Sunday, 1 October 2017


Ain’t Got No Shame

I wouldn’t feed airline food to a dog. Unless I hated the dog.

On Wednesday Ann and I will fly to Montreal. Our agenda includes my 40th high school reunion which could shake down as a depressing exercise in nostalgia and an admission of failure later in life. We’ve also booked an uplifting visit with my elderly mother who prays every day to die in her sleep that night. Should be fun!

In the meantime, particular needs require attention. I have to bull through the novel I’m currently reading so I can crack open William Gibson’s Neuromancer on our trip. Tuesday evening while Ann is playing with her orchestra I’ll meet with our usual house-sitter who knows the routine: Mungo the tabby laps still water from the stoppered bathroom sink while his big brother Scamp prefers to drink directly from the trickling kitchen faucet. Next, I shall put on the new Rolling Stones album, Sticky Fingers Live at the Fonda Theatre, rattle the windows, deafen the cats and make sandwiches to eat on our flight.

A friend of mine describes the need to use the facilities on an airplane as “the walk of shame.” I get that. I’ve got hang-ups too and would rather writhe in my seat than be comfortable. I used to feel the same way about Ann and I packing our Air Canada picnics, uptight and embarrassed: The rubes are aboard with raw rutabagas and live chickens! Not any longer. Honestly, I now get a mild kick from planning and creating our in-flight menu because it is the sole modicum of joy I derive from air travel.

Hell is other people. For me it doesn’t get much worse than the stifling confines of a flying tube filled with folk and their trolleys of carry-on baggage. Affordable flying is essentially a good thing of course, but full planes (and often overbooked at that) have allowed carriers carte blanche to ratchet customer service into a death spiral. One of the first things out the cabin window was somewhat palatable complimentary food. The glittering on-board café options, nickel-and-dime cash grabs, credit cards only, are inedible bits of expensive cardboard. For the record, I’ve enjoyed tastier heroes and hoagies from Petro-Canada gas stations, Mac’s convenience stores and 7-11. No bologna and those places sell cigarettes too.

I’m not cheap. However, overpaying for sub-par products infuriates me. Stocking up on sandwiches in the departure area before boarding isn’t a viable option because I can make better sandwiches for less than half the prices those bakery and deli kiosks gouge. There’s an art to being a gourmet rube, shameless yet refined.

I always consider the indelicate sensibilities of the morbidly obese stranger nestled up against my shoulder, snoring softly, their shoes off and their pants undone. Ann’s and my sandwiches can’t be too pungent. Onion buns are out, as are sloppy, smelly fillings such as egg and tuna salad. Cheese buns can be a bit greasy, but we pack those square-inch packets of chemical wipes that I habitually light-finger from pubs that serve ribs and chicken wings. Artisan breads bulked up with seeds warrant toothpicks and that cleaning process merely reduces Ann and me to the level of our fellow rabble. Other breads just transform into a masticated muck that hibernates between my gums and cheeks. Delivery systems are tricky, sticky wickets.

Condiments are crucial. There are five types of mustard in our fridge, not one of them is plain old childhood, boiled hot dog yellow. Mayonnaise yes, ersatz salad-type dressing, no. The key though is ajvar, a pepper and eggplant based vegetable spread. It’s red and it looks bloody good on bread. Cheese must be strong. Not just its flavour but the texture as it must retain some semblance of its semi-solid self following a few unrefrigerated hours in a baggie. Havarti is too soft, too delicate, like most garnishes. Tomato slices do not travel well. Sliced kosher dill pickles do, provided they’ve been patted down with a paper towel. Spinach leaves hold up better than lettuce leaves because they’re always limp anyway.

My sandwich specifications demand one half-inch of filling, a minimum meat stack. My preference is shaved slices of everything in the barnyard: fowl, bovine and porcine. Two of the three will do as there are so many delightful variations of sandwich meat: spiced or herbed; cured, smoked and processed carcinogenic.

For me, the miracle of air travel, the ability to traverse a huge country in hours instead of weeks now lies with our enjoyment of my culinary creations rather than the thrust of turbines and the lift of wings. My sandwiches are magical, heady combinations of the finest ingredients, personally selected, thought through and assembled with doting care. Whatever hell we’ll be flying in or into, well, at least we each had a decent sandwich en route. What more can you ask for in the jet age?

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