November 12, 2009
In-N-Out Burger: Etymology of a Burger Chain
When I first heard about In-n-Out Burger, I assumed it was a gay burger chain.
I think it was the word "out" that threw me. And the California thing. Whatever the reason, for the longest time I just thought of In-n-Out burger as "that popular California gay burger chain." Like Lambda, the gay and lesbian bookstore on Connecticut Ave in DC, or the now-defunct Food Bar in Chelsea. (Actually, like just about every bar in Chelsea.)
It wasn't until last month, when on our visit to San Francisco, BFF Matt and Reamonn (both Bay Area natives) took a few of us to In-N-Out Burger for the very first time. While walking into the place, I mentioned that my brother and his Marine buddies had all been huge fans of the burgers when he was stationed in Camp Pendleton near San Diego. This was followed with a statement about the irony of it and a reference to "Don't Ask. Don't Tell," when finally, one of my friends turned around and asked me what the hell I was babbling about.
"You know," I said. "Because of the gay thing? In and out...of the closet?"
And while I was still saying it, just before everyone around me burst out laughing, I realized how incredibly wrong I was. In-N-Out was not, as I'd always thought, a clever and slightly risque name for a gay burger chain, but rather a much more literal (and logical) reference to fast food.
Etymology failed me twice that day; as the wait for our burgers was actually quite lengthy. At least it gave the locals the chance to educate us on the "secret menu" so that when my turn finally came up I knew enough to order my burger and fries "animal style." (Or slathered in a pink mayo-ketchup pickle onion sauce situation.)
Unfortunately--and if I haven't already offended a third of my reading public, I'm probably about to with this next statement--I didn't like it. The burger was fine, but didn't taste that much different than a Big Mac. My real issue was with the fries, which I found bland and lacking the bold flavor I usually crave from crisped potatoes and hot salt.
The locals tried to defend their hometown favorite. "It's supposed to be healthier," explained BFF Matt. "They use healthy oils." We (read: the East coasters) just weren't buying it.
"I think that's the problem" I replied, but it was really Eugene's face that said it best:
*For the past two weeks, whenever I remind Eugene that I have to get a post up before I can go to sleep, he replies "Oh just post a picture of me and come to bed." And so I did.