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June 28th, 2007

A Rockie Mountain Lactose Adventure

I can’t have cheese of any kind,” says a jarringly nasal voice coming from somewhere behind me. It is Breakfast Time in Car 3 of the Rockie Mountaineer’s Calgary to Vancouver train, and Evan, our charming yet tragically corny host/guide/whatever has just asked if anyone on board has any special dietary needs. Somehow, perhaps because I am tired and the hotel shampoo has left my hair limp and clinging to my head, this man’s request annoys me.
“No cheese. Alright, sir. I believe I’ve got something for you,” says Evan. He helpfully trots to the end of the car, and then back again, with some cereal and a small carton of milk for the man.
At lunchtime (which is later, but not much later, because the Rockie Mountaineer seems to believe that passengers not chewing something will riot) Evan offers us all a choice between “chilled” beef (Alberta beef; this is important) and potato salad OR salmon (cold) on a bed of lettuce with some couscous. (Each meal, it turns out, also comes with a square of chocolate roughly the size of a postcard stamp and a piece of cake with a half inch of frosting flavored with dentist’s toothpaste.) When Evan arrives at the Nasally Man’s seat, he says, “Sir, they’ve made up a special vegetarian meal for you, so-”
Well, I’m not a vegetarian. I just can’t have cheese of any kind.
My brother turns to me and says, “How dare he talk to Evan like that.” We both laugh. Because, come on guy, he’s just trying to help. Plus we already know you can’t have cheese, so just pipe down and eat your veggies.
Evan sighs and then says, “Of course, sir. I just wanted to make sure you knew-”
The beef sounds excellent. Is there any cheese in it?” Rude and annoying.
“I’ll check for you sir.” He picks up his walkie-talkie and radios the train manager. “Evan to Sharla.”
“Go for Sharla,” says a woman’s voice from the walkie-talkie.
“I have a passenger here who cannot eat cheese. He wants the beef. Is there any cheese in that meal anywhere?”
A pause.
“What happens when he eats cheese?” Sharla asks. The walkie-talkie is at full volume and everyone in the car is now silent, eager to hear about the Nasally Man’s ailment. It’s like trashy daytime TV on a train.
I get very sick. Very very sick.” He speaks quickly, and I can tell the man does not want to discuss his troubles in front of a live audience. I swivel around to have a look. The man is in his early 70s, and slight. He sort of looks like a mudskipper wearing giant Martin Scorsese glasses. This touches me, and I am no longer annoyed with him, but angry with Sharla.
“What kind of sick?” she now needs to know. Sharla. That prying bitch.
So what if he can’t eat cheese? All you need to know is he can’t eat it. What do you care what happens to him? Just get out your little train book and scan the ingredients of today’s meal selection.
“Sir, what kind of sick?” Evan asks, as though the entire cabin hasn’t already heard Sharla’s question.
Well…” More awkward pausing as the Mudskipper tries to avoid the question.
“Is it a lactose thing or anaphylactic shock or what?” Sharla demands. Evan apologetically repeats the question.
I just don’t… I don’t feel well. I could faint. I get very sick. Very very sick.” The poor Mudskipper.
“He could faint, he gets sick,” explains Evan.
“But what kind of sick? Diarrhea?”
Sweet Baby Jesus, Sharla. You and Evan are not passing notes in Health Class. You are on a walkie-talkie, which not only is being broadcast in Car 3, but in all the other cars as well. So 650 passengers have all stopped, forkfuls of cold Alberta! Beef just inches from their mouths, to listen to the exciting conclusion of Detective Sharla and the Case of the Mysterious Cheese Allergy.

I feel for the Mudskipper. He is, after all, just a delicate septuagenarian with a severe allergy to one of the world’s best-loved foods. My wish is that, one day, Sharla will develop an embarrassing gastrointestinal reaction to mayonnaise and will have to spend twenty minutes being grilled by her future in-laws about why she’s not eating any of Aunt Jenny’s Famous Potato Salad. Then she will understand.

3 comments to A Rockie Mountain Lactose Adventure

  • Brian

    Those fucking Canadians think that if you’re not eating Canadian food, you will die of America poisoning.

    I hate fucking Canadians because they’re so damn self-righteous. I came from a small town too, and you don’t see me talking about it every other minute. Yeah you have universal healthcare, and I hope we get that someday too, but fuck you in the meantime. Fuck you in your damn British Columbian fjord asses.

  • Brian


    Prying bitch indeed.

  • Debra

    That is EXACTLY what happened told beautifully.

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