The Burger King Over by Popeye’s in Suisun (First-Person Fooding in Solano)

For three weeks in a row I visited the Burger King in Suisun after I got out of class. Before that I had been frequenting the nearby Popeye’s for my post-night-class stomach fulfillment, but—as any fried chicken fan is likely to concede—Popeye’s has a real problem.

Fresh Popeye’s—spicy, not mild—is some of the best damn fried chicken you will ever come across. It’s flaky, flavorful, and the chicken is of a different world of quality than the crap the KFCs around here put out.

But Popeye’s isn’t perfect. No, I’m not referring to their overtly racist commercials, the fact that they condescendingly welcome you to the drive-thru with a “Welcome back to Popeye’s, may I take your order?” or even the MSG-laden mystery that is “The Cajun Sparkle.”

So what could my problem possibly be? Simply put, those two-for-a-buck-and-change drumsticks and thighs aren’t worth wasting the jaw effort over when they aren’t fresh. And the food techs over at Popeye’s don’t seem to care how damn long that chicken is left under the heat lamp. Eating at Popeye’s is a complete gamble: you could win and eat delicious fresh floured chicken, or lose and gnaw at some miserable rubbery bits for half-an-hour.

I had grown sick and tired of the Popeye’s lottery after a spectacularly bad set of Tuesday specials, so I decided to give the ole BK a go.

Now, what could have possibly possessed me to actually want to try Burger King again? This I do not know. It was getting late, and I think most of my other options in the area were closed down. Maybe I was feeling a piece of my youth burn back up to life again after being told by my writing mentor that I needed to “take more risks.”  Take more risks? Like what? Unprotected sex with strangers? Cosplaying Frogger and running across traffic on Peabody? Or even…even…

Eating at Burger King? I was already wondering if I had made the correct choice as I pulled into the very empty drive-thru. The soulless minion on the other end of the menu speaker at no point said the words “welcome back,” which was a good start. I panicked instead of asking for extra time, the way I always do. Don’t want to waste his time. Don’t want to be that guy, the one the order-taker rolls his eyes over as his manager snickers her commiseration before returning her attention to the heavy metal tray she’s scrubbing with some diluted antiseptic she can’t pronounce.

I ordered the Texas Whopper. Oh shit, Cherry Coke Zero? Better order one of those too. Oh man. Even if the food was garbage, something I was pretty much counting on, I would at least have a Cherry Coke Zero to comfort myself with.

He gave me the total and I pulled up to the second window. (He didn’t tell me to pull up to a specific window, but the first was blocked with boxes visibly stacked up against the window’s side.)

And there, at the second window, he was waiting.

He wasn’t your normal Burger McFlippant, Esq.

See, fast food, like most minimum wage drudgery around here, tends to wear your soul down. It’s a very gradual erosion, more of a chafing at the parts that make you you than anything else. It happens to everyone in any line of work where they’re expected to do more inane bullshit than they should have to for less money than they deserve—all in no time flat. You start the job a genuine human being, but eventually the caustic environment, the coworkers, the unrealistic expectations, and the unholy stress of it all gets to you. The numbers which translate your blood pressure into human values go up while the numbers translating your value to the corporation on your check stay the same or even start to go down—optimization, they calls it, trimming the fat, they say, restructuring the ole company, m’boi.

And so we see a scab begin to form over the soul. The scab wraps up the wound and prevents further damage. Robotification sets in. Beep boop. You begin to unconsciously slip into a comfortable rhythm at work, and while at first you are proud of this, it eventually begins to terrify you. The customers streaming in and out change their faces around, but they can’t fool you—they’re the exact same consumption-based beings that came in earlier. Then the faces of the coworkers change, but they’re still the same automatons that greeted you yesterday.

And before you know it, you’re the one who’s worked there the longest, and you look in the mirror, and you see the tiredness there, and you wonder at how the asymmetrical wrinkles that start on the work shirt you’re wearing today—which you just picked up off the floor and threw on at twenty-till—extend up past the collar and continue on all the way up to your receding hairline.

But this guy was different. Big, soft eyes like that skunk from Bambi. He didn’t want to say too much to me, or even riposte my friendly speech attempts when I tried to make the experience less miserable for the either of us. Perhaps a recent immigrant to the ole US of A? A man long-shamed by a stuttering problem his parents couldn’t fix at the best speech centers in the area? Mental illness a likely possibility. He didn’t make eye contact or even say three words to me on that first visit. I was instantly interested in his backstory, which I began to create in my head. Already he was becoming a character in the pages of the not-so-great American novel of my memory.

A few minutes later I was driving off,  a very warm and very expensive bag of burgers and fries on my passenger-side seat. I put my hand underneath the bag and reveled in the bursts of heat coming off of the unnecessarily warm food. I love unnecessarily warm food. Then I drove over to my buddy’s place and dug in.

Shockingly, it was the best Burger King of my life. The fries—allegedly “medium-sized,” but by what king’s measurements, pray tell—were better than the ole reliable fare McDonald’s pumps out, and very fresh. The frying oil probably wasn’t even two weeks old. The Whopper itself had a singular, lonely onion ring on it, and some jalapenos or something. Apparently, that makes it Texan. Yee-howdy. It was surprisingly tasty.

And the soda? Some of the best fountain swill I’ve ever had, no joke. Far superior to bottled Cherry Coke Zero, which has that strange plastic artificiality to it which hardly makes it suitable for good old-fashioned and excessive patriotic consumption.

My friend was also shocked by the results. Both of us had been previously burned by the extremely diverse interpretations of the word “quality” employed by each BK store. After the meal, my buddy and I vigorously discussed the merits of the mightily-fallen Chicken Tendercrisp sandwich. Wait, was it even on the menu anymore? All I’d seen advertised was the charred oblong patty-chunk of mechanically processed scrapings known as “The Original Chicken Sandwich.”

Truly, the world will be at a loss if indeed the Tendercrisp has gone the way of the dodo. When first introduced, this magnificent sandwich harkened back to the crumbier, breadier days of Chick Fil-A. Of course, neither of us had experienced a good, quality Tendercrisp in some time. The chicken was always overcooked or undercooked or maybe they just changed the recipe? Well, perhaps the loss will not be so profound.

When I returned the next week, my experience was roughly the same. However, this time, the young man of thoroughly indeterminate age—like some twenty-something wielder of both spatula and philosopher’s stone—was more talkative, much to my delight.

Under his breath he muttered the word “sheisty” no less than six times as he handed me my Cherry Coke Zero and tossed over my bag of food. He pointed to my drink and said, “Cherry Coke Zero.” I thanked him profusely and drove off, elated as I began to ruminate over the nature of his mumblings.

Who was being sheisty to him? Were they cutting his hours? Was he working overtime? Missing his family back in Liechtenstein? His story ballooned in my mind, and I filled in every blank with a Mad-Lib-like glee as I drove over to my pal’s house. I wasn’t sure of much, but one thing I did know—as the warm bag filled with muted, trademarked smells assured me—was that I would be seeing him next week.

Only, I didn’t. He wasn’t at the drive-thru window that third week. It was some girl—a professional burger slinger, too—and probably the manager. Had the company had too many complaints about his anti-social behavior? I grew despondent the moment I heard a female voice greet me, and as she took my card at the second window I sincerely began to hope that the food would not suck butt again the way Burger King typically does. Slowly, it began to dawn on me that I had begun to connect his presence with the decency of the Burger King I had been consuming. He was my good luck charm for thoroughly edible BK, and I’d lost him. Hopefully they hadn’t fired him.

Burger-Pro: Lady Edition mock-sheepishly informed me that the promotional 99-cent sauced slab of sawdust I had ordered was going to need a little extra time to cook, and that I would need to pull around to the other side of the restaurant and park. I agreed in proprietous fashion and pulled around to the side of the store—where I saw, through the window, the hero of our fable wiping down the day’s dine-in tables.

I longed to wave at him or shout my undying devotion to his tight-lipped acerbic brand of customer service, but I settled on a silent prayer of thanks to any gods who cared to listen as he picked up a rag and threw it across the store at the futuristic rocket-shaped drink dispenser.

He proceeded to unleash a string of harsh-looking words under his breath as he grabbed a broom. His practiced, methodical strokes across the floor revealed more of his character than his words ever would.

Eventually somebody placed a bag in his hand and pointed over at the weird guy in the even weirder economy Toyota outside. He picked up the bag, stomped through the door, and walked over to my car.

He handed me the bag. I told him thank you. He kind of nodded.

Then I went over to my friend’s and ate it and got some of the worst food poisoning of my life.

Fuck you, Burger King.

-Bearshaman

Fat

Tonight I went out to the gym again

for the first time in a long time again,

but the available options were pretty lean,

with a line around the block for the chest machine.

So I went over to the treadmill and I got right in it

and I walked right in place for at least five minnit,

then my lower left thigh got really sore,

so I wiped away the sweat as I felt hardcore,

said bye to the lady from behind the desk

and I promised myself I’d work on my chest,

next time. Next time.


Backing out in my Echo I got quite a shock

from the Jack in the Box restaurant across the block

and I guess that you could say it was just my luck

cuz they were selling two tacos for just a buck.


I recalled a bag of quarters I’d forgot about

from the last time in the month that I’d gone out

to the arcade that I loved down in San Jose

that had been blown up by some damn dirty apes.


Grabbed the bag from the floor of the passenger’s seat

untouched for a few weeks by a passenger’s feet,

thought I had enough scrilla to buy a few

of those sweet gringo tacos that look like spew,

which didn’t really matter cuz I planned to park

nearby and eat those tacos right there in the dark.



Turns out I had enough for more than that

but I wasn’t really worried about getting fat

cuz I’d already gone to the gym today

but I got a fizzy water too just in case.


A dozen tacos later I was back at leisure

at home when I remembered Tillamook in the freezer

just three-quarters empty and getting colder

so I decided to save it from getting any older.


Put a spoon right in and I took a bite

delicious as ever but it wasn’t quite right,

looked down and the tub was three-quarters full,

did my duty anyway and I ate it all,


plus the stale cereal that was going bad

in the gallon of milk that was looking sad

plus the stale Winco chips that were aging fast, a

simple challenge with the aid of some diet Shasta.


I know it sounds like a lot but I’d like to say

it’s just fine cuz I went to the gym today.

-Bearshaman

Slice a Hawaiian

“Hey kid, the fuck do you think you’re going? Yeah, you. The one pointing to himself and looking around all like, ‘He can’t possibly be talking about me, can he?’ Yeah. Where the hell you going, walking by me with a piping hot pan of, uh–”

“Canadian-bacon-pineapple pizza, sir.”

“Ah, yes–the Hawaiian. The hell don’t you just call it a Hawaiian pizza? Who the fuck orders a ‘canadian-bacon-pineapple’ pizza?”

“We already have a specialty pizza called The Hawaiian, sir.”

“You do? And let me guess–it’s got red onions and American bacon and some sweet-and-sour shit on it, and costs five bucks more than a real, honest Hawaiian.”

“Pretty much.”

“For fucking shame–uh–hey, where’s your nametag?”

“They haven’t given me one yet. I’m new. Name’s Shane.”

“Well, Shane. That’s some fucking bullshit. What kind of incompetent fuck doesn’t give nametags to his employees? He think you’re all just faceless drones or what?
“It’s a ‘she’, sir.”

“Oooooh, my bad. Hey, uh, between you and me–she hot?”

“She’s standing right over there behind the register. You tell me.”

“Wuh-hoah! Yikes. That’s a big negatory.”

“Well, if you’ll excuse me, I’d better get back to serving–“

“Okay, so serve me. There you were, walking right past me, holding a pan of Hawaiian–the real stuff–and you didn’t even stop to ask if I wanted a slice. I’m hurt, Shane.”

“But your plate’s full.”

“So? You think I’m gonna stop once I finish this plate or something? Just stack a slice on top that pepperoni-olive-sausage and you can go on your merry way.”

“Can’t, sir. It’s against–“

“No. No more of this ‘sir’ shit, Shane. I ain’t that fucking old. I ain’t gonna keel over mid-meal, grasping at the air with one hand and clutching at my heart or my throat with the other. Sir, ha! Name’s Johnny.”

“Well, Johnny–“

“Johnny Law.”

“Well, Johnny Law, as I was saying, it’s against company policy to give a customer a new slice if their plate’s full.”

“Hey Shane, this an all-you-can-eat joint, or what?”

“Tuesdays and Thursdays from five-to-eight, yes.”

“Holy shit, Shane. You pop a gear or something? You almost sounded human there.”

“Well, I’m sorry, but I have to go–“

“No, don’t gimme that, Shane. You stacked a goddamn pepperoni pyramid for that girl at the table over by the jukebox. Don’t gimme that horseshit.”

“Sir–“
“Johnny! Johnny goddamn Law!”

“Johnny, she’s an employee on break. And I didn’t give her those slices. She grabbed them.”

“Playing favorites for the ladies, eh? Wanna hold on while I go to Tijuana and grow some rusty tits right quick? That what I gotta do to get a fucking slice a Hawaiian ’round here?”

“Tell you what, Johnny.”

“Listening.”

“You eat a piece–one of those six on your plate–and I’ll give you a slice of canadian-bacon-pineapple.”

“Okay, fair’s fair. Lemme just cut this piece here–”

“I’ve never seen a spoon used for that before. You know, there’s a fork and knife over there next to your plate, sir.”

“Your point, kiddo? Knives are the tools of serial killers and forks are for people who can’t find their way around a goddamn spoon.”

“Huh.”

“Spoon’s a versatile tool. You can’t eat soup with a fork or a knife, but you can eat a salad with a spoon.”

“What about sporks?”

“Don’t gimme no goddamn lip. This ain’t fucking Taco Bell.”

“Okay, sir. Here’s your slice.”

“I ain’t finished this slice yet!”

“The pizza’s getting cold. I don’t want to disappoint other customers who love candian-bacon–“

“Christ alive, Shane. Don’t you fucking dare. You say that awkward shit one more time and I swear I will fucking show you why you don’t want to see me pick up a goddamn knife.”

“Okay, sir.”

“Fuck you, kiddo. Say it. It’s a delicioso motherfucking Hawaiian pizza you’re carrying. Say it or so help me, with Brando as my witness I will make your ribcage an offer it can’t refuse.”

“Okay, Johnny.”

“Yeah? What’s the pizza, Shane?”

“Canadian-bacon-pineapple.”

———————————————

Wrote this for a contest which spontaneously decided not to exist one day after I wrote a piece specifically for it which used the phrase “I’ve never seen a spoon used for that before” as per contest requirements. Ah well, I still dig it. Maybe they meant November of next year for the deadline?

-Bearshaman