The Road to Beverly Hills

Monday, Oct. 4; Holiday Inn Express, O’Fallon, Ill. (outside St. Louis)

As far as I can tell, there have been three brilliant diet-food innovations over the last 15 years. The first was fat-free Entenmann’s. I was skeptical of this product until the Gulf War of 1991. During the congressional deliberations on whether to approve the use of force to drive Iraq from Kuwait, House Speaker Tom Foley delivered a rousing call for bipartisan patriotism. I covered the speech and was struck by how thoughtful Foley was, what a skilled orator he was, and quite frankly, how thin he’d become over the past few months. After the speech, I went grocery shopping at the Georgetown Safeway and, as luck would have it, spotted the speaker picking up some provisions himself. I went over to him and, under the guise of congratulating him on his moving speech, attempted to check out what he had in his cart. It was filled with boxes of fat-free Entenmann’s. I mean, his cart was a virtual Entenmann’s mountain. I became a believer.

The second great dietetic discovery was Baked Lay’s Potato Chips. Oprah has already discoursed at length on this delectable treat, so there is no need for me to elaborate here.

Yesterday, on the first day of our journey to Los Angeles, I discovered the third major innovation. We were just outside of Hagerstown, Md., when we chanced upon a strange-looking McDonald’s. It was packed with the usual pimply high-schoolers, but it was tiny, and carried a bunch of McProducts we hadn’ t seen before. One stood out from the rest: The McSalad Shaker. The McSalad Shaker comes in a slurpee-style cup with a domed lid. You add the dressing (I chose a low-fat, 30-calorie concoction) then shake vigorously.

The McSalad Shaker solves two previously intractable problems of salad consumption. The first is the unequal distribution of dressing. The second is the tendency of lazy restaurateurs to chop salad into large, unwieldy pieces, making it impossible to eat without violating the etiquette rule against eating vegetables with a knife. The McSalads are diced into tiny pieces, barely discernible to the human eye. You can spoon them into your mouth as if you were eating a hot-fudge sundae. Like fat-free Entenmann’s and Baked Lay’s, this product fools your brain into thinking you are consuming some obesity-inducing treat. But unlike those other innovations, the McSalad is actually nutritionally sound. Indeed, it provides something that is desperately missing from most American diets.

There is a slight problem with the McSalad slogan–“Dress ‘em, Shake ‘em, Enjoy ‘em”–which sounds vaguely lewd. And also because the product fits into an automobile cup-holder, there are potential liability concerns. McDonald’s recently issued a press release that reads: “WARNING, WARNING, WARNING. Salad consumption requires a fork, and hence, two hands, so do not partake of this product while driving a motor vehicle or operating heavy machinery!” – a disclaimer that rivals “Do not take your toaster oven into the shower with you.”

Sadly, as we have discovered during a long McSalad-free trek across Kentucky, the McSalad Shaker is available only at 900 experimental outlets. American politicians should stop focusing on transforming the entire health care system and pass legislation requiring that the McSalad Shaker be extended to all McDonald’s outlets. Full coverage! The country would end up saving so much on the health care of otherwise obese Americans that solvency of Social Security could be ensured into the next millennium.

Besides not being able to find another McSalad shaker, there are two things I’m scared of on this trip: sex and death. Regarding the latter, Bob tells me that, in his experience, every time you drive across the country there is one moment when you almost die. You’ll have been driving for 10 straight hours across North Dakota when suddenly the wind blows a huge metal road sign into your lane. Or a row of trucks barreling at 80 miles an hour won’t let you merge into their lane. I’ve been certain that this moment of doom has already occurred several times, but Bob assures me it’s still to come.

Regarding sex, I think I’m safe, at least through the Eastern Seaboard and the Appalachians.

On the radio, they are still talking about the Brooklyn Museum’s controversial art exhibit. Giuliani is clearly wrong in trying to stop the exhibit, but how many people defending the museum right now would be trying to shut it down if the art was offensive in other, even less acceptable, ways? If it were racist, for example. What if there was a big picture of, say, the Jews killing Christ. That would cause a sensation, Mr. Saatchi!

Regarding my traveling companion: Bob forbade me from talking about his germ phobia, although it was kind of hard to understand what he was saying through that surgical mask he was wearing. (Just joking!) But just between you and me, it’s really bad. He thinks the water is so contaminated, he won’ t take ice cubes in his drinks. He calls them “death cubes.” And we can’t have the coffee that comes with our complimentary continental breakfast because they might have drawn the water first thing in the morning without letting the taps run for the two minutes required to flush the lead out of the pipes. (“Even if they said they’d done it,” Bob says, “would you believe them?”)

Pray for me.