National Fast Food Day: National Blog Posting Month
My love affair with Wendy’s Hamburgers began in October 1982. I was 11 years old when Wendy’s opened on the corner of Lebanon Presbyterian Road and Route 887.
Prior to this, our fast food options were a McDonald’s and a space on the other side of the neighborhood that was once a Burger Chef and then a Rax Roast Beef. Sometimes, we drove into Pleasant Hills to visit Arby’s and I do remember going to Winky’s once in a great while before they went bankrupt and the building was turned into a Chinese buffet.
But Wendy’s felt different. The clear cut single/double/triple options were straightforward. The newsprint on the tables was awesome, especially when my parents were talking on and on and on about something about which I could care less. And the frosty!
Like many of you, I’ve gone through my menu phases – burgers, then potatoes with cheese, then assorted chicken sandwiches. I even briefly had salads. It was good. It was affordable. It was popular with my teen friends.
In high school, I tried to get a job at Wendys. I remember this because I spent about 30 minutes waiting around with Brian Stupar who was also applying. We hadn’t actually chatted much since elmentary school. I don’t think either of us got the job, but that’s okay. I have that nice memory.
In college, my secret Wendy’s ritual began. When I would need some time to be by myself and have a treat, I would get the latest copy of Soap Opera Digest and go through the Wendy’s drivethru. 99% of the time, I ordered a single with cheese only, fries, a medium Coke and a frosty. It was less than $5. I would then pull into a parking space, tilt back the seat and enjoy my meal while reading about soap operas. No one bothered me, no one knew where I was. And I got a chance to just decompress.
It was a great ritual than I indulged on school breaks (no Wendy’s near my college) and occasionally in the summer.
When I moved to Louisiana for grad school, I brought this ritual along. The campus Wendy’s parking lot was too small so I would drive out to the nearby suburban restaurant. When I was in Western Kentucky, I had to cross a stateline to find a Wendy’s so it didn’t happen very often. But when I moved back to Pgh, there it was. Of course, by then, I knew about the Dave Thomas conservative political views, etc. I just figured they weren’t as bad as McDonalds because I needed this time.
Wendy’s food was fine, not over the top great, but predictable and tasty. It was comforting. It was safe. I could mix things up a bit by ordering a chicken sandwich. When I stopped being able to drink coke, I had trouble finding a suitable replacement beverage. Changing it up helps me not take the Wendy’s experience for granted.
This ritual has brought me a lot of comfort and escapism over the years. I really <3 Soap Opera Digest, read it regularly for 20 years or so. The magazine was just long enough to allow me to slowly eat my meal while the Frosty thawed out a bit. It seemed like a match made in heaven.
I know all the 800 million reasons why any fast food restaurant sucks. And to be honest, my fondness for Wendy’s has decreased considerably over the years – the fries are just terrible these days, sad little wilted metaphors that had so much potential for crispy goodness.
But it was never about the food. It was having a place where I could go out into the world and still have the solitude I craved. It wasn’t a particularly expensive indulgence. It wasn’t even something I felt the need to hide from anyone, unless I just didn’t want them to pester me.
Now, I find Wendy’s burgers still the best “eat in a car” item on my list, but the forlorn fries are a turnoff as is the ongoing debate over whether I want a ‘lite Minute Maid lemonade’ or a ‘homestyle regular lemonade’ – I want the one that tastes like lemonade, not the tears of despair from a former Tab drinker.
For a long time, I thought Subway was a better choice – make my own sandwich, choices of chips or cookies, clarity on the beverage selection. Then a local Subway decided to avoid a boil advisory that affected our neighborhood and I’ve never returned to Subway since. Not only was that a gross and disgusting decision, it reminds me that ALL fast food places do equally suck in the grand scheme of things. And if someone doesn’t address the graffiti on their restaurant sign for over a year, there’s good reason to be suspect about hand washing and refrigeration.
Since I work at home and have plenty of ‘by-myself-time,’ the need to take refuge with a soap magazine and fast food is nonexistent. Plus, there are now just 4 soaps on the air and I keep up with two of them (bonus points if you can guess which ones.)
But I do know that should I find myself foraging in another City for a sense of comfort or security or just looking for some damn privacy, I just need to look for the golden arches. Because there’s definitely a Wendy’s nearby. Like an evil twin sister or your long presumed dead husband.
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