Wednesday, January 20, 2010

The Indignities of a Humble Business Traveler

In my quest for domination over U.S. airspace, I just finished my first of three consecutive out-of-state business trips. Hello, Gold Status! And while the explicit purpose of these trips was to further my business objectives (thank you, employer!), it’s become increasingly clear to me that there has been an inherent and disturbing pattern of discomfort and indignity which has characterized each of them.

Start with my persistent gastrointestinal discomfort. Truth be told, this began last August, but I’m still trying to blame that on something or someone. I’ll spare you the details (notice the moment of restraint? Yes, friends—personal growth!)

In my crusade to determine the cause of my intestinal strife, it was suggested to me that I might have some sort of food allergy. A little trip to the allergist revealed what I already knew: I’m allergic to cats.

So, after promising not to eat any of those, the question of what my guts are up to remained unanswered. To explore the mystery further, my allergist suggested (with what I now retrospectively regard as a maniacal smile) that I consider trying something called an “Elimination Diet.”

“It’s a little diet my grad school colleagues and I created,” he boasted. “I’ll go get the paperwork and review it with you.”

I waited expectantly, hoping to be presented with the new Atkins diet or some such magic to make me healthy and, perhaps, beautiful (Okay, I added, “beautiful.” I can dream, right?) The dude comes back with a near-empty single sheet of paper. Someone needs to explain to me how a single sheet of paper can be considered, “paperwork.” If true, then I’ve been working on my novel WAY too long.

Anyhow, the doctor (and I’m starting to wonder if he IS such a person) shows me his little one-sheet explaining the Elimination Diet. For those of you readying to Google the Diet, I’ll save you the trouble. Here it is:

Basic Elimination Diet

Foods Allowed:

Meats: Lamb, beef, turkey (boiled, broiled, or baked), and chicken that is non-basted.
Seasoning: Salt and honey (without preservatives).
Cereals: Rice, rye, barley, and oats all used with juice from fruit instead of milk
Vegetables: Fresh carrots, squash, lettuce, beets, sweet potatoes, and white potatoes
Fruits and fruit juices: Pears, peaches, bananas, plums, and apples (all fresh).
Beverages: Soybean milk, water, tea, natural cranberry juice, and Welch’s grape juice.

The sheer absence of food on the list raised an eyebrow and probably my signature, unintentional scowl (the one I’m accused of having ALL the time). On my lackluster response to his pathetic senior thesis, the doctor (disguised hobo?) says something like, “I know it seems a little boring…”

Boring? Ya think? I wanted to say, “Dude, your logo and list of partners takes up more space on the page than the list of food I’m allowed to eat. Where are the recipes? Where are the details? This isn’t a diet! It’s cruel and unusual punishment. Even a supermodel couldn’t’ throw that up.”

It didn’t occur to me to ask how “Welch’s” got a sponsor spot on a diet prescription. And I was too surprised by the brevity of the list to ask, “Since when is “honey” a seasoning?” Hello?

The parking lot attendant disguised in the white coat goes on to tell me that two weeks on the diet will eliminate any allergenic foods that may be troubling me. Then, after the two weeks are up, we can introduce more into my diet and gauge my reaction. If I react unfavorably to the new food, then, voila! Allergy identified. Mission accomplished. See you in two weeks. Will that be cash or charge?

Of course, when I check out, flummoxed by what’s passing for modern medicine, wondering what to do with a sweet potato, the appointment nurse tells me the doctor/corner fruit salesman is going on vacation in two weeks. She asks when I’m free during week three. Of course, I’m only free at the end of week three so we make my appointment and off I go.

As I drive home, contemplating the fresh hell I’ve now gotten myself into, I realize that Dr. Magoo’s vacation just put me on the diet for three weeks, not two. I don’t know which food to reintroduce after the two weeks are done! I was duped!

So, after a hastily baked, salted chicken and sweet potato dinner (do tears count as a seasoning?), I also realize I have my business trips to navigate. How will I manage such a Spartan diet when traveling? I’m here to tell you, rice cakes don’t travel well. And try explaining a sweet potato in your pocket to the TSA dude. Do I have to put that in a clear plastic bag?

Hungry and defeated, I take off on my trip, hoping for the best. Before and between my meetings, I manage to have oatmeal for breakfast, apple juice for lunch and naked lettuce for dinner. Yes, boring. And hardly nutritional. I fear I might faint from malnutrition (dramatic perhaps, but work with me).

Feeling more than a little sorry for myself and a little loopy, I decide I’ll try to sleep my way home during the four-hour flight. Instead, I find myself seated between two of the largest men I’ve ever seen—each easily pushing 400 lbs. I resent their girth. Wish I had it, or at least the food that caused it. Not good. And my starvation-induced delirium wasn’t helping. Oh, how I longed for a Ho-Ho, Ding Dong, Twinkie, Ruffle, Pringle, anything!

Needless to say, each enormous fellow passenger spilled over into my seat rather significantly so that I couldn’t see, let alone use, my armrests. I was practically squashed between them, feeling as though I was trapped in the cheeks of someone’s ass. No sleeping there.

And I didn’t know what to do with my arms. Very disconcerting. I kept gesturing unnecessarily to give my arms something to do and the flight attendants kept thinking I was flagging them down. It was like I was some sort of insane conductor of an invisible airplane symphony trapped between uninterested Teamsters. And the flight attendants kept eying me sideways and offering me Ginger Ale.

Don’t they know that’s not on the list? Ug.

Now, I was hungry, thirsty, trapped in a flesh prison, and afraid to/unable to breathe. I lost myself in my iPod (Corinne Bailey Rae really can soothe me, ya know?) and decided this was just going to be one of those weeks. (This blog pretty much writes itself, now huh?)

I landed back in California, waiting to exhale like Whitney Houston, never so happy to be home, oddly longing for salted chicken and sweet potatoes, my pants full of rice cake remnants, an inexplicable desire to join the Teamsters.

Sadly, my intestinal distress persists, but is now accompanied by emotional and spiritual distress—sort of the “Three Stooges” of disorders. And there you have it. Don’t ask too many questions.

My second business trip is next week. Week 2—New York City. The Big Apple.

And don’t worry, apples are on the list.

© 2010, Herb Williams-Dalgart