Saturday, April 17, 2010

Lessons from a Wise Sky: Number Two


A Wise Sky
When I fly, I always have something gluten-free in my backpack. Be prepared, right? Well, I haven’t always been such a Boy Scout. This lesson took me several years to learn, like playing the clarinet or acquiring Urdu.

Last year I was on my way back to Munich from Nashville on my whipping-boy airline United, when my transatlantic connecting flight in Washington, Dulles was cancelled. I was stranded in Washington without my bag (but with a nifty little toiletries bag provided by United) for the night. The hotel was so far outside Washington that I think it was in Delaware or Dubai or something. I’m almost sure the shuttle ride took longer than the flight from Nashville to Washington.

United gave me a dinner voucher, but the restaurant in the hotel—I think the name was BORING FOOD or OUR COOK SUCKS—was not very good, and the cheapest wine on the menu was twelve dollars a glass. (I’ll give twelve dollars to anyone who can tell me the exact moment when wine went from being four dollars a glass to twelve dollars a glass. This is Zimbabwe inflation, folks.)

I’m building up to my nervous breakdown on the plane; just give me time.

The following day, I got up early to spend the day in D.C. before my afternoon flight. It was cold. It was a week before Barack Obama’s inauguration, and I remember thinking what a privilege it was to see it all without the throngs of people.


I walked all over D.C. trying to find something gluten-free to eat. A salad bar? No. A moderately priced restaurant that knew what gluten-free meant? No. Pizza? Hamburgers? Sandwich shops? Asian fast food? Yes.

I finally kicked off my shoes at Starbucks where I found a large container of fruit. Fruit’s OK, but I don’t normally eat much fruit. It’s just prettily colored sugar.

But I ate it and was full for a few seconds.

I walked on and on through cold, windy D.C., imagining parades and assassins. Soon all the walking and imagining made me hungry again, so I ducked into another Starbucks and grabbed another container of fruit. Really, in the center of D.C. there’s nothing besides fast food and upscale restaurants (many of which don’t open until late afternoon).

“But, Chris, you could have gone to a supermarket.”

“Shut up.”

By the time I boarded the plane to Munich, I was on a strawberry-pineapple high . . . and starving.

“Excuse me,” I said to one of the flight attendants.

“Just a second,” she said.

“Oh, sure. One Mississippi, two Mississippi. OK, so I was wondering,” I began.

She turned around and shot me a look that pretty much assured me she did not share my sense of humor.

“Yeah, so as I was saying, I wonder if my gluten-free meal made it on this plane. See, I’m on this flight because my flight was cancelled yesterday.” I smiled because you catch more flies with honey.

“No,” she said. “Special meals are lost when flight details are changed.”

“So,” I said, still smiling, “United Airlines assumes that my problem with gluten is cured when they cancel my flight? They should tell the medical community. This is important news.”

“Excuse me?”

“This flight is nine hours long. What am I going to eat?”

“It’s not my fault,” she said.

“Of course it’s your fault,” I said. “You are United Airlines.”

“What?”

Another flight attendant moved in to provide back-up. “You can have my fruit plate,” he said.

My travelling companion moved ever so slightly away from me. His seat started shaking with laughter, which only fueled my fury.

“Fruit? Fruit?! Fruit?!?” I must have sounded completely off my rocker. Soon there were several flight attendants circling me. This must be what happens when someone lights their shoes or when their crotch starts smoking.

I was shaking from the fructose coursing through my veins, and I had tiny ulcers in my mouth from all the pineapple.

“I need food,” I said. “Real food. Look at my hands. See how they’re shaking?” OK, I shook them myself, but still.

A few minutes later when I was tucking into my filet mignon from business class, I was calm enough to forgive the flight attendants and concede that it really hadn’t been their fault. All was well that ended medium well with garlic butter. I encouraged them to start working on my “lite snack before landing in Munich” early . . . to avoid tears.

Lesson Number One: Always have a gluten-free snack in the pack
Lesson Number Two: Squeaky Wheel gets Food from Business Class


I must be off,
Christopher