Monday, May 15, 2006

The Bloating of America

The next time you’re out in a public place, say, at the store, a movie theater, CostCo/WalMart/Sam’s Club or any other place that caters to the common denominator of the American strata, look around at the people and try to guess what the average weight is of the crowd in the building? It’s fun; pretend you’re a carnival worker. You know what, better yet, try and find a thin person. It’s like Where’s Waldo.

I can’t point too much. As of late, I’m not fairing too well in the battle of the ever-expanding waistline, as I’m discovering a series of new notches on three belts I own (two blacks and a brown, if you must pry), and pants that were big on me a few years ago are now on the snuggish side. My once enjoyed immunity to weight gain is breaking down quicker than a Louisiana levy (What? Too soon?)… Okay, fine… is breaking down quicker than the Democratic plan for ’08 (What? Too late?)… Fine, last one… is breaking down quicker than TomKitten’s relationship? Ah-ha, good one. The point is, my old self is a fraction of who I am today, literally. A great movie line from “Grosse Pointe Blank” comes from Joan Cusack when she comments about the people at her 10-year reunion: “It is as if everyone swelled.” And it’s true.

Back in the day, I was quite able to polish off four Whoppers or three Big Macs in a sitting and call it dinner. Did you watch “Super-Size Me?” That was me. Worse was that it had no affect on my 150-pound frame, none what so ever. I never gained an ounce until I was about 21 years old. Then, like tide, it slowly packed itself on clinging forever it seems. At first, I welcomed it, as it broadened my appearance, gave me a more “grown-up” look; my face filled out and I bulked up slightly, better filling suits and “adult” clothes. Okay, I’m grown up, you can stop now. It didn’t. Twelve years and 50 pounds later, I’m at my current weight of 204 pounds; it takes me 15 breaths of air to climb a flight of stairs, a half-gallon of water to fill the bathtub with me in it, and I leave footprints in linoleum. I’m six-foot-one, so my ideal weight, decided so by those in the know, should around 185, so I’m about 20 off, depending on the time of year. My all-time high weight was 212 (a couple of weeks ago) and I haven’t seen the scale tell me anything less than 200 in a couple of years. I think the “1” maybe broken, so it just defaults to “2”.

Who is to blame? Is it McDonald’s fault that I’ve gained weight, lots of it? Perhaps it is the fashion magazines’ fault for displaying an unrealistic sense of appearance. Is it Arnold’s fault for not being a better role model? Maybe it is even George Bush’s fault for waging war on Iraq (war makes me hungry).

It isn’t any of these and there’s only one thing to blame for my fatness. That’s right, cup holders (Did you think I would blame myself?…nonsense), more specifically Mr. Wayne Treichel and Mr. Robert Statz, inventors of the afore mentioned cup holder in 1982. Prior to that, it was balance your scalding coffee in your lap, and we can ask Stella Liebeck how that turned out for her. Don’t remember who Stella is? Does “McDonald’s lawsuit” better jog your memory? Sure it does, and had she used a cup holder instead of her 82-year-old lap, the term frivolous lawsuit would never have been so popular. As a sidebar—excuse the courtroom pun here—the case is mistakenly referred to as frivolous, but it really isn’t. The coffee was too hot, 180 degrees, for normal consumption and McDonald’s knew it, negligence. However, taking a dozen ounces of scalding coffee to the crotch isn’t worth the half million she ended up getting…that and a series of skin grafts and related surgeries. Now, suing McDonald's for making you fat, that's frivolous in ever sense of the word. Pull the Big Mac out of your piehole and step away from the trough; Ronald doesn't have a gun to your head, pudgy.

So, how is it possible that a lowly cup holder is responsible for my lack of willpower and control over my eating? Simple. We can blame our parents for their little invention of the drive-thru (and their lackadaisical spelling habits), the cruising culture and the entitlement of travel. Have cup holder, will travel, reads the card of a man, a fat man.

Back in the day…well, let’s make it sound really old (include your own echoing voice): In the early part of the last century, Americans took to their cars with gusto, but that’s no secret. All they did was drive (what else is there to do), and a destination common among those with nowhere special to go was a restaurant. I don’t know who it was or where they did it, but someone decided it would be a good idea to allow people to park their cars inside the restaurant (I suppose I could look it up. Fine: Red’s Giant Hamburgers in Springfield, Missouri and In-N-Out here in California both claim to be the first, 1947 and 1948 respectively). The drive thru was born. It saved money on seats and busboys and all sorts of things restaurants have to pay for to allow people to eat inside (as a side dish—excuse the restaurant pun—but did you know Carls Jr. charges an “eat in” tax if you decide you want to sit down with your food and not leave? It’s not the 30 cents more so than the principle that I won’t eat there ever again...that and I don't eat fast food anymore; more on that later).

Okay, so where were we? Yes, of course, people eating in there cars. They’ve been doing it for decades, spilling their drink with every shift and turn of the wheel. At the drive thru, they hung your food on the window, which seems like a stupid idea. I mean, it’s glass, and perhaps glass back then was thicker or stronger but I wouldn’t want that on my car (remember the scene in “Vacation”? “Wait, new car, I’ll do it!” Crash!). If you take it to go, where do you put your drink? Some manufacturers came up with the idea of putting a cup-sized indentation on the glove box door, like on an airplane fold-down tray. Great for parking, but the dashboard of any 50-60s era car is a giant cup holder if all you’ve need is a flat space. The thing is, a airplane doesn’t take a corner the same way a Impala does or a Buick, which is probably very poorly by any modern measure.

Then someone came out with a… you know, I’m sure you’re less interested in the history of cup holders than you are my point (maybe not…the next step was a removable cup holder that slipped into the window channel. There). Okay, so official cup holders first appeared in cars in 1982, and I can’t find out what car had them first, but it was definitely an American car, hands down. Here is how the U.S. Patent Office describes invention Number 4606523:

A molded plastic cup holder has a hollow generally cylindrical socket for receiving the lower portion of a relatively large drinking cup and a supporting hook adapted to engage over a rail or an automobile door. On the shank of the hook, above the socket, are a pair of forwardly extending springy arcuate arms adapted to yieldably embrace the upper portion of the cup.
What is “yieldably” and notice “arcuate”? I guess the government can’t spell either. Wait a minute, you’re saying. What about Ferdinand Verbiest? Okay, sure, he is considered to be the first person to design a cup holder into an automobile, but that was the 1600s and it was a steam powered prototype and in China. It doesn’t count because they didn’t appear again for four hundred years. Nice try.

People began spreading out (not getting fat yet but moving away from urban hubs), commuting farther, driving more, spending less time around the kitchen table and more time around the steering wheel. Convenient food has a drawback in that it is very bad for you, but that is a hard argument to back when it is 6:30 in the morning, you’re hungry and late for work, a McWhatever will fill the void and it fits nicely in the multitude of cup holders splashed around the car’s interior design.

My Ford F150 has 10 places to put a drink, five of which are within my reach as I’m driving, but that’s nothing. Some cars have double that; sure, they’re minivans with more seating…but who really needs that many? The Chrysler Voyager has 17… for seven people!

Even the Europeans are getting in on the game, and they used to be considered the thinnest people on the planet (no third-world jokes please); the French, for example, cook like crazy and are rails of a people. What gives? It’s easy. No French-made car has a cup holder. As well, before the late 90s, carmakers like BMW refused to put cup holders in their car, correctly noting that cars are for driving not dining, but even they started to cave. In 2000, the Mercedes M-Class had four, but in 2005, they upped it to five. Respectable, given that it is a five-passenger car, but if I ever try to break the record for the highest number of people in my truck, I can at least have a place for all of them to put their drinks.

So, I’m fat because of my cup holder. If you believe that, I’ve got a weight loss program that allows you to eat anything you want, don’t exercise and suck on sticks of butter wrapped in a pancake. It’s called Fatkins (for those that are laughing for reasons other than my little joke here, I applaud your memory).

I’m hoping my weight has capped off at its current level, but if I don't do something about it, I'll be shopping for a moomoo sooner than I will another pair of pants. Pretty soon, 212 pounds will sound like a good goal to shoot for. Cup holders or not, I haven’t driven my truck more than 3000 miles in the last year and I’m still considered over weight.

Then again, there are no cup holders on my running shoes, and funny thing is that a Big Mac doesn’t even fit in the cup holder of my truck. More on those epicurean blights later.


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