CACTUS JACK

Fear and Loathing in the Drive-Thru Lane

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"Somehow, the cold winter chill seems all the less biting when I know a shamrock shake is waiting for me at the heavenly gates of March."

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These once in a lifetime fast food items seem to stand ever present among a sea of menu standards and never fail to become the objects of my fascination. Starting from a young age, I’ve been overly susceptible to advertising. My parents effectively banned me from watching any television channels which played commercials after they caught me numerous times with my still-developing, prune-sized brain, transfixed by the TV screen. “What are you watching?” they’d ask, in that way only parents can. I would scramble to change the channel, but it was too late, my parents had discovered the ugly truth: I was watching a channel of only advertisements.

I have a confession to make: I missed my chance to eat the Travis Scott Burger. I didn’t stroll into McDonald’s, head held high, and proclaim in a booming roar: “CACTUS JACK SENT ME!” This was not on purpose; I promise I didn’t mean to miss my chance. It just...it just slipped through my fingers, like the sands of time or an unhappy marriage (but actually important). It seems that my opportunity to see how different a quarter pounder burger with bacon tastes when it’s been branded by a celebrity is gone, never to return. 

Rather than escaping my everyday reality in one of the myriads of fantasy worlds offered on the myriad of channels available, I had chosen one without any setting, characters, or plot. I had chosen a channel that simply offered products to be bought (the majority of which a toddler like myself had no use for). After this incident repeated itself four or five times, my parents placed heavy sanctions on my television-viewing time. The rare glances I got of advertisements, especially fast-food ones, inspired a passionate longing in me unlike anything I had ever known. 

The first thing I ever truly desired (not simply wanted but ​desired​) was a teriyaki chicken sandwich from Subway, which I snuck a forbidden glance at in a TV commercial. I relentlessly begged my dad to drive me to the local Subway where we could become patrons of esteemed sandwich artists as we lounged and feasted on their tasty fare. To this day I cannot remember what that sandwich tasted like, and after eating it did my desire for it completely melted away. But I do remember that desire, the primal ​need for something those ads inspired in me, and while it may have been the first time a specialty fast-food item captured me in lustful appeal, it certainly would not be the last. 

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Some of these menu items are seasonal monsters that rear their heads like cicadas, awakening expectedly from a regularly scheduled hibernation. These are delicacies to look forward to that break-up the monotony of life. Somehow, the cold winter chill seems all the less biting when I know a shamrock shake is waiting for me at the heavenly gates of March.

"The Popeyes Chicken sandwich is a meal that warms my soul."

Why yes, St. Patrick, I would like whipped cream and a cherry with that. Say 'hi' to Jesus for me. Others come, lingering for an unknown amount of time, and then disappear into the fog of our collective memory. Did McDonald’s ever really have a sandwich that featured a slab of ribs but somehow no bones? Will it ever be back? Like a deranged uncle, these items wander absentmindedly in and out of our lives and encourage us to question the fabric of reality. 

Temporality aside, the spiritual unity of a meal is important too; there are those items that warm my soul and those that dissolve it. The Popeyes Chicken sandwich is a meal that warms my soul. It sauntered onto the scene last year like the mysterious, sexy Louisiana-Frenchman you lock eyes with right as the bartender says, “last call.” Fast-forward to a year later and he’s proposing to you, you’re just as enraptured by him as the first night you met. You’re getting married. Take that, dad. This is an example of what we should term a blessed meal: although it begins as a limited time offer, it can’t help but stick around. It is that magical, fleeting intersection of corporate greed and lustful desire that births a true classic. 

Food is an essential part of any culture, and specialty fast food items do not escape this umbrella. They are often hideous, sometimes magical, and never as good as they look on TV. Constant advertisements tattoo such items onto our soft, squishy minds and lead us back with the same pied piper performance again and again. For those of you who have made it out of the vicious cycle, who never touch the stuff, I applaud you. I know deep down that I will never be one of you. I know that those golden arches, that red-haired siren, and the monarch himself will always call me back, and I will always, no matter how long I stay away, return. 

Regardless of your personal level of affiliation with these decadent monstrosities, they are a testament to the power of modern advertising. Companies introduce items we never knew we craved but, the second that ad flashes before our eyes in between ​Everybody Loves Raymond ​reruns, we are hooked. With the recent decline in the popularity of network television due to the popularity of streaming services, perhaps these items will start to disappear. After all, they’re only as powerful as the ad campaigns behind them. Maybe the world is better off without these tantalizing greaseballs being hurled out of our televisions.

But as someone once said, “nothing ventured nothing gained.” I’m willing to wager those extra years of my life, the years a greasy burger callously steals time and time again, just for one more shot at finding it: the item that fills these cavernous holes in my life and fast-food menus. So, in the end, I’m disappointed I missed the Travis Scott burger. It could have been the one. Oh well --the J Balvin Burger is still in stock.

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