Monday, March 14, 2005

I'm NOT "Lovin' It"

It’s a miracle that I ever eat at fast rood restaurants anymore. Moses will sooner return from the dead to produce The Ten More Commandments, headlined by “Thou shalt not pass up a super-sized combo meal when it only costeth 29 cents to doeth so.” There are exactly zero good reasons for one to spend his or her money at any chain or franchise eatery, and I’m ashamed to admit that I continue to do so (“to do so” is a fun little triumvirate of words, isn’t it? Three two-letter palabras that end in “o?” Come on, how much more fun can we get here?).

Where’s the beef? Well, it starts with the prices. It used to be that one possibility for eating at a fast food joint was the low prices of the food. No one had a problem paying a lower amount of money for lower quality food. It’s like when you were a kid and you wanted the Air Jordans, but they were too expensive, so your ma brought you to Payless and made you get the Air Gordons (then all the kids at school kindly informed you that “Voit” and “Attack Force” weren’t technically name-brand shoes, so they would gently remove them from your feet and beat you across the head, neck, face, legs, and ass with them). Eating at, say, McDonald’s was a hell of a lot cheaper than taking the family to Outback Steakhouse (were those around during my childhood?).

But today, factoring in price as a reason to eat Comida Rapida is absurd. In a recent venture to Dairy Queen, I was asked to spend about $3.50 on a double cheeseburger with bacon. In my head I’m thinking, “These patties better be sprinkled with gold or something.” Alternately: “Perhaps the happy meal toy is a Tiffany diamond?” To my utter surprise and displeasure, neither of these prospects came to fruition, leaving me with a bill of six dollars for a burger and a shake. I could feed a third-world child for 32.29 days with that kind of loot (my math here was calculated according to numbers provided by Sally Struthers commercials. Not the “Do You Want to Make More Money” ones; the other ones. The ones that have the small pregnant children with flies swarming around them like flies on a hungry person. Speaking of commercials—does anyone remember Eagle Man? He was this bird that laid an egg which cracked open to reveal a huge piece of paper plastered with insurance rates. Then, amazed passersby would respond, “Oh, look at those low rates.” That was the best, and worst, commercial of my youth. But, I digress).

If I’m going to spend six dollars, I may as well go some place decent and get a hamburger made from real cows instead of some freaky mixture of soy, unflavored gelatin, and food coloring. I’ve often thought about this. At Taco John’s, it costs almost four bucks for a meat and potato burrito, which is approximately the size of a small flashlight. For the same price, I could go to El Burrito Loco and purchase a similar item for the same price, only this one is so big it registers on sonar. This sucker’s filled with enough sour cream and guacamole to bury Pompeii…again… and honestly, if you were a resident of Pompeii, would you rather die via river of sour cream and guacamole or by storm of ash and fire? I thought so.

The prices at these restaurants are double plus ungood, but prices alone shouldn’t dissuade you from eating at a fast food place. The horrendous quality of food does that. When my girlfriend and I indulge in such eateries, she often asks me why I don’t get fries. I don’t get fries because they aren’t delicious. At every place I’ve ever eaten, the fries have been either too cold, too crunchy, or too soaked in grease. Their texture is less like fried potatoes and more like saturated noodles. Also, burgers at most locations are microscopic. They resemble little meat coasters, edible Frisbees intended for leisure, not gestation. It’s not just the food; it's the beverages, too! The milkshakes are almost always too thick to drink through a straw, so one often has to swallow his or her own tongue, as well as half the physical matter within a 30-foot proximity, to get even a taste of the nectar that lies within. McDonald’s cookies? More like sugar croutons. Gag me and get it over with (Right now, I’m trying to figure out why I still eat at these places. Have commercials hypnotized me? Eat at Burger King. Nope, no hypnotism here).

Taste and price are preferential reasons to quit eating crappy junk food, but the Queen Bee of All Reasons Not to Eat at Places Like McDonald’s is…


It’s horribly, incredibly, unhealthy. Hardee’s, for example, has one burger that has 1800 calories (I’m not making this up). By my math, this means that I could drink 14 ounces of water the whole rest of the day and still be just under my allotted daily calorie intake. Only three people have ever eaten one of these without dying instantly of clogged arteries (consequently, two were truck drivers and one was a Tibetan monk. Don’t ask). Pretty much everything at Taco Bell is over 1,000 calories and 80 grams of fat. I’m no health freak or anything, but how is it a good idea to be putting nothing but preservatives, fat, and calories into your system? If anyone else saw Supersize Me, they’d know what I’m talking about. Prolonged exposure to this crap can leave you obese, addicted, and even DEPRESSED! Who the hell needs that?

So, from this day forth, I hereby swear off fast-food restaurants. This includes McDonald’s, Taco Bell, Burger King, Hardee’s, Culver’s, Wendy’s, Chick Fillet, Jack in the Box, and Roscoe’s Chicken and Waffles. This moratorium is to last the rest of my life. Or at least until I get hungry for soy gelatin.

Wednesday, March 02, 2005

Cars + Sisters = Utter Dismay and Dejection

For the second time in as many months, one of my sisters has been given a free automobile without having earned it. One was given a 2002 Mitsubishi Spider Eclipse because her Buick wasn’t her “style,” and it was recently brought to my attention that my other sister is going to be receiving a brand new Mini Cooper, which she claims is “one of the safest cars out there” because it has five airbags (hilarious comment from an anonymous friend: “Vans have SEVEN airbags. Get one of those.”). This incites a certain degree of rage in my wounded heart because my brother and I worked long summers saving our money and making sacrifices to buy “affordable” (in other words, “ungood”) cars to get us from point A to point B, while my sisters have been rewarded for working considerably more part-time employment and for having much poorer spending habits. I obviously could be happier about the situation, but there’s really not much I can do about it. I mean, I’m no longer a student; I work full-time and make plenty of money to support my own vehicle of choice. I probably shouldn’t be giving too much attention to what my sisters are doing. Good for them. They’ve got nice cars that they didn’t pay for.

That little rant aside, this whole car ordeal has conjured up memories of my earlier days as a driver and all of the automobiles I’ve driven over the years. As the oldest child, I was not given a car to drive when I turned sixteen, so I had to borrow either my dad’s Toyota Camry or my ma’s Plymouth minivan. Tucking your pant legs into your socks, bringing a Rainbow Brite lunch pail and thermos to a high school cafeteria, and listening to Clay Aiken records are about the only things that trump driving your mother’s minivan on the Dorky-ness Scale. I’ve even gone on DATES driving that thing. Try getting to first base behind the wheel of a giant blue Greyhound with a 4-cylandar engine and cup holders. Go on! Give it a whack! I’ll ask my ma if you can borrow the keys…

Luckily, I didn’t have to make use of the parents’ rides for too long, because when the twins turned 16, my father knew that the three of us would need a car to share. So, to remedy the situation, my father bought a car from our neighbors across the street for about $1,000, and it was the most extreme car I have ever driven. Imagine the most commanding, physically powerful automobile you have ever seen, and then imagine MY car kicking its ass. It was an old Chevy Caprice Classic, a police squad car (congenially named “CHiPs” after the oldschool cop show) that sported a V-8 and probably weighed about as much as 50 people (equivalent = 7 Warren Sapps). It was like driving a Cadillac with a jet engine. Just starting the car up caused three-day periods of deafness and minor bleeding from the ear. The energy that raced through the veins of that automobile could be felt even at 10mph. It was a growling beast of iron and leather, hungry for petroleum, it’s only source of nourishment, but damn, did it need a LOT of nourishment. There are semi trucks that get better mileage than CHiPs got. We’d get to the gas station on “empty” and have to fill up just to get home with a half a tank left. My dad used to always say, “the good thing about the Caprice is that if it ever gets into an accident with say, a chaotic mass of stampeding wooly mammoths, Caprice still wins.”

Okay, well maybe he didn’t say exactly that, but it would be true. That car was a deity, and in some parts of Senegal, they still worship the rear bumper, offering sacrifices of flowers and small goats. But, eventually we had to get another community car when Jackie got her license as well. Again, my father spent only about $1,000, but no one wins the lottery twice. This time around, we were presented with a small, gray Pontiac sedan. It was the blandest of all cars, and I hated when CHiPs was being used by another sibling and I was forced to drive that pathetic damn thing. When parked side by side, it was like looking at a cockroach next to a panther. Kyle and I hated that car, which is why we weren’t too upset when our sister drove it about 15 yards into a bean field, turning the wheels downwards like the DeLorean in “Back to the Future.” She was fine, but the car was totaled (side note: I had just put $20 worth of gas in the stupid tank. I remember being furious about that). “Good riddance,” we thought.

Perhaps there is no such thing as karma, but to this day, I believe that my wishing hateful things on that Pontiac helped pitch in towards the demise of CHiPs. I was at school, and my brother called me with a tone in his voice like someone died. In a sad sort of way, someone did. The same sister who had wrecked the putrid little grey car had just wrecked the cop car, too. She backed out into another car and it smashed the whole back end of it. It wrecked three panels, and it would’ve cost more to fix the car than it did to purchase it in the first place. I may or may not have cried in my bathrobe for six hours afterwards, stuffing myself with baked goods. Kyle and I held a short memorial service for CHiPs, taking turns sharing the all the good times with the rest of the congregation. It was a good car.

I’m sorry, but I need to excuse myself here for a moment. There’s… something in my eye…

For a while at college, I didn’t need a car at all, and I did pretty well without one. But, eventually the combination of field placement student teaching and a long-distance girlfriend inspired the purchase of my first car. My father and I did our auto shopping, looking all around Kankakee for a fine motor vehicle, and eventually we came across a pretty sharp-looking Chevy Cavalier. At the time, it was only a few years old, and it had working air conditioning and a CD player in it, so I was immediately sold. I got the whole thing for $4,444 (honestly). I totally hustled the dealer. I was all, “I’ll give you no more than 4 grand cash for this car,” and he was all, “ok.” I sure showed that punk who’s boss.

I still drive my Cavalier to this day. It’s a rather unsightly teal color, and I don’t really have any emotional attachment to it. I never even gave it a name, sadly enough. Still, it’s gotten the job done for about three years now, and (knock on wood) I’ve had minimal problems. I’ll probably drive it until, like all the other cars I’ve ever been a part of, it dies from some accident directly or indirectly linked to my sister. It seems like when it comes to automobiles, one of my female siblings is right at the heart of my misery. I love those girls dearly, but when it comes to modes of transportation, they just have a way with things. Maybe I just need to let everything go: the Eclipse, the Mini Cooper, the $20 of wasted gas in the Pontiac, and most importantly, CHiPs. Then again, if everybody just let everything go, there would never be any unhappiness in the world, and really, who wants that?