When I was a tennis player back in high school — somewhere about the time they invented the sport — we often took road trips. The best thing about these road trips was stopping to eat before heading home.
Today, when I see a school bus parked outside of a restaurant, I know two things are happening. One, the underpaid folks who work behind the counter are thinking something between “Oh great” and “I quit.” And, two, because I see 47 kids piling into the restaurant, I’m going somewhere else.
But I was once one of those kids. I didn’t play for a very large high school, so most of our matches were in small towns (though we kinda kicked butt when we went into most big towns to play, too). In this particular South Georgia town, we could find just one restaurant, a locally owned chicken joint.
While most kids my age would have much preferred a McDonald’s or Burger King, I was perfectly fine stopping at this place. Chicken, grease, small-town cooks … what could possibly go wrong?
I ordered a “chicken breast sandwich.” I’d eaten at a few Chick-fil-As in those days, most of them relegated to some corner space in a mall back then but just as delicious. Apparently, these folks had never been to a Chick-fil-A. Poor souls. They handed me a chicken breast, bones and all, with two pieces of white bread.
We then engaged in a vehement debate about what constitutes a chicken sandwich. I explained that it should be a filet with buns, and they explained that I could eat it and shut up or they’d break my scrawny little neck. I countered with a courageous, “Yes, ma’am” and then proceeded to eat the chicken breast … and then two pieces of white bread. Quietly.
I knew what a chicken sandwich was supposed to be, and I knew it probably wasn’t worth going to war over, especially against a woman who was a half-foot taller and a 100 pounds heavier than I was after she’d been sweating in a chicken joint kitchen all day.
Today, though, there are all kinds of chicken sandwich wars. First Popeye’s came after Chick-fil-A. Then people in the Popeye’s drive-thru came after each other. Now, McDonald’s, Hardee’s, Burger King, and, go figure, Zaxby’s and KFC have joined the wars. Perhaps Taco Bell has joined the war, too, but when I went to one of their locations this week, they were shut down because only two workers had been coming in all week. Colonel Sanders is probably working all by himself, but he can probably handle it.
Each restaurant acts as though they have developed something completely different from the others.
“Check it out, y’all. You take chicken, OK, add a bottom and a top bun. And voila!”
There are tiny differences, such as the seasoning or lack thereof. The only consistent thing is that they keep getting bigger, as do chickens themselves. Foghorn Leghorn has done more steroids than Sylvester Stallone. In fact, I’m pretty sure the last chicken sandwich I had was actually emu. He was juicy but kept trying to sell me insurance.
It’s not just the restaurants that are hyping up the chicken sandwich, but people are acting like chicken sandwiches were just invented. Americans are almost as addicted to chicken sandwiches as CNN is to talking about Trump all day long.
Don’t get me wrong. I love chicken — and probably emus, too. If chickens go extinct, so will I. But calm down, folks. It’s just a chicken sandwich. We don’t need to beat each other up over it. And we don’t need to create traffic jams at the Chick-fil-A. There’s less traffic at Disney World — where, by the way, you can get a chicken sandwich for a mere $45.
I just refuse to buy into the hype or wait in a long line for much of anything. Fortunately, I know where I can get a chicken sandwich without the wait. You just have to watch out for the bones … and the attitude.