Chester Tubinis is 70 years old now, and thinks that the world is going too fast. But he's always thought that.

"The trouble with most of us is that we don't take our time and we don't know how to relax," said Tubinis, who looks about 20 years younger than he ought to.

"People get all caught up with tension and sickness so they run off to the doctor. He gives them a pill or a shot. Two days later they wonder why they feel bad again. At the drop of a dime they're ready to fight.

"You drive a car. You know what I mean.In America you're under stress all the time -- stress in business, stress when you travel, when you eat, when you play. It's just too fast, the life."

Fifty-eight years ago Tubinis learned a little bit about relaxing. As a boy in Buffalo, he suffered from arthritis. "The arthritis," he calls it.

He was sent to the sulfur baths at Alden, New York, where he soaked his aching body in the restorative mineral waters and felt better.

The Alden baths eventually closed down for lack of business, in Turbinis' view another sign of the insanity of the times. But he's been poking around and uncovering spas ever since, occasionally in places as far away as Europe and the Caribbean.

Last Sunday Tubinis was lined up with a dozen or so other spa fans outside the Berkeley Springs Sanitarium in West Virginia, waiting for the doors to open at 12:30 so he could partake of the baths within. wHe had driven down from Buffalo, where he's a funeral director, for three or four days in the minerals. Berkeley Springs is one of his regular stops.

When the doors swung open on the cold brick building that houses the baths he knew exactly what he wanted. His colleagues on line, mostly first-timers, were perplexed by the dizzying array of options: heat cabinets, mineral baths, Roman baths, massages, showers, heat treatments and just about any combination thereof.

"Take the Roman bath," said Tubinis. "All the rest of them have chlorine in the water."

That assertion was challenged by the staff at the sanitarium, which contended that all the waters come straight from the warm springs in the adjoining park. The waters have soothed and refreshed bathers since George Washington's time and, legend has it, centuries before that when Indians used the natural facilities.

The waters still bubble out of the ground at 74 degrees F., 3 million gallons a day, summer and winter. They are still laden with calcium carbonate from their voyage through underground limestone deposits, and smaller amounts of sodium chloride, sodium nitrate and sodium sulphate, calcium and potassium sulphates, iron, manganese, strontium and magnesium carbonates, alumina and silica.

The waters stayed the same, but the times have changed.

Now bathers have to contend with the state of West Virginia and its world of rules and regulations. Keeper of the locks is Rhoda Barney, who signs folks up and gruffly sends them off to sides of the brick hall designated men and women. No mixing here.

The chambers have all the charm of a criminal detention center built by the WPA. But it's cheap, and if you can ignore the stark brick walls, the hollow echo of the radio bleating rock'n'roll and the hurry-up-and-wait mentality of the staff, it's a soothing bargain.

Flying in the face of Turbinis' advice, I chose the heat cabinet-mineral bath-massage combination for $9. The attendant pointed to a giant steel coffin on legs painted institutional apple green. He opened it up and I climbed in, all naked as a jaybird. He turned on the heat, which before long had opened my pores till they had me stewing in my own juices.

Twelve minutes later he reappeared and led me to phase two -- a huge porcelain bathtub brim-full of the mineral-heavy spring water. With a pillow underhead I hung weightless in the warm bathwater for another 10 or 15 minutes, until he came back and startled me awake with a blast of cold water from two underwater side taps.

From there it was off to a steaming hot, needle-sharp shower, then on to the crowning touch, the massage.

The masseur was a young guy named Tim who said he learned his trade through "on-the-job training." He had hard hands but he knew his stuff, and after 20 minutes he was huffing and puffing with exertion and had popped every joint in my body that would pop, and worked over all my winter-weary muscles with olive oil and then 190-proof grain alcohol.

"We get it [the alcohol] in 55-gallon jugs," said Tim. "Couldn't we have a fine party with one of those?"

An hour earlier I might have agreed with him, but now, mind and body drained and satisfied after the warm waters and the energetic massage, I was a man at peace. Practically asleep, in fact. Who needs alcohol?

Tubinis was right, but he left one thing out. Two days later I need another treatment, just like those shots the doctor gives.