pointing at her outrageous physique. Appearing on behalf of a bodybuilding website, Amazon gawked and pointed right back, gleefully noting that she was 1) happy, 2) secure and confident in her womanhood, and 3) selling nude photos.
Perhaps most notably, there was Schwarzenegger, who annually flies in from California for the festival. At least once per day the Terminator walks the expo floor, a sight that must be seen to be fully appreciated. In these parts Schwarzenegger isn't the former California governor who left office with a 22% approval rating. He isn't the thespian whose most recent film, The Last Stand, was viewed by 12 people. He isn't the celebrity husband who impregnated the housekeeper. No, in Columbus, Arnold Schwarzenegger is the five-time Mr. Universe and seven-time Mr. Olympia, the man who put bodybuilding on the map. "Arnold is a god here," said Ron Waterman, a former WWE wrestler who was peddling product at the OhYeah! stand. "Everyone knows he's a politician and a movie star. But to us he's an icon who can do no wrong."