I was wading in a pool of despair. I’d spent the night in the hinterlands of Northfield, Minnesota. I’d eaten dinner at a restaurant that was worthy of Gordon Ramsay’s Kitchen Nightmares, although the place was packed and seemed prosperous, a telling indication of the culinary discretion in Northfield. We sat on the patio with a stunning view of the parking lot. The food was mediocre, but the flies were exceptional. I kept hearing Chef Ramsay’s voice in my head screaming “Disgusting!”
I spent the night at one of Northfield, Minnesota’s finest resorts, the AmericInn. THE AMERICINN. Although it hinted at cleanliness, I couldn’t shake the fear of bedbugs. Phantom itches plagued me all night. In the morning, I roused myself with hot water that had, at some point, come in contact with coffee. I sat at a small faux wood table, alternately gazing at the institutional carpeting and contemplating the offerings of the free breakfast buffet. Should I go for the cereal that was ardently trying to be confused with Special-K? Or should I grab a banana nut muffin even though I was certain it contained neither? Feeling in need of protein, I settled on the pancake-shaped disks that were made of something that once resembled eggs. Adjacent to the Scrambled “Egg” Rounds were sausages that appeared to have been rolled in extra lard, just to make their greasy shine that much more lustrous. I left hungry and under-caffeinated.
Fortunately, I managed to find a decent falafel sandwich later in the day, which fortified me for the marathon wait at Minneapolis airport where I, along with 150 new friends, waited out a weather delay in Denver. We finally boarded the plane and I settled into the second to last row. THE SECOND TO LAST ROW. An hour into the flight, the pilot asked the flight attendants to take their seats because we were heading into some rough weather. The flight attendants did as told, but not before several of my 150 new best friends began vomiting. The flight attendants scurried up and down the aisles not with Rum and Cokes but with napkins and plastic bags. I closed my eyes and tried to imagine I was heading on a vacation to an exotic destination, preferably someplace warm, with fresh local food prepared by professionally trained chefs, maybe Gordon Ramsay himself. And decent coffee. In this fantasy, I was flying first class. A jarring drop in altitude knocked me back to reality.
A storm raged just outside the thin metal of the fuselage. There was no doubt that the wings would shear right off the plane; it was just a matter of time. I wondered which type of crash had a higher survival rate: land or water. I assessed the physical fitness of every person between me and the exit door, determining who would be easy to push aside and who might put up a fight. I targeted those individuals whom I could simply crawl over. I decided I’d be a hero and snatch the baby across the aisle on my way out. “Woman Saves Infant in Deadly Plane Crash.” I imagined that the barrage of lightning outside the window was the flash of paparazzi bulbs at the press conference. I decided that if the mother died, I would raise the child as my own. It was the least I could do. Except then I remembered that in about 17 years I’d have to take him on college visits and stay at the AmericInn and eat fake eggs for breakfast. I had second thoughts. I’d still save him from the burning plane, mind you, but I’d turn him over to a loving aunt after that. Let her worry about bedbugs.
Upon arrival at DIA, I left my would-be infant behind without a word and hustled into the terminal, resisting the urge to kiss the ground, reminding myself that carpet was filthy and God only knows where all those people have been walking. I arrived home hungry but nauseated. I fretted over my next trip, coming up in less than a week. Could I handle the Days Inn, sure to be a repeat of the AmercInn, but with better spelling? Or should I upgrade to the Embassy Suites in order to get scrambled “eggs” that were, at the very least, cooked to order? Could I withstand the sandpaper-like bath towels and “coffee” with non-dairy creamer? When I decided to have kids all those years ago, why did no one warn me about the tedium of college tours? A bleak future, bereft of decent food, stretched in front of me.
And then I remembered the Petit Basque I’d discovered at Trader Joe’s that was waiting for me at home. For $10.99 a pound, it’s half the price Whole Foods charges for manchego. MANCHEGO, the Velveeta of Spain. The Petit Basque was a gift, a sign. I had the strength. I could go on.
I paired the Petite Basque with an ’07 Willamette Valley Pinot and dug up some Pumpkin Cranberry Crisps. I felt it all wash off me – the Kitchen Nightmares restaurant, the scratchy towels, the imagined bedbugs, the sad but real powdery “egg” disks, the CoffeeMate, the turbulence, the vomiting passengers. I still haven’t decided if I’ll be staying at the Days Inn or the Embassy Suites, or heck, maybe I’ll rack up loyalty points at another AmericInn on my next trip. But I know that if I can navigate my generic white sub-compact rental car to a Trader Joe’s, I can find Petite Basque. And all will be right with the world.