I’m sure it was a coincidence that in the same week that Big Apple Mayor Michael Bloomberg proposed limiting the size of sodas sold in restaurants, I bought a big old pickup truck. How old? Well, at least old enough to shave. How big? Big enough that you can strap on a snowplow for winter and strong enough to haul a couple of yards of mulch in summer, which is about all this creaky vessel will ever be used for.
I guess it’s what used to be called “big” before Megatrucks and McMansions, Big Screen TVs and Big Gulps redefined the term. It’s “big” as in the drawings of Destiny USA, not big like the real Destiny. Shopping at the new slimmed-down version of Destiny is going to be like pulling away from the drive-in window at Burger King and finding that they mixed up your order and gave you a quart of Diet Coke instead of a regular. And what can you do? Back up? Nah, you just pull away, muttering something about not getting fooled again. At least you paid sales tax on it, right?
I thought I would celebrate my latest contribution to the carbon-based economy by giving New York City’s mayor a ride around town. Like Mike, I am not prone to name-dropping, so most of the world does not know that Bloomie and I go way back. Nor do most people know that he actually prefers bombing around the ‘Cuse in a 1990s-vintage Dodge pickup to taking the limo to the heliport to JFK to the Learjet to Bermuda. But it’s true, and on this late spring day I packed a small cooler with a lightly dressed arugula and salmon salad and a few bottles of vitamin water, and off we went.
The old truck has no iPod dock. It doesn’t do Bluetooth, Orange tooth, or any other kind of tooth. It doesn’t even have a CD player or cassette deck, just a radio with two knobs, which is just the right number for me.
“No air bags, Mike. You OK with that?” He looked a little nervous, but strapped on his seat belt and settled in. I sought to ease his worried mind. “This baby does have one safety feature you’re gonna love. Take a look at this, your honor.”
I reached up on the dashboard and tugged at a plastic handle where, in modern vehicles, you might expect to find the cup holder. But not on my gas guzzler—instead, what I pulled out was an ashtray.
I explained to Hizzoner that unlike modern vehicles, this old beast did not indulge Americans in their obsessive need to be guzzling sugary beverages at all times. This prehistoric beast is actually an asset in the war on obesity. Nay, this crimson Dodge is actually an artillery piece. If you are riding in my truck and you want to pull through the window at Wendy’s and super-size your Big Bacon Double Cheeseburger by adding on a 40-ounce Coke, you are on your own. You are going to have to balance your chilly soft drink with the sweat condensing down the sides by squeezing it between your thighs, the way our ancestors did before the invention of the cup holder. This chariot, Mister Mayor, foretold the future, it presaged the City of Bloomberg.
He adjusted himself in the seat, as if to gain greater distance from the ashtray.
Mike and I don’t talk politics much, but I could sense that he was tense from some of the pushback he was getting on his plan to outlaw Big Sugar. It seemed like such a tiny step, proposing a law saying restaurants could only serve you 16 ounces of sugary beverage at a time. What’s the big deal? You can just order two, or three, and the restaurants can offer twofers, or threefers. Or you can patronize one of the many black market soda bars likely to pop up around Times Square, offering 46-ounce and 60-ounce Mountain Dews dispensed by guys wearing shades in the dark. Better yet, stay home with a case of Dr Pepper and order takeout.
As we drove up Salina Street toward the North Side, I ventured some advice. The big criticism of Bloomie’s plan has been that it is yet another government intervention in our private lives. It’s the nanny state, say the critics. First they make all the smokers ride down to the lobby and stand outside in the rain or the snow. Then they push them 50 feet away from the entrance, so that the revolving doors won’t suck in any secondhand smoke. Next they take the trans fats out of our cookies. Bloomberg is determined to push his health crusade to the next level.
(As an aside, let me mention that aides to Mayor Bloomberg have agreed to keep him in the dark as to the existence of the New York State Fair. It would totally ruin his day and distract him from the business of running the city if he knew the caloric and fat content of our favorite Fair fried concoctions. Occasionally the mayor will receive reports of a fair occurring upstate late in the summer, and his staff will pretend to investigate, and after a few days get back to him saying that it was only a rumor. Even the governor is part of this carefully orchestrated fib. It’s for the best.)
I was just about to suggest that the mayor package his proposal not as a health measure, but instead sell it as a return to the past, to a more manly era. I even offered to let my cup holder-free Dodge truck serve as the centerpiece of his campaign. But the conversation went off track on Pond Street when the mayor glanced out and caught sight of the Wegmans store.
“Hey,” he said, his face brightening. “Isn’t that where Alec Baldwin’s mother shops?”
Well, not exactly.
Ed Griffin-Nolan likes places where he can get a 12-ounce Coke in a can. His Sanity Fair commentary can be found weekly in the Syracuse New Times.