Plain Hamburgers

By Michael J. Legeros

"Never go through the drive-thru..."
       - Joe Pesci, Lethal Weapon 2

Thank you for paying for part of my hamburger.  I know, it's only
a half- or quarter-cent, but I appreciate the gesture.  Not that
you necessarily had a choice.  Those precious partial cents have
been added to cover the cost of the hamburgers thrown away every
time I go through a drive-thru.  See, I like my patties plain.  No
ketchup.  No lettuce.  No cheese.  And *positively* no pickle.
Nada, nothing, nyet.  (See also: Zip, zero, bupkiss.)  Yup, just
wheat and meat.  Bun and bovine.  Over and udder.  Sesame and top-
ping-free.  Ergo, e.g., meaning that that means "plain."  In fact,
arguably, and maybe even possibly, the quintessential *definition*
of "plain."  And, yet, the word isn't even *spoken* at most fast-
food places.  (For the purposes of dis essay, presume that these
comments also apply to charcoal-cooked hamburger chains, even
though they don't because I don't like nor have I ever liked char-
coal-grilled burgers.)

Here's what typically happens at the drive-thru:

  Clerk: "May I take your order?"

  Mike:  "Yes.  I would like a plain hamburger please.  Plain.
          No cheese."

  Clerk: "Would you like to super-bigger-extra-Rosie size it?"

  Mike:  "No thank you."

  Clerk: "Will there be anything else?"

  Mike:  "May I have a million dollars?"

Fast-forward 1.36 minutes and I'm handed a foil-wrapped burger
that, two times out of three, has cheese.  Or, worse, "the works."
(Gads, how *do* people eat nasty, swirled-together, everything-
touching-everything-else foods?)  Mind you, I'm still idling at
the window at this point, as I've learned to perform the ritual
strip-search *before* I drive away.  (His breathing grew shallow
as he gently pulled back her buns to reveal...)  So, I wave or rap
the glass or politely holler "Excuse me, I ordered a *plain* ham-
burger.  No cheese."  (This point in the scenario is the funniest,
when the clerk unwraps the burger *again*, verifying that, yes, we
have a confirmed cheese sighting.)  Finally, three or four extra
minutes later, the correct order is served.  Sans apology.  Mike
pulls away.

Were I statistically inclined, I might wonder if this phenomenon
was measurable using particular indicators.  Such as geography.
Maybe Southern/Tar Hell/Wake County/Raleigh/North Raleigh fast-
food workers have a different definition of "plain" than the rest
of the world?  Or, perhaps the phenom is related to, say, a cer-
tain brand of intercom system, one that transforms "plain" into
something sounding like "put some cheese on it, too."  Or, maybe
it's nothing more complicated than the average amount of damn-giv-
ing by an employee, as crossed with age, salary, number of tattoos
and/or piercings, or amount of grief given by their equally under-
paid supervisor.  No, no, nope, and no.  I've been sending burgers
back for *decades* and even *before* I was a two-Quarter-Pounder-
with-two-larger-fries-and-a-milkshake-ordering growing boy in Min-
netonka, MN.  (And, no, the phrase "a hamburger with nothing on
it" doesn't work any better.  They simply reply "does that include

Is there a work-around?  Well, I *have* noticed fewer botched ord-
ers at drive-thrus with text screens.  (I keep repeating my order
until the electronically displayed words "plain" and "no cheese"
appear.)  Printed signs are a possibility, I suppose, perhaps pre-
tending that I was mute.  (See also: "politically incorrect.")  Or
maybe even a phony illness!  "Hello. I'm afflicted with plainitis
and require special accommodation."  Hmmmmmmm.  No, that wouldn't
work either.  They'd just snap back "oh, another person with pain-
intheassitis."  I suppose the only sensible solution is the obvi-
ous one-- talk into the microphone as slowly and clearly as pos-
sible.  "Hel. Lo. One. Plain. Ham. Burger. Please. No. Cheese.
Just. Meat. And. Bun. Thank. You. Oh. And. I'll. Be. Back."  (One
word of caution.  The aforementioned, down-talking strategy does
*not* work terribly well when ordering in *person*.  Plus, you'll
kicked in the shin if you're dining with a female.)

Barring either (a.) the spontaneous tolerance of touching foods in
Yours Picky or (b.) a mass alien mow-coo abduction with resulting
worldwide adoption of ishy veggie burgers, it looks like I'm des-
tined to keep sending my Happy Meals back.  "'cuse me, I ordered
this plain."  Rinse and repeat.  And, eh, I can live with that.
Considering that my average consumption of Surly Served Fried Beef
(SSFB) is but a couple times a week, it's a minor, Andy Rooney-
esque annoyance at best.  Just a few more, minor minutes, really,
in a life *already* conveniently shorted by That Thing Called
Cholesterol.  (See also:  Ben, Jerry, Ice Cream, New York Super
Fudge Chunk Chip).  So, my mystified, meat-eating friends, thank
you again for pitching in.  Thanks for contributing that extra
half- or quarter-cent, even if it meant going without a gumball
that week.  It's the thought that counts.

Copyright 2000 by Michael J. Legeros


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