The Theory Of Special Relativity …

As It Relates To Cheese Sandwiches

The frozen arctic wastes are undeniably beautiful, but they are also both unforgiving and austere.

In 1905, Albert Einstein published his theory of special relativity. Special relativity concerns all physical phenomena in the absence of gravity. Eleven years later, in 1916, he published his follow-on theory of general relativity. General relativity explains the law of gravitation and how it interrelates with other natural forces. I acknowledge that some people feel that Einstein was smart and all, but I think he might have missed the forest for the trees. Relativity is all about food.

I have eaten some things in times of duress that I might never have deigned approach otherwise. I take my bride out on a date every Thursday. I can absolutely kill a nice hamburger. However, there was a time I actually ate boiled rabbit and was frankly glad to have it. That was midway through the US Air Force Arctic Survival School. The colloquial term for that ghastly place was the Air Force Food Appreciation Course. That was honestly the only time in my life when I seriously considered cannibalism. Relax, it was but a passing urge.

The point is that how discriminating one’s palate might be is driven by one’s circumstances. In America, the land of plenty, we have the luxury of creating books, magazines, and television programs devoted to the nuances of stuffing our faces. In other places, and in more sordid circumstances, not so much.

Flying CH47D helicopters was such fun.

The Setting

I was stationed in Alaska flying CH47D helicopters. Mine was the coolest job in the history of jobs. The missions were real, the operational environment delightfully challenging, and my comrades literally without peer. It was a seriously good time.

The mission this day took us to Bettles, Alaska. Bettles is a tiny little community above the arctic circle. The town of Bettles is about as big as your typical living room. However, it did have a cozy hunting lodge collocated with the little airstrip. Well-heeled folks from outside frequently summered up there chasing game and basking in the innate beauty of the place. In this particular case, however, we were there in February. It was forty-five degrees below zero.

Everything in Bettles came in by air. I have no idea how they could actually refuel our gigantic Army helicopters. There’s honestly no telling what that cost. If you were paying taxes back then, sincerely and from my heart, thanks.

We shut the aircraft down and headed into the lodge in search of grub. It had already been a long day, and we were famished. The inside of the place was expansive but warm and sported a few picnic tables along with the obligatory gigantic taxidermied grizzly bear. On one wall there was a window that led into the modest kitchen. Adjacent this window was a menu posted on the wall. The same lady who stood ready to take our orders was obviously the one who prepared the food.

I studied the menu earnestly and made my selection. Stepping up to the window I greeted the Alaskan women with my characteristic good cheer.

One day in Bettles, Alaska, I landed a mighty fine cheese sandwich.

“Good morning, ma’am! I’d like a hamburger with just a little mayonnaise, an order of French fries, and a coke,” I said.

The lady looked at me in silence. I noticed she wasn’t writing anything down. After a moment she replied flatly, “Well, son, that’s very interesting, because what you can actually have is half a can of Hormel chili, a cheese sandwich, and a cup of water.”

It turned out Bettles was a seasonal sort of place. Nobody in their right minds would seek out Bettles, Alaska, in February. That explains why we were there. In the winter, the menu was somewhat attenuated. It apparently consisted of half a can of Hormel chili, a cheese sandwich, and a cup of water.

I thanked the lady sincerely and told her I was looking forward to it. The resulting meal, though perhaps somewhat uninspired, ended up costing me what a fine dinner out with my bride would have set me back down in the world. However, the chili was hot, and the cheese sandwich undeniably cheesy. I washed it down with a Styrofoam cup full of water. Refills were free, so I availed myself of some … twice.

I have enjoyed some epic meals in my 56-year sojourn on this planet. My wife is a superlative cook. It is only by the most remarkable personal discipline that I do not weigh 300 pounds. However, that Spartan meal in Bettles, Alaska, on that frigid day in February stands out from all the rest. That was undoubtedly the finest cheese sandwich I have ever eaten.

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