I fled the city again this weekend and went down to Maryland for a wonderful weekend at the beach with my wonderful boyfriend Scott.
On the way down on the bus I finished up In Defense of Food by Michael Pollan. You spend a couple hours immersed in this book and you start to look at everything differently. Indulging in a Diet Coke isn’t just a small indiscretion, its playing right into the hands of food marketers who are in the business of selling us completely useless and fattening foods that deprive of us our health and in turn create the conditions for pharma companies to swoop in and make millions. I had just turned the last page when when we pulled into a rest stop for a break.
After really educating myself of the horrors of mass produced food, of course I walked right past the Freshens, Starbucks, and Burger King, and found a cup of fruit and milk for a snack. I was digging into my little chopped up mangos when and obese mother and little boy reinstalled themselves in the seat in front of me. As I watched her share a hamburger and coke with him, and I wanted to shove the book in her hands and say “You have to read this, please.”
I didn’t of course, having Bonfire of the Vanities-esque visions of her yelling at me for telling her how to raise her kid, so I just settled into playing games on my phone until I reached Maryland, every so often stopping to ruminate on how I was going to transform my life – shopping at the local farmers market, turning down unhealthy options and living the perfect model of gastronomic perfection.
Last weekend I went to Ocean City, New Jersey. This weekend I went to the other Ocean City in Maryland, so I have a great basis for comparison. Instead of Victorian homes this Ocean City has trailers and pink sandcastle hotels. Instead of small greek restaurants and family-owned ice cream shops, there are approximately twenty Candy Kitchens and a mini golf course on every corner. Literally. Shopping is limited to sparkly key chains, air brushed t-shirts that say “Hottie” and shot glasses that say “I had sex on the beach!” On that note, a big mark in its favor is that alcohol consumption is allowed and encouraged in this haven for family-style American bad behavior. While dreamy-eyed families wander the carefully manicured lawns in Ocean City, NJ, and tuck themselves in at 10, the Marylanders are over-consuming pancakes and beer for breakfast, over-consuming margaritas and pizza for lunch, and over consuming fried seafood and beer for dinner. And they continue the overconsumption until they pass out on the beach or in one of the cheap hotels lining the strip. It’s a wonderful place.
How quickly I forgot my vows of abstaining from unhealthy food as soon as we entered the vast glittering Vegas of bad health that is Ocean City. We started out slowly. We had small homemade sandwiches for lunch after we lay on the beach, giggling at the woman with only a cooler full of beer for company who was on the verge of collapsing her chair, and then retching at the sight of a girl popping the zits on her boyfriend’s back. Next, after lounging by the bay and watching a movie, we had dinner at a new Italian restaurant over the bridge on 54, a hundred yards away from Smitty McGee’s. Both of us had veal, him on the bone and mine tenderized. Dessert was a prudent cup of coffee. But the next morning we were off and running with a big breakfast at a cafe that inexplicably switches from sausages and bacon to thai food at midday. I ordered “whole grain” french toast, yogurt, and bacon. He did white french toast and grits, and we discussed scenarios that would lead a restaurant staffed by eastern Europeans to attempt Thai food an hour after flipping pancakes on the griddle.
We managed to avoid the Candy Kitchens with their buy-three-get-one-free deal on pounds of fudge. “Who the hell needs that much fudge?” I wondered out loud to Scott as we cruised past our tenth Kitchen and fiftieth Sunsations. We gawked at the large women waddling across the road to the beach and Scott cracked jokes involving fat girls and scooters. But for lunch – only an hour after breakfast – we each had a huge cone of ice cream. If I had on more bite I would have lost it, I’m sure. Let’s not even discuss organic food. It does not exist in Ocean City.
That night we went back to Annapolis to complete the American dream with two barbecues of hamburgers, cookie cakes, beer and ice cream. What a weekend, gross! And yet such a great time. Such is the conundrum of the American Dream.