diarrhea building to a boil
Wednesday, November 25 2009
setting: rural Hurley Township, Ulster County, New York
We left the house in the care of our house sitters and hit the road fairly early, at perhaps 10am. Hoping to avoid the New Jersey Turnpike, we took the route through Princeton (which involves 25 miles of non-interstate highway).
Heading south down I-295 on the New Jersey side of the Delaware River, we were getting hungry, so we went in search of trashy road food. Initially Gretchen tried to follow signs to an Olive Garden, but when this proved impossible to find, we went down an exit and tried for a simple Burger King (where we knew we could get a veggie burger).
In the past we'd only ever patronized Burger Kings at interstate rest stops, which tend to be immaculately clean, have perfect upkeep, and are patronized by a wide demographic, including people like us who are just making do. But if one wanders into a random neighborhood in southwest New Jersey and goes into a Burger King, one is pummeled over the head with both Burger King and the sad demographic that views it as anything but an emergency source of food. Gretchen was immediately struck by the use of primary blue in the decor, which, as she pointed out, is a color that psychologists have determined to be something of an appetite suppressant. In this case it was perhaps even a bit of a nauseant. We ordered from the Hispanic woman at the cash register, something Gretchen did partly in Spanish. Our cashier had been reading a Spanish language religious tract. "Whatever gets her through her day," was Gretchen's charitable analysis of that observation.
An odd-looking man was going around sweeping up and it was obvious from his appearance that he had been dealt a bad hand in life. I mean this literally; one of his hands looked to have only three fingers and a thumb. And the shape of his face indicated some sort of chromosomal abnormality. It was good he had a job, but his obvious misfortune seemed to sum up the place.
Then there were the customers, many of them members of the American obese demographic. Children squalled and were fussed at by parents. To preserve my appetite, I had to avert my eyes from whatever greyish-yellow goop was dripping down the back of one of the seats. My veggie burgers, however, seemed delicious. And so were the fries. Although after I'd eaten two "burgers" and most of a large and small order of fries, I kind of wished I hadn't.
We got back on the interstate, which is never easy to do when one gets off onto a New Jersey surface street. Unfortunately, we'd failed to get gas and so ended up having to get off again for that several exits south. Owing to the vexing structure of the commercial roadway, this stop for gas ended up taking an entire half hour and maybe seven extra miles of driving. This is because getting to where you need to go in New Jersey always means somehow tunneling through the Jersey barrier to the other side, though U-turns are never allowed at intersections, and only occasional intersections even permit left turns. One wonders if the people on either side of four lane surface street in New Jersey are as isolated from each other as the finches on the various Galapagos Islands.
Once we got back on 295, we entered one of those long canyons walled on either side by the sort of concrete barriers used to isolate the highway noise from the subdivisions and McMansions of the adjacent neighborhoods. For miles at a time, there wouldn't even be a shoulder. That would have been fine except suddenly I started feeling ill. It started with a wave of nausea and then became a series of painful cramps in my lower intestines. I thought I could sublimate the feeling, but it was too insistent. I began to sweat. I had to roll down the window. Our cat Marie (aka "the Baby") was traveling with us again, in my lap in fact, and we had a litter box for her in case she needed to go emergency-diarrhea like she did back in May. But there was no such provision for me, and I could feel diarrhea building up to a boil. I told Gretchen to look for a place, any place, to pull over. And then suddenly there it was, an emergency pull-off. It was only about 70 feet long, no wider than a shoulder, and strewn with trash, but that was all we had. I went stumbling off toward a dense bush at the base of the barricade. In the version of this tale that I would tell later, there was an unexpected toilet paper roll holder bolted to the barricade and it was holding a fresh roll of toilet paper.
Once I'd freed myself of that foul fluid, I felt refreshed. The sweat dried on my face and I returned to the car and off we went again. Gretchen attributed my sickness to an inability to handle the non-vegan mayonnaise that had been put on our veggie burgers, but I'm skeptical. Though unlikely, it might have been completely unrelated to Burger King.
Down in Silver Spring, Gretchen eventually began puttering away in her parents' kitchen, preparing parts of tomorrow's big vegan feast. I took the opportunity to take a nap, though later I sat down with Gretchen and her parents to eat a simple Ethiopian dinner of injera and two different lentil-based wats, one of which was delicious.
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