Travel: Vanilla Is A Neutral Flavour or How A Milkshake Almost Destroyed Switzerland

December 21, 2023



I should never have taken the milkshake.

I had just flown business class for the first time, and there was free stuff in the arrivals lounge at Zurich Airport. I had just had a shower in a bathroom named “Chicago”. Others were named “Boston” and “Buenos Aires” (no “Johannesburg” or “Pretoria”, for what it’s worth).

This was a change from losing the bottom half of the two-part plastic toothbrush that comes in the economy class travel pack with the eye mask and the misshapen socks and then trying to brush with the almost complete lack of leverage offered by the remaining stump.

I had the fruit salad. I had a cappuccino. I smelled good. I had drawn a sensible amount of the country’s contrary currency, which I could not spend elsewhere.

There was ten minutes left before the train came and Swiss Railway trains don’t come late, or wait. They’re also not cheap. A glass of wine on the train cost CHF 9,90 (upwards of R100, a problem even if your attitude is “You shouldn’t convert all the time; it’ll just make you nervous”).

So grabbing a foil-topped cup of milkshake and popping it into your carry-on luggage from the plane seems like a good idea for a number of reasons, even if I am approaching 40 and I’m supposed to enjoy things that are bitter and dry – like the people who don’t like milkshakes, presumably.

It was a soft-sided bag, holding a light jersey, a book, an MP3 player and a wad of papers confirming various hotel and travel bookings (and including the train ticket for the journey out of the airport). The milkshake was wedged upright, sort of. The party I was with gathered our many bags and followed the signs downstairs to the concourse.

There was an overwhelming smell of burning and a good deal of smoke in that area. We were told it was from the trains braking at the bottom of the next set of escalators. Perhaps keeping strict schedules involves going faster than you need to for the last portion of the journey and then slamming on anchors at the end of the line.

Smoke is distracting. It’s always unexpected, unless you lit what is burning yourself. It demands your attention. It takes that attention off your hand luggage, which is balanced across the top of your suitcase. It guarantees you don’t see your fellow traveller bustling past, knocking that bag to the floor. And it means that, when you do notice that the bag has fallen to the floor, you don’t react as though it’s an issue, because all that’s in it is a light jersey, a book, an MP3 player and a wad of papers confirming various hotel and travel bookings (including the train ticket for the journey out of the airport).

So it’s concerning when, having established which platform you’re aiming for, and with only two minutes’ grace before the train arrives, you pick up your hand luggage and notice a stream of white liquid dripping out of the corner closest to the ground. Stronger emotions are aroused when you realise that the papers at risk include your passport, and physical expressions of anger become a consideration when the most experienced of your travelling companions says what all the others are thinking: “We’ll just leave you, you know.”

Everything’s sticking together. The train ticket is barely legible. The passport has been spared. The MP3 player has not.

I spend my first half an hour beyond the airport limits locked in the bathroom, using half of the carriage’s daily allotment of toilet paper mopping documents, lining the bag with the Wall Street Journal I’d been given on the plane and trying to sponge moisture out of the various plug sockets on the MP3 player.

Leave Him Behind redeemed herself to some degree by producing from somewhere a toothpick that made it possible to reset the device, which made it think it was working for a little bit. Dave Grohl bellowed out the chorus of Arlandria and made me smile. I hadn’t lost the soundtrack to my trip; just the use of a sweatshirt and the possibility of not feeling sticky for the rest of the day.

I turned off the MP3 player to save the battery and to chat to my fellow travellers; catch up on what I’d missed in that half-hour I was crouched over a tiny sink, cleaning up my life.

That machine never worked again.

I should never have taken the milkshake.