Monday, March 17, 2008

A Little Piece of Heaven in Anaheim

Yesterday I found myself awake at an atypically early hour on a Sunday morning, blearily rolling out of bed and bustling hurriedly out of the apartment.

With my husband out of town all weekend for a Vegas bachelor party, I was eager to relive my single days of yore by packing every spare moment of time with social activity. Before he staggered back into our home that evening, reeking of tequila, stripper and desperation, I was determined to run myself ragged painting Los Angeles a lovely shade of scarlet.

By Sunday morning, my plans were progressing perfectly - I’d gossiped and wine-guzzled with one girlfriend on Friday night and hiked myself to a state of utter delirium with another on Saturday morning. I had noshed on raw food for a dear friend’s birthday dinner on Saturday night and then met another for dessert at a nearby wine bar. I had amusedly witnessed the Santa Monica singles scene while fending off the advances of overzealous suitors who disregarded pesky wedding rings. I had paid bills, baked vegan muffins (eggs be damned!) and cleaned the apartment. When my alarm rang bright and early Sunday morning, my social butterfly was ready to flutter off to the sanctity of a warm couch and a cool glass of iced tea. Yet as I crawled out of my covers that day, congratulating myself on having had quite a weekend, it was not over yet. I was on my way to the holy mecca.

A friend and I pointed the car south and barreled straight down to Anaheim. En route, I sucked down some lukewarm coffee, bran muffin rumbling uncomfortably in my belly. I generally try to avoid setting foot in Orange County when at all possible, operating firmly on the (immensely unfair and admittedly untrue) deeply-ingrained prejudice that it is a land of endless concrete and soulless humans with deep pocketbooks and shallow morals, essentially representing everything that is wrong with America. However, as we pummeled down the freeway that bright, golden morning, I found myself twitching in joyous anticipation. I had heard the stories. For years, I had been regaled with promises of what lay in wait. Laughter and adventures galore. Goodies as far as the eye could see. Friendly faces eager to lend a helping hand. As we drove south that morning, I was abrim with trepidation. Could my long-awaited fantasy possibly live up to the hype?

Disney, schmisney! We were going to the real happiest place on earth – the Natural Products Expo.

Upon arrival, we braved the suburban jungle, parking in a distant lot near a lone field of exhaust-incrusted strawberries, an agricultural hold-out, a stoic remnant of the Southern California of yore. We trudged past, merciless spring sun smacking my determined hatless face. In the distance, the glorious spires of the Anaheim Convention Center glistened. Were we being challenged? Was the smug, pock-marked teenage parking attendant testing our devotion with his terse “Lot’s full?” No matter - we forged on.

As we approached the center, feet aching, throats parched with smog, an angel appeared.
“Welcome,” she said. “Would you like an herbal antioxidant goji berry shake? New for 2008!”
“Bless you, friend,” I said. “That would indeed quench our great thirst – we have traveled from afar to pay worship.”

We walked on, rejuvenated by our mineral-packed refreshment, when suddenly there appeared another angel, and another and another.
“Over here!” one said. “New Coconut Crème Larabar! 100% vegan, all-natural ingredients!”
“Try a Chocolate Peanut Chew!” said another. “Totally gluten-free and organic!”

Dear lord,
I thought. I have not even entered the building, and already I do not want to leave this magical place.

We continued, arms full, burdened by a variety of delicious soy treats, sustainable fruit snacks and botanical supplements. The gates opened, and with a rush of cool recycled air we suddenly found ourselves in the most heavenly place on earth.

Behold, my child! The rumors were true! All around us were smiling, glowing, treat-laden people, generously offering delectable snacks. I shrieked. I salivated. I lost all semblance of self-control. Within moments, I had left my body and floated off in a hazy euphoria of organic brownies, pesticide-free pita chips, no-hormone ice cream, and antioxidant-infused energy bars. I guzzled restorative fruit juices and swilled buckets of meatless tempeh stew. I slathered paraben-free vegan lotions onto any and every available bodily surface. I ate 27 protein bars' worth of samples. And when I could no longer contain the glory of this bounty, I feel to my knees and wept tears of sheer joy.

Yes, the Natural Products Expo is a wondrous place indeed. Our day ended far too quickly, but I learned something. As I rolled out of Anaheim two hours later, hopped up on acai berries and soy protein isolate and sporting a disturbingly distended organic belly, I realized that gluttony is gluttony, any way you spin it.

In other words, I am a typical American after all. Praise be!

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