“Simply Satisfying”. These are the words that adorn the rectangular box containing my brunch snack aboard American Airlines flight 163 from New York City to Los Angeles – a meaningless faux zen wisdom platitude for experience-deprived passengers presumably presumed unable to react to the veritable festival of epic mediocrity that awaits them. The two terrifically un-tantalizing menu options proffered to those of us blessed to travel in the Economy cabin, in a hastening downward spiral of underwhelming customer service, are a Turkey Wrap (which sounds like a warm-up exercise for an elementary school nativity play) or the Cheese and Fruit Plate. The flavorlessness of the sandwich is guaranteed, as it has shallowly flirted with my taste buds before – literally nothing in the cold cut coil exuded any discernible flavor – so I opt today for the chic and continental European sounding alternative. My total disappointment, however, follows not far behind, although it is stalled slightly by my anticipation of the known quantity of American ‘cheese’ (a gastronomic phenomenon to which I am sadly also well used and for which I was expertly prepared by Stephen Fry in this book of otherwise heartwarming tales about traveling throughout the United States).

First to piss of me off, though, is the ‘plate’. I am all for irony, and have become known and disliked in many quarters for my compulsion to default to sarcasm at all times, especially when least appropriate. But this isn’t a plate, it’s a trough. A crumple-able plastic portable for the porcine. Albeit with a see-through lid. Beneath the transparent canopy are seated four of the world’s squarest, blandest crackers (wrapped in pairs), eight grapes and an oversized strawberry. Nestled among these alluring treats are triangles of four types of cheese. I am already beginning to hate and berate myself for not choosing the hip-hop poultry alternative, since at least that might have contained lettuce (no flavor, no calories and no point, but the promise of a crunch if you’re lucky!). I life the lid and smell nothing. What the actual fuck. That a trough of multiple types of cheese could assail my olfactory nerve not at all, makes me crave going back to reading the patronizing “bestseller” business book I am grinding through for work, whose advice could (and I really think should) have been condensed into a single pithy motivational tweet.

I suspect that the thick orange wedges on the far left of the trough are attempting to pass as ‘cheddar’; I glance quickly past them, knowing all too well the rubbery void that there lies. Adjacent is a large, off-white equilateral, with some pockmarks lending it an air of intrigue. Beside this lies a smoked-looking smaller piece, its amber rind hinting at hickory or oak. Bookending the right of the dairy display is a small chunk of probably brie. I decide to work my way port to starboard. The cheddar continues to smell not at all as I bring the slice close to my face. My resignation is complete once I chew the curds, exhale and find that zero flavor is to be forthcoming – not even the gym locker foot default cheesy pong that characterizes that godawful Kraft ‘cheese’ stuff that you can spray and spread and smear and goes gloopy. Jesus. On then to the next in line, which honestly I find the most alluring. It boasts texture, at least, and is minutely springier to the touch. But of course it tastes exactly the same. Which is to say that it tastes not at all. I give up any hope that the one that looks smoked has ever seen smoke or a cow; this at least sets us up for success, and it inevitably tastes as smoky and cheesy as the scent of the aircraft’s sterile bathroom. I finally fall to the brie, which, while surely never anyone’s first choice of cheese, can on occasion provide satisfaction in its benign magnolia beige-ness. But it’s rubbery as fuck doesn’t spread, and, of course, tastes of nothing. The strawberry, improbably, tastes of even less, while the grapes taste only of sugar. I return for a finale slice of ‘cheddar’, and regret it one hundred percent.

I am left with nothing now but to wash this all down, and hope vainly to cleanse my palate and my consciousness of the non-experience, with a cup of American Airlines black coffee. This inevitably proceeds to pleasure my senses with all the pizazz of a strip mall. The warm wetness disappoints just as wholly as Dunkin Donuts own ‘joe’ also never fails to do. The brown beverage is just the tepid side of desirable to drink, and is reminiscent in its insipidity of actual coffee, to the extent that, as I am now prone to do with carton after beaker after Styrofoam bucket of saddening dishwater Dunkin dregs, I drink the whole darn cup, hoping all the way down that at some point the drink might remind part of my brain sufficiently of coffee that it triggers some part of me to ‘like’ it. But this of course does not happen, and I don’t. It tastes like crap, and I finish it nonetheless, feeling righteous at least that I went for coffee in lieu of an alcoholic beverage. So I can work all the way to LA. But I don’t work. I write this for an hour instead. Cheese plate, my arse. I have a suggestion for a replacement slogan for American Airlines cuisine: Simply Bullshit. Or, maybe better: Just Bollocks.

 

 

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