Wednesday, August 02, 2006
A wedding report is in the works, just as soon as I get my photos in order. Montana was great and I spent a nice week with my family afterward, but since then I've been pretty bored. To make matters worse (for me), Meaghan started work this week, leaving me with very little to do while I'm waiting for some resolution on the six or seven jobs I've applied for. Since she spent nine months in Serbia with no particular job, Meaghan sympathizes with me, but doesn't exactly feel sorry, if you know what I mean. To fill my time, I've taken to walking around the city. Yesterday I spent about two hours walking around Boston (in blistering heat), rode the train back to Quincy, and then walked around Quincy for an hour, before returning home to watch television for a while. Swimming through the humid summer fug made me thirsty, and being thirsty in the city really made me miss Serbia. You see, in Boston there is nowhere you can just sit down and order a drink. Belgrade has a great cafe culture and even a provincial town like Kragujevac has dozens of sidewalk cafes where you can stop for coffee, juice, lemonade, water, or whatever you want. Boston, on the other hand, has cheap restaurants and expensive restaurants. It's possible, but unusual, to sit down in a restaurant and order a drink, unless you're planning on eating. Remember the way I used to fantasize about ethnic restaurants? Well, on yesterday's walk, dying of thirst, I walked past a Mexican restaurant, Thai restaurant, sushi bar, Middle Eastern grill, and two or three American grills, all of which I found totally uninteresting. Eventually I found a convenience store, something like a miniature supermarket that sells newspapers, snacks, cigarettes, and prefabricated sandwiches. In my wildest dreams, I was hoping for a real lemonade, containing only water, sugar, and lemon juice. Any drink made primarily out of fruit juice would have been acceptable. Sadly, this convenience store was poorly stocked and offered mostly Coca-Cola and such. I continued down the street to the next convenience store, which had a wider selection. When I looked closer, though, it turned out to be a wide selection of crap. First came the soda drinks, which ranged from the familiar Coke, Pepsi, and 7-Up to the exotic chemical concoctions of caffeine-enhanced Sierra Mist and - I am not making this up - strawberries and cream flavored Diet Pepsi. Next came the masterpieces of chemical engineering known as energy drinks: Red Bull and its various clones. Then, "upscale" drinks like iced white tea, which include massive portions of corn syrup along with the snob appeal, making them so sweet as to be almost undrinkable. There was a selection of bottled water, which I avoided because I wanted something with electrolytes and flavor, and also because earlier in the week I bought something I thought was lemon water until it turned out to be essentially diet Sprite. At the end of this marketing parade came a selection of drinks claiming to be juice. I chose one called "Dole 100% Juice Ruby Red Grapefruit," took it to the register, purchased it, and consumed all 15.4 ounces (45.5 cl) in two gulps. It tasted fruity enough, but when I looked at the label, I saw that despite its name, it contained a selection of artificial sugars and stabilizers, and more grape juice than grapefruit. I'm frustrated with what I see as an American tendency to complicate everything for marketing purposes. The drinks aisle includes more chemistry than juice, and more gimmicks than anything, so companies like Coke and Pepsi can deny that they're producing the same thing. The snack aisle is even worse: one flavor of Doritos corn chips after another, each with aggressively garish packaging featuring at least one exclamation point. The overwhelming chemical-spice taste of the chips completes the sensory overload. Probably being out of work leaves me with too much time to think about these things. Just the same, I'm reminded of a friend from Novi Sad who spent a year here in the U.S., and how frustrated she was with the scarcity of opportunities when she got home. She wasn't only talking about consumer choices - believe me, I'm grateful that I had six or seven relatively interesting job opportunities to apply for - but consumer choices were definitely part of it. In response, I'd point out that more choice isn't necessarily a good thing, and that the most satisfying thing is the availability of the one choice you really want. I'll take a glass of cherry juice, please.