Back in high school, my main bro Alexander took a trip with his family to visit relatives in the Deep South, and he returned bursting with fun stories about rap music, humidity, and casual racism.
“And here’s another thing,” he said after explaining about sweet tea. “They had these fast food places all over the place called Chickafilla.”
“What the fuck is a Chickafilla?” I asked.
“I don’t know! We never stopped at one. It’s a mystery!”
That night, I went home and Googled Chickafilla in hopes of finding out what this mystery establishment was. I don’t remember precisely what I found back then, but when I Googled Chickafilla just now I found the profile for a girl in Chicago on an online dating site that matches people based on what books they like. (She liked Animal Farm a lot.)
Point is, Chickafilla was a mystery to me for a long time – a little slice of Southern Mysticism dropped into our dreary Pacific Northwestern lives.
Years down the road, I discovered that there’s an immensely popular Southern fast food chain called Chick-Fil-A, and deduced that there was no mystery to be had here: Alexander had simply fucked up the name in true Alexander fashion.*
*This could also be the result of Alexander’s Hannibal Lecter-style fondness for byzantine wordplay. Examples include habeeb instead of believe, Sakala instead of Alaska (it’s an anagram), and Parah Salin instead of Sarah Palin, which, when spoken aloud, sounds exactly like “Parasailin’.” He’s difficult to be bros with.
I have a certain fascination with regional fast food chains, to the point that when I meet somebody from a different part of the United States, I invariably wind up talking to them about their regional food chain before I ask them about their hometown. In a country where morbid obesity is kind of our thing, I think you can learn a lot about the character of a region by the way they set themselves up for heart disease and type 2 diabetes.
Initially, Chick-Fil-A struck me as emblematic of a lot of the things I like to make fun of the South for – their ad campaign is kind of folksy, they’re so extremely religious that they don’t open on Sunday, and they’ve got a spotty gay rights record. What’s more, Chick-Fil-A promotional materials make the bold claim that they ‘invented the chicken sandwich.’
This seems like an almost foolishly bold thing to say, because I tend to believe that the chicken sandwich was invented five minutes after chickens and bread were in the same place at the same time, and that was probably well before Chick-Fil-A hit the scene. It was this sort of hubris that made me wary when Chick-Fil-A opened its first Southern California location in Hollywood last month.
I was finally persuaded try the place by my Southern friends, who assured me that the food there tastes like Christmas, and by the fact that Neil Patrick Harris tweeted about how amazing the meal he ate there was. Not only did that assuage any guilt I might’ve had over eating at a relatively gay-unfriendly establishment, but it also gave me hope that I might bump into Neil Patrick Harris while I was there.
(I didn’t, by the way; so don’t get your hopes up for this update getting any more interesting in the next couple of paragraphs.)
I hit up the Chick-Fil-A drive-thru for lunch last week, and when my car finally pulled up to the menu I was shocked to find that instead of a simple, unintelligible loudspeaker, the Chick-Fil-A drive-thru ordering system has an actual live video feed of the person in the restaurant taking your order – you can see them, and they can see you.
This, I feel, eliminates a lot of the mystery and fun of the drive-thru. When all you do is yell your order into a microphone, you’re taking a leap of faith – it could be anybody preparing your food, and you have no idea how clean or bronchial they actually are until you pull around and collect your order, which may or may not have been filled correctly. This sort of anonymity and danger was as close as I was ever going to get to airport restroom hookups, and those damn moral crusaders at Chick-Fil-A took it away from me.
“Hello there, and welcome to Chick-Fil-A!” The beaming talking head on the video screen chirped. “How may we serve you this afternoon?”
As much as I appreciated the Southern hospitality, I felt like they were laying it on a little thick here – I’m not the King of France; I’m an unemployed writer trying to order a chicken sandwich. Let’s keep things in perspective.
“Uh, wow, thank you. Food is the only service I need today – could I get a number four combo please? Large?”
“Great!” I watched her record this order on her computer, which felt oddly voyeuristic. “And what’s your name?”
She looked up at the camera with a somehow broader smile. “Oh, cool! Like The Truman Show!”
I was going to make some pithy remark about how often I hear that, but then I realized that she’d made that comment while watching me on a television screen, meaning she was arguably the first person in history to legitimately make that reference.
“Yes. Exactly like that.”
When I pulled around to the window, another woman was already waiting for my credit card.
“Here you go, Truman!” She said, handing me a semi-translucent paper bag full of chicken sandwich. “Is there anything else we can do for you today?”
Am I missing something here? I was under the impression that Chick-Fil-A was a restaurant, but the employees keep making these very broad offers like How may I serve you? and Is there anything else we can do for you? Do they offer life help in addition to food? If so, then I’ll take a #7 combo with a side of paying job in the entertainment industry and an extra large Obama 2012. Otherwise, just the sandwich will be fine.
Back at the office, I ate what turned out to be a pretty tasty chicken sandwich. But at the end of the day, much to the chagrin of the cows in Chick-Fil-A’s commercials, I just don’t like chicken as much as beef. Even with God and Neil Patrick Harris on their side, Chickafilla can’t compete with that.
Truman Capps is still waiting to try Waffle House.