Life in the Fast(food) Lane

humor is power Nov 05, 2008

A wise person once said, “Wherever you are, be there.”

Have you ever found yourself collapsing into bed at the end of an exhausting day wondering, “What did I do all day?”  Think about it for a second…  How many ‘hats’ do you wear in a 24-hour period?  For instance there’s the parent or grandparent hat, spouse hat, the hats of chauffeur, parishioner, volunteer, friend… just to name of few.  For some of you, the list may go on and on.  Think I’m exaggerating?  Perhaps your day goes more like this:

Waking up from a peaceful sleep, you begin the day sipping a piping hot cup of coffee in bed while scanning the morning newspaper.  Then you follow a tantalizing aroma to the kitchen where your significant other has prepared and serves a delicious but low-fat breakfast that you consume at your leisure.  Next, you slip on your sharpest outfit, stroll to your luxury car and breathe in the smell of fresh interior.  Noting your teenager left you with a full gas tank, you ease out of your driveway, cruise to work, and relax to your favorite music.

Seated at your immaculate desk, you dive into your work.  Then, after a productive morning, you take a well-deserved lunch ‘hour’ with a few favorite colleagues.  Returning to work, the company president pats you on the back, gives you a knowing wink, and says something about the bonus coming up in your next paycheck.

Once home, your family rushes to greet you, asking, “How was your day?”  You pick up the newspaper, settle into your overstuffed chair, kick off your shoes, and channel surf to your favorite television station, while the family prepares your favorite dinner.  After a mouth watering meal, you retreat to your spot in the den and enjoy three hours of television while the family cleans up the kitchen, straightens the house, completes homework, and puts laundry away. You complete your busy day with a leisurely hot bath, surrounded by scented candles while you sip a glass of wine in complete silence.  Feeling refreshed and energized, you slip into the bedroom for an hour of passion and romance, then after a restful night’s sleep, you leap from bed and enthusiastically greet another day.

Yeah, right… As for me, the average American*, reality looks more like this:

I toss and turn throughout the night, struggling to organize tomorrow’s schedule. After fumbling with the snooze alarm twice (the average American spends 24 years sleeping), I shuffle to the bathroom mirror, bleary eyed and grateful that America does not see me like this.  I then stumble to the kitchen where I microwave the remains of yesterday’s coffee (the average American spends $35 on sleeping pills and $3,342 on coffee). Kids scramble around sticking papers in my face that need to be signed… what’s this note from the teacher thanking me for packaging candy this afternoon?  The chaos continues as the family trips over one another in and out of the bathroom (the average American spends 7 years in the bathroom) and into the kitchen where they grab granola bars and cold cereal.  Snippets of conversation go something like this:
“Do I have any clean underwear?”
“No.  Just turn yours inside out.  It’ll last another day.”

“Can you iron this shirt for me?”
“No, we retired the iron years ago.  Throw it in the dryer on fluff.  If that doesn’t work, you’ll have to throw it in the wash and start over.”

“My t-shirt’s inside out.”
“That’s the way I found it in the laundry basket.  You have 2 choices: Start turning your clothes inside out before passing them on to me; or wear them inside out– then the next time you pull them off, they’ll be right side out again!”

After kissing everyone and scooting them out the door, I throw on an outfit and scramble for 2 matching shoes (the average American spends 1 year and 6 months getting dressed).  I look in the mirror, then the clock, and decide to settle for a bad hair day.  I race to the car and breathe in the essence of cold fries, spilled milk shakes, and an obscure dirty sock.  A quick check of the gas gauge confirms my fears.  Maybe if I coast down hill, I can make it to the nearest gas station.  Realizing breakfast is a figment of my imagination, I fly through the fast food lane, juggle a cup of scalding hot coffee between my knees (the average American drinks 56,044 cups of coffee), and stop at the first intersection where I finally apply my lipstick (the average American spends 4 years traveling in the car; of that time 6 months is waiting for the light to turn green). Thank God for traffic lights or I’d never finish putting on my makeup!

At my desk, I struggle to find where yesterday’s paperwork ends and today’s begins. The computer beeps constantly with reminders of tasks unfinished and projects yet to do.  I stay at my desk through lunch, savoring my healthy meal of stale leftover Halloween candy (the average American eats 1,483 lbs of candy, including 801 pounds of chocolate, 240 Hershey kisses and 11,113 M&Ms) and wash it down with a soda that has no calories, no caffeine, no sodium, and no taste.  Dashing to the restroom, I spy a memo from the boss tacked to the bulletin board, displaying a nebulous message about possible restructuring and right-sizing.  Great…

At the end of the workday, it’s time for the ‘second shift’ (i.e., duties performed after work, women usually putting in approximately 31 hours per week, about twice as many as their male counterparts**).  With my mom/chauffeur hat in place I begin the after-school shuffle: football/baseball/weight lifting practice, karate lessons, and religion classes, etc. (the average American makes 42, 481 automobile trips).  Finally back home, I attempt to serve a meal that doesn’t come in a bag or a box (the average American eats out at restaurants 14,411 times including 1,811 trips to McDonald’s).   While nibbling on an Oreo (the average American eats 35,138 cookies; of those, 10,532 are sandwich style), I snag various leftovers from the refrigerator, whisk them together, dump the contents into a greased pan and crumble onion rings over the top.  Voila! A casserole that defies all logic (move over, Julia Child).

I prepare to sit down to eat with the family (the average American spends 17,307 hours eating meals at home) only to find everyone else wolfed down their meal and they’re already headed for homework and channel surfing (the average American, while watching TV, changes the channel 325,393 times).  Three hours later, after finishing dishes (the average American spends 16,961 hours preparing meals and cleaning up), laundry, and helping with homework, I discover it’s already time for bed.  There’s a vain attempt for a quick hot bath when I hear a quiet tapping on the door.  “Mom, I forgot, I’m supposed to bring 27 cupcakes in the morning to school ‘cause I’m the student of the week this week… okay?”

Easing out of the tub, I throw on my favorite flannel pajamas (the average American man has 166,148 sexual fantasies; the average American woman has 83,074 sexual fantasies), kiss everyone goodnight, and head back to the kitchen.

What did I do today? In its proper perspective, it was the best day yet, with many magic moments. However, with so many places to go, people to meet, and tasks to coordinate, it’s easy to lose touch with the miracle of now, to get sucked into life’s fast lane and miss the scenery along the way.  I don’t know how many hours the average American spends replaying mistakes from the past (I should’ve said… If only…), or how many hours the average American wastes worrying about what might go wrong tomorrow… or the next day.  But I do know that if I take a mindful step outside the fast lane and take a moment to be still, I become aware of all the gifts that surround me.  Life is an amazing journey. Live each day amazed and amused and take time to enjoy the trip.

Sources: * In An Average Lifetime, by Tom Heymann; ** ABC’s PrimeTime


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