Eating Across America’s Fast Food Chains in Verse
Poet Danny Caine's Odes to Olive Garden, Popeye's, and More
Dubbed as the “first book of fast food poetry,” El Dorado Freddy’s features poet Danny Caine’s fast food “reviews in verse,” accompanied by Tara Wray’s photographs. Available now from Belt Publishing.
Nights that felt unlimited like salad n’ breadsticks:
mom’s car, a cashed bag boy paycheck, another exit,
another country. Parking lot Italy, no passport needed,
just a flashing buzzer. This was all we knew of fancy.
We just couldn’t swing that many dates where dinner
cost more than ten bucks each. I see them winking
when they discuss this place, even when they try
to be kind. Okay, fine, they say. The salad is actually good.
Of course the salad is good, it’s America’s national dish.
I don’t have time for their winks because if I don’t
leave now, the line will be too long when I get there.
Good thing the pasta, like the salad, like us, never ends.
Popeye’s Louisiana Kitchen
The man at the microphone
tells me I’m guest number 138—
a guest, but a number nonetheless.
I guess I’m not in Panera anymore.
The chicken tenders taste
exactly like chicken tenders
and the green beans swim
in salty goop. A sign on the wall
says “over 300 years ago, seven
distinctive culinary traditions came
together to create THE uniquely American
cuisine.” They must mean the chicken tender.
When it opened here, Popeye’s needed
a rent-a-cop to direct drive-thru traffic
as visored employees clipboarded the line.
Tonight is calmer: quiet zydeco burbles
punctured by a manager who aced
the training session about shouting.
Something in the book I’m reading makes me
miss Aunt Pat. When she was alive, I was
picky. A strict chicken tendertarian. I wish
I could explain to her that I like fancy
restaurants now, like she did, that I’m sorry
I dragged her to so many Burger Kings
and Popeye’s. And I do. But I’m still
called guest 138. These are the places
I actually went with her, not the places
I wish I could’ve. Aunt Pat had taste,
but what I thought was good
was good enough for her.
Animal style: mustard patty,
extra spread, griddled onions.
Baby style: all over the floor.
Toddler style: negotiating a cocoa
in exchange for three more bites
then storing the bites in-mouth
until the cocoa arrives, then spitting out
all the bites. See also: chipmunk style.
Martha style: some kind of experiment
in finding the perfect In-N-Out order
which ends up being lots of single
veggies in wax paper bags. She should
give up— the double-double animal style
the LeBron James of fast food burgers—
the best ever, and not available in Ohio.
California Style: stop for potty later
at the Jelly Belly factory, where the pizzas
are jellybean-shaped and jellybeans can taste
like donuts and “Nasty Girl” plays
in the caseload room where fart beans
are on closeout. Then south to Oakland.
Watch the hills turn Windows XP green
and play Fleetwood Mac loud enough
to get the kids to sleep. Absorb it—
this is the extra spread to put
on the Culvers-at-best life which awaits
after leaving California and these kids again.
Nostalgia style: I miss my Double Double
before I even take a bite. I know babies
become toddlers, toddlers become kids,
friends become long distance friends,
burgers become slimy wax paper
crumbles: never break the chain.
Online I see
a picture of nuggets.
A caption: “I’m in love
with the shape of you.” How
many nugget shapes are there?
Two? or three? I’m in love with
her (pregnant) and me (had a few), in
the drive through line because we both
have a silly craving for nuggets but for
different reasons. Remember when
sweet and sour sauce was round like a
belly? I love her in any shape. Oh, we
are going to be parents. My parents
sometimes didn’t want to cook, took us
on a fast food cruise of different drive-
thrus instead. Are we going to do this?
I don’t want to, if only because
I don’t want this—nuggets
in the dark, me drunk
and her rolling
It could be my last quiet night: I’m off work
at four, your mom is in class until nine. 37 weeks.
All day I look forward to hours of empty house
then I’m there and the whole place itches. I go
not home but the place that tries so hard to feel like it.
As always, the rifle hangs over the fireplace. As always
the bathroom is under the stoplight. A sign in there
says “do not leave baby unattended.” Good advice
is everywhere these days. As always, the receipt
printer spits out my seat. As always I order the same
and it’s the same delicious as always. No, earthquake—
I don’t dread your arrival. I’m in awe of your power
to alter, to knock the world’s rocking chairs out of line.
That you’ll disarray even a place so perfectly same.
From El Dorado Freddy’s by Danny Caine and Tara Wray. Used with the permission of Belt Publishing. “Popeye’s,” “Cracker Barrel,” and “In-n-Out” previously appeared in Hobart. Photos by Tara Wray.