Hit the road, Jack

Everyone has a guilty pleasure, culinarily speaking. I’m no different… Kraft Dinner with weiners or chili? Yum. Greasy chorizo and egg burrito on a lazy Sunday morning, or for the perfect hangover cure? Nothing better. And don’t get me started on that wonderous steaming pot of sodium known as Top Ramen. However, my guilty pleasure list is topped by a good cheeseburger and onion rings. And I don’t mean a double quarter-pounder with cheese from Mickey-D’s, or those crispy, uniformly-punched o-rings you get at Burger King… they barely qualify as food! I could go on about the relative characteristics of a good burger and rings, but I’m sure you have your personal gold standard. I first encountered the cheeseburger and rings of my dreams in my late teens, at a local Dairy Queen - it was also a brazier kitchen so they served ‘real’ food as well as tasty ice cream. My buddy Kevin worked across the street and he knew to order this thing called a ‘Super Sizzle’… don’t think it was even on the menu but he somehow had special insight into their secrets. The first time I had one, angels sung… I was transported to a magical and infinitely better place. Two meaty patties, perfect bun, ketchup, mustard, pickles and I don’t know what else all wrapped in a foil square. No “thousand-islandish” special sauce either. And big… this thing was like a dinner plate! Best burger I ever had, before or since. And then tragically they quit making them… oh, the humanity.

Jack in the box logo Fast forward a bunch of years, wherein I searched vainly for a comparable burger experience. The closest I found was the Ultimate Cheeseburger at Jack In The Box. Hey – don’t judge… we’re talking personal guilty pleasure here. The burger has a pretty good ratio of patty to bun to condiments & cheese, including a satisfying heft when you first unwrap the thing… plus it tastes pretty good when you’re in the proper frame of mind. And they have decent rings as well, long as they are not overcooked. So – for the last several years JIB has been my go-to for the occaisional burger fix. Which brings me to today, and closer to the point. We have lived in three houses over the last 11 years, and each has been been in close proximity to a JIB – not necessarily the reasons we moved, but good for me. For bit of relevant background, our current place is not far from the barrio… excellent for access to Mexican food of the fast, cheap, tasty, authentic and drive through variety (I know… another guilty pleasure). When you’re in line behind a couple of landscaping trucks, you know you’re in the right place. And as you already know, I do love my chorizo… although it’s hard to beat a good fish burro as well. We have two JulioBerto’s within 10 minutes - there are also Eriberto’s, Filiberto’s, Roloberto’s, and probably other ‘berto’s I can’t think of right now. Like I said… we’re not far from the barrio. Hang in there… I’m going somewhere with this.

Ball-headed JackI drove past our first neighborhood a couple of months ago, and on the corner with all the little shops anchored by a Home Depot, the spot where my beloved JIB stood, is now a…. Filibertos. I don’t begrudge Filiberto, or any of the Bertos. But they are not Jack In The Box. Apparently times are tough for old ball-headed Jack, and the fast food market is cutthroat… not all stores can survive. It was a sad day for me, but life goes on. My current neighborhood JIB is on a super-busy 5-street intersection, surrounded by a taco place, Carls’ Junior, Subway, etc. Clearly many hungry people converge there daily. My JIB is small, and the drive-through window (and maybe the whole store for all I know) is run by this super-friendly middle-aged hispanic lady named Maria (if I recall her nametag correctly). She’s always very friendly, and happy to fling an occaisional burger and rings my way. Maria has a great attitude which invariably improves my day just a little… and frankly impresses the crap out of me because if I were manning that drive-through it would probably take half a day before I rammed soda straws through my eyes, or someone else’s. I like Maria, and I don’t even know her.

Recently I had occaision to be out running around at lunchtime and was overcome by an unmistakable tweak for you-know-what. I zoomed over to my local JIB, and…. it was boarded up. Literally. Sign gone and everything. Looked for all the world like another sad ex-gas station. Just try to imagine my horror - plus the next nearest Jack is miles away! Oh, the humanity. And the taunting irony is that it still shows up on Jack’s website. Which brings me, finally, to today with no proximity to a fix when the next urge hits. But don’t cry for me… I’ll get by on Julioberto’s, Subway, Mickey-D’s and other tolerable, adjacent quick cuisine. There’s even a small gourmet burger place not far from the boarded-up JIB, but it’s not the same. The thing I often wonder though, is what happened to Maria? Did she show up to work one day and get a pink slip? Or did Jack, being the astute businessman I hope he is, recognize that you just can’t buy attitude like hers and relocate her to a new store? Did she find work somplace close to home, maybe at a ‘bertos? Wherever she is, I hope she’s happy and doing well.  Vaya con dios, Maria. And Jack… what the hell??!!

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