I hadn’t thought I would have anything to blog about on the first leg of my journey from LA to Aleppo, yet somehow I had forgotten about all the mental and physical tolls that travel itself entails. Just the stress of making sure that you arrive at the airport at least 2 hours early can be daunting enough. In fact, it reminds me a great deal of insurance. Surely you could show up 2 hours early and there could be huge lines and lots of luggage, ticket, and gate-change issues. In that instance you would congratulate yourself on your responsibility and foresight. On the other hand, you could arrive that early and sit twiddling your thumbs, listening to Muzak for 2 hours.
Perhaps I am the only one, but no matter how much I prepare to go through the security process, I still notice my anxiety levels rise considerably the closer I get to that conveyor belt. I realize that a lot of it stems from a fear of being that guy who has that thing in his bag or his pockets that holds up everyone. I remember being initially stubborn when they first came out with the shoes-off “recommendation”, but after having to have my feet wanded enough times I usually have them off faster than you can say “Sir, can you please step aside”. Do I still have anything in my pockets? Does my laptop case have to be unzipped, open and with it’s case, or in it’s own separate bin altogether? Am I going to be the one “randomly screened”? Years ago this may have been laughable as a health concern, but most of us are now aware of the range of health concerns that can result from prolonged periods of high stress. Even if you’re not showing outward signs of emotion, stress can still take its toll.
Then there is the expense of airport food to consider. It’s bad enough as a single guy traveling alone. Especially now, in the worst economic downturn since the Great Depression, if you are a parent with small children (who surely didn’t have time to go shopping because you’re trying to get an entire family to the airport 2 hours early) it must be a near impossibility to purchase anything in the airport without annihilating your budget. I just spent $2.75 on water! You want me to pay what for a bottle of carbonated water with caramel food-coloring and fake sugar-substitute? It’s the same grim acceptance as when you end up paying $15 on a small popcorn and soda at the movie theater.
Depending on your income level, price may or may not take a toll on mental health, however, there is no question about the quality of the food’s affect on physical health. Assuming that you are actually offered a free meal during a flight, it is nearly guaranteed to be a main course of sodium, fat, and carbohydrates with a side of fat and carbohydrates, and fat, carbohydrates, and sugar for dessert. Somehow there is a hidden mechanism for ordering “special meals” that can be low-sodium or low-fat (but not both – trust me, I asked). My “normal meal” consisted of 3 large, round noodles drowning in a sea of condensed tomato paste and melted cheese (gouda I’m sure), with a shrink-wrapped dinner roll, and what appeared to be literally 4 shards of iceberg lettuce and ranch dressing with more fat than a Big Mac. Dessert was a “Three-Fudge Brownie”, which proudly proclaimed that it contained zero trans-fat. Then, an hour before landing we were provided a “light breakfast” of a white roll the size of my fist with a slab of cheddar cheese in the center. Extra butter on the side was provided of course, as well as yogurt that contained as much sugar as a can of Coke.
Let’s be honest, with over 60% of Americans overweight or obese and skyrocketing obesity rates worldwide, it’s about time the “normal meal” more closely resembled the “special meal”. It already tastes awful, so why not at least have it taste awful in a healthy way? In the meantime my flight to Istanbul serves dinner and I can hardly wait for my quadruple peanut butter fudge brownie with zero grams trans fat, but as for the Big Mac dressing, I’ll take mine on the side.