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Fast Food Blues…

BREAKFAST ON THE ROAD  / Photo by Carmela Cunningham

We don’t eat fast food very often. At a certain age, you grow weary of hamburgers, no matter how much the purveyors of such fare attempt to make them special. But if you’re on the road with a spoiled little Yorkie in the front seat, you have to make concessions.

We just finished a three-week drive to Florida and back, and we learned that these days, even eating at McDonald’s, the king of the fast food chains, can be a daunting experience. In an effort to please everybody, the McDonald folks have put out some sadly, unappealing items. The Big Mac is still around, and it doesn’t seem to have changed that much since it was introduced.

I drove across country one time years ago with the teen-age daughters of a dear friend. The girls took a special delight in repeatedly singing the Big Mac jingle: “Two all-beef patties, special sauce, lettuce, cheese, pickles, onions, on a sesame seed bun.” Then just to show off, they would sing it backward. “Bun, seed, sesame, a, on, onions, pickles, cheese, lettuce, sauce, special, patties, beef, all, two.”

The experience soured me on Big Macs forever – although I was never was a big fan before the trip. The good thing about McDonald’s – at least when founder Ray Kroc was alive and personally dropping in to enforce the Mickey-D’s standards on the franchisees – was the bathrooms. Back in the day, they were always clean. Now, not so much.

There are a couple of saving graces for the chain.

For breakfast, I usually order a McGriddle – which is actually a kind of syrup-soaked blueberry pancake sandwich featuring egg, cheese, and bacon. When my wife attempts to tell me how many calories it is, I just stick my fingers in my ears and go LA-LA-LA-LA-LA until her lips stop moving.

I also must admit that I’m a sucker for the McRib sandwich – although it’s only offered infrequently. The soft-serve ice cream is not bad, and they even have a “Fruit ‘N Yogurt Parfait” that is both low in calories and refreshing. Some people rave about McDonald’s fries – but you’ve got to eat them when they’re still hot – and about the Mickey-D’s coffee, which now has a label warning you that it’s hot in case you want to hold it between your legs while you drive.

Jack in the Box offers croissant breakfast sandwiches, which I think is just crazy. How do you eat a sandwich made out of a croissant without it falling apart? The chain now has sriracha curly fries, which do sound very good. Jack also offers monster tacos and bacon-ranch monster tacos which I wouldn’t mind giving a try, but my wife exercises her veto power when it comes to Jack in the Box – some nonsense she read someplace about e-coli. I frankly don’t care about that. As far as I’m concerned, Jack lost my business years ago when they discontinued the Moby Jack, a fish sandwich which was actually very good, and Frings, a combination of French fries and onion rings.

I also like Sonic Burger, and since they have curb service, it’s particularly easy with the pup in the car. It reminds me of the 50s and 60s, when a car hop would bring you your order and hang a metal tray on your car window. The only problem is Sonic’s menu is lacking in any healthy choices and the chain’s best items are shakes and ice cream products. I love my wife, but the sound of her teeth grinding in the background as I slurp up a malted, does diminish the pleasure.

I’m not complaining. My wife is the only reason that I am still alive and pumping air. If it wasn’t for her efforts to keep me healthy, I would not be around to be tempted by milk shakes and ice cream concoctions.

When it comes to fast food, on the other hand, my wife is a Del Taco junkie. I like Del Taco too, but there’s something about the chain that continues to bug me. What is the difference between the Del Scorcho hot sauce and the Del Inferno hot sauce? They both sound really hot, but which is the hottest? I’m not the only one asking this question. A Yelp web page titled Del Scorcho vs. Del Inferno has an entire discussion about the issue.

Jack K of Glendale says he prefers the vinegary taste of Del Scorcho which contains jalapenos. Del Inferno relies on Ancho chili peppers for its heat, which gives it an earthy kind of flavor, he says. However, either one of them “kicks Taco Bell’s fire sauce’s ass.”

Anz L. of Long Beach agrees. Del Inferno is “too sweet and tangy,” he says. “I prefer the peppery bombness of Del Scorcho. He also concurs that Taco Bell’s Fire Sauce “sucks.”

Which is all very interesting, but it still doesn’t answer my question – which one is the hottest?

I’m also still trying to figure out the drink sizes at Starbucks. A short is eight ounces; a tall is 12 ounces, a grande is 16 ounces, a venti hot drink is 20 ounces, a venti cold drink is 24 ounces, and a trenta cold drink is 31 ounces. If they weren’t trying to be so fancy, they would just say a small, a little bigger, a medium, a large, and a super large. Let’s face it, there’s nothing fancy about Starbucks. And the company’s coffee isn’t really all that good. Peet’s is much better and far less confusing.

Not that any of this matters anymore. We are back home and no longer having to choose between fast food outlets. We make our own coffee, we cook our own burgers (turkey), we get to have vegetables with our meals and sometimes even mashed potatoes.

My wife is a good cook and she watches out for me. But sometimes, when I get a far-away gaze, and she asks me what I’m thinking, I always say something cool like, “just thinking about how lucky I am to have you in my life, sweetie.”

It’s true. I am lucky to have her in my life. And what purpose would it serve to say I was just fantasizing about having a Peanutty Swirl with Snickers Bars Master Blast at Sonic.

No purpose at all.

– George Lee Cunningham

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