THE PURSUIT OF LIGHTLY-BREADED HAPPINESS

Sometimes a sandwich is not just a sandwich.

McChicken
(photo: the sandwich that changed my life)

“Hello, my name is Abraheezee, and I’m a Chicken Sandwich Addict.”

I’ve never been to rehab, but if I did this would for sure be my first-day introduction. And I know that this powerful, inspiring confession would be met with the same energy that Dave Chappelle’s main character Thurgood Jenkins in the 1998 classic Half Baked received when he bravely stood before a room full of recovering addicts and triumphantly confessed his addiction to weed:

Rehab patient: Aww HAIL NAW! You in here for some chicken sandwiches?! CHICKEN SANDWICHES?! Man, this is some BULLSHIT!
Bob Saget: Chicken sandwiches are not a drug. I used to **** **** for coke.

I’ve never been an alcohol dude nor a drug dude, but my drug of choice since about the age of 8 years old has been chicken sandwiches.

That’s right. Weird thing to hear, right? Believe me…it’s a weird thing to say:

I AM A CHICKEN SANDWICH ADDICT.

Think I’m joking? If I were joking, would I be able to share that a full-figured buddy of mine from my old job and I laid down an entire six episodes of a never-to-be heard podcast called “Secret Chicken Sandwiches” where we talked about the mental math behind a lifetime of pulling up to drive-thru window after drive-thru window time and time again–even when we damn well knew better–only to do lightly-breaded harm to ourselves?

Yes, exactly. That’s how deep this goes.

But before we get to this quest that has been my pursuit of the perfect chicken sandwich, allow me to quickly take you (I’m talking to the 30+ crew here) back into the joyful room full of chiptune soundtracks and weird musty smells from our childhood known as the video game arcade.

Pole Position
(photo: the 1983 NAMCO arcade classic “Pole Position”)

If you’re over the age of 35 you most likely remember the arcade classic Pole Position. It was a NAMCO game that hit the streets in 1983 (the year before I was born), and by the time I was tall enough to stand on a pizza parlor dining room chair to reach the controls I was fully enamored.

Pole Position was one of the games that you could count on being the focal point of any arcade or any pizza place with an even halfway-decent arcade set-up. And for you youngsters believe me when I tell you that this game was HARD. The objective of the game was for you to fly in an 8-bit race car down a narrow, constantly-curving, hazard-filled 2-lane road all the while chasing a seemingly never-ending horizon until you either 1) crashed, 2) ran out of time, or 3) advanced to the next race. And even if you were a true wizard at this game (according to what I’ve researched on YouTube), that dumb horizon still looked the same the entire time no matter how deep into the game you progressed. You might see a mountain. Or a hill. Or a mountain-shaped hill. Or maybe if you were lucky you might see the Golden Gate Bridge (I never had such luck but I’ve heard tales of such luck…again, via YouTube). By today’s standards it’s a rather boring game. I imagine the developers put such little effort into the objects that crested over that forever horizon as a way of telling us “just keep your eyes on the road, kid.”

Now that I really sit and reflect upon it, this game was not good at all. You can’t quantify the amount of grief and anguish this game gave me in exchange for my 25-cent investment time and time again. But for some stupid reason I always thought that THIS was going to be the day that I conquered that horizon.

It never happened. But dammit, I tried. In the arcade parlance of our times (shouts to The Dude) this game was a true “quarter eater”. A battle never to be won. A dragon never to be slayed. If I was Wayne Campbell in Wayne’s World then this game was the arcade version of the sign in the guitar shop that read “No Stairway to Heaven.” And when that “GAME OVER” title screen finally hit my eyeline for the final time that day because I either ran out of quarters or my Pops said it was time to go home, I would actually feel relieved. Not because I had achieved any great feat or reached a new apex of greatness. To be frank, I never knew what the hell my high score ever was anyway. I just knew that I was tired of chasing that same fucking horizon time after time with no feeling of forward progress nor achievement at the end of putting yet another eight of my dad’s quarters into that machine (he usually cut me off at $2 like a wise pit boss in a casino). And yet somehow–like a moth to a flame–there I would be the very next time we went to pick up a pizza, squaring up to that big box of 8-bit sights and sounds for the umpteenth time chasing the same dumb horizon with the same dumb results.

The reason I share this story about Pole Position is to tell you that for the majority of my life I have had a very similar relationship with chicken sandwiches.

That is, until today.

New McChicken
(photo: “price and participation may vary” as in “I won’t be participating in buying this terrible sandwich thankyouverymuch”)

Do you remember the old McDonald’s McChicken sandwich? Not this wack imitator (see the photo above) that they currently try to pass off as a worthy successor. I’m talking about the old late-80s era, beautiful, bountiful Original McChicken sandwich that arrived on the scene around 1989 with its perfect sesame seed bun, slightly tangy mayo, iceberg lettuce cut into small squares, and a meaty chicken patty bursting with flavors that I’ve never seen another chicken patty match no matter how hard they try (scroll all the way up to the top of this confessional to peep a picture of said chicken greatness or peep the actual commercial that signaled the start of a new era)

This sandwich was life-changing, man.

I can’t even describe what this sandwich did to my tastebuds and—more importantly—how it embedded itself in the deepest recesses of my memory. I mean I guess you can probably imagine how otherworldly this sandwich was given that I’m here some 28 years later explaining to you how this sandwich changed the trajectory of my life. But this was lightly-breaded joy on a bun. And at a $1.99 price point, I was planning on the two of us having a long-lasting relationship where–with my modest earnings from a lifetime as Richard Grieco’s stunt double–I would easily be able to enjoy a couple of these sandwiches every day for both lunch and dinner (and I know you’re probably wondering about what I would eat for breakfast, to which the obvious answer is an Egg McMuffin with a hashbrown–or two–on the side)

Now before we go any further allow me to put some context around where I was in life when the McChicken McChanged me forever. Although these may sound like the forlorn musings of a man who was gainfully employed at the time of discovering this $1.99 paper-wrapped piece of perfection, you are sadly mistaken. No, dear reader, these are the lightly-breaded memories of a chubby 3rd grader who at the time had a “Top 3 Things in Life” list that consisted of this $1.99 chicken sandwich, the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, and my Bobby Brown “On Our Own” cassette single that comprised 50% of my music collection at the time (Another Bad Creation’s “Iesha” cassette single comprising the other half of said collection).

Now at this point in our journey, how many McChicken sandwiches would you guess I have consumed in the entire course of my life? Or more specifically, how many of this original beloved version did I consume before they changed the recipe sometime in the late 90s, ruined the sandwich forever, and inadvertently set me out on a lifelong quest to find that same flavor high in the form of other lesser sandwiches?

I don’t know the exact number, but my safe guess is that I probably had it no more than five or six times.

That’s it.

I know it sounds nuts. An entire life’s work fueled by the memory of five to six sandwiches. But hey, the heart wants what the heart wants.

Now as I can confirm that I only ever had five to six of that original late-80s version of the McChicken sandwich, I can tell you that I’ve definitely consumed over 400 chicken sandwiches–all unworthy imitators–over the course of the last 20 years that I have been a part of the workforce and able to buy my own sandwiches with my own dollars (for those keeping score at home: 400 sandwiches divided by 20 years = a 20-sandwich-per-year average…although 2011 was definitely the peak of that line graph as I was super under the gun on the job and made way too many secret post-work trips to the drive-thru for a chicken sandwich aperitif on my way home where my wonderful and unknowing wife was at the same time prepping an entire feast of a dinner).

400 sandwiches of anything–not just chicken–is a nutty number. But I don’t think it’s that bad. There’s gotta be some dude in some far corner of the internet who has bested that number. But yeah, this isn’t exactly a number I’d be proud of listing in my Twitter or Instagram bio. Suffice it to say I have more than done my part to help sustain the chicken sandwich economy.

So now that you know I experienced that “one true” McChicken sandwich 5-6 times and its imitators around 400 times, you’re probably wondering where these 400 bummer sandwiches have come from. Here’s the list:

  1. Burger King’s Original Chicken Sandwich
    • shaped like a skateboard, floppy bread, definitely needs mustard and ketchup to get any flavor going
    • I think this one has been the most frequent for me because it has the largest surface area of the bunch…that’s right, I’ve had it the most because it’s the biggest of the group…and if you know anything about Latinos, we love feeling like we’re getting a deal
  2. Wendy’s Dollar Menu Crispy Chicken Sandwich
    • tiny patty, weird bun, way too much lettuce
    • this one is second on the stat sheet in terms of frequency mainly because it was usually consumed as one flower in a bouquet of an order that usually also included several of the following: chicken nuggets, Biggie Fries, baked potato, Double Stack, Frostee, Junior Bacon Cheeseburger
  3. Chick-Fil-A’s Classic Chicken Sandwich
    • also a weird bun, batter is too sweet, never enough pickles even when I ask for extra pickles
    • these weirdos refuse to add mayonnaise, mustard, ketchup, or any other sauce to their sandwiches for some odd reason….so they always give me everything on the side and now I’ve gotta pull over into some parking lot and dial in the sauce mixture on my own ever so cautiously like I’m in Breaking Bad in the RV cooking with Walter White and Jesse Pinkman out in the middle of the desert
    • I haven’t had as many years with this sandwich but the body count is still super high…probably due to there being a Chick-Fil-A like 3 minutes from the crib, it’s on the way to/from my brother-in-law’s house where I’m usually headed/coming from hanging with the nephews, their drive-thru service is always on-point, and their waffle fries alone are worth the price of admission
  4. Raising Caine’s Chicken Sandwich
    • just three huge tenders on a bun with way too much corn flour dust, no sauce, and leafy Romaine lettuce that is always too wet for some reason
    • my wife loves this place so this is what I cop when we go there…ahh, the sacrifices we make for the ones we love…
  5. Carl’s Jr. Spicy Crispy Chicken Sandwich
    • hella spice but no flavor (if that makes sense), bun tastes like a keychain shaped like a bun, and their mayo has a weird consistency
  6. KFC’s Crispy Colonel Sandwich
    • I’ve only had this one like 3 times since I just heard about this sandwich about two months back thanks to a YouTube rabbit hole that I stumbled into, and this is by far the most laughable of the bunch, but it merited mentioning as the chicken straight up tasted like the dude at the window yelled to his crew “YO, WE GOT ANY SANDWICHES LEFT OVER FROM LAST NIGHT? YEAH? GO AHEAD AND HEAT THAT SHIT UP IN THE MICROWAVE FOR THIS GUY THEN!” before asking me for my $4.37 in exchange for my wack-ass sandwich
    • as I mentioned above, like an idiot I have purchased this sandwich three times…so ultimately it is I and not the sandwich that is laughable here (insert clown emoji)

As you can guess, none of these sandwiches were The One. None of them took me to that same happy place that I knew existed. But I kept on eating them time and time again, somehow hoping that THIS time things were going to be different compared to my last trip. Like Young Abraheezee stepping up that Pole Position arcade game I kept pulling up to drive-thru window after drive-thru window, handing over my money, and chasing that challenging chicken horizon in hopes of one day reaching the promised land.

I was tired of the games, man. I just wanted to fall in love again.

And then the Popeyes Chicken Sandwich arrived on the scene with the promise of making dreams come true. This was going to be it. I thought I could never love like this again, but the internet hype train had me believing that I was about to finally land in a committed relationship with an otherworldly chicken sandwich that would be there for me no matter what, for better or worse, through good times and bad, in sickness and in health, until the cotdamn wheels fell off.

Popeyes Chicken Sandwich
(photo: The Neo of Chicken Sandwiches as this was supposed to be “The One”)

I really thought this Popeyes sandwich was The One, man. I would look at pictures of it on my Instagram timeline or on my Twitter timeline and hear Jagged Edge’s “Let’s Get Married” in my head:

See first of all
I know these so-called playas wouldn’t tell you this
But I’ma be real and say what’s on my heart
Let’s take this chance and make this love feel relevant
Didn’t you know I loved you from the start, yeah
When I think about all these years we put in this relationship
Who knew we’d make it this far?
When I think about where we would I be if we were to just fall apart
And I just can’t stand the thought of leaving you
Meet me in the altar in your white dress
We ain’t getting no younger, we might as well do it
Been feeling all the while girl I must confess
Girl let’s just get married
I just wanna get married

When the Popeyes sandwich first dropped in August 2019, I hit the streets twice with zero success. To be more specific, let me Tarantino this for you:

TWO DAYS PRIOR TO THE OFFICIAL RELEASE DATE
9:33am: my man Danny hits the group chat with insider information that the sandwich dropped early in L.A. because his buddy just sent him a photo of his receipt and his sandwich
9:37am: Danny sends the group chat a copy of said photo as proof
9:44am: I get dressed in a flurry looking NUTS in my basketball shorts, a hoodie, and Crocs and purposefully jog to my car the same way that Al Pacino purposefully jogs out of the precinct in the third act of the 1995 classic Heat when his squad gets a tip that DeNiro and his crew are about to pull a job at the Far East National Bank at 11:30
10:02am: I arrive at the Atlantic Avenue Popeyes with no line of cars to battle, feeling like the smartest man in Long Beach since apparently no one else got the same insider information that I received, only to have the dude on the other end of the speakerbox tell me that the sandwich isn’t dropping for a couple more days.
10:03am: I take my goofy ass back home.

A COUPLE OF DAYS LATER (THE OFFICIAL RELEASE DAY)
9:37am: I’m out the door, headed to the Hawaiian Gardens location and feeling good about my chances since they don’t even open until 10:00am.
9:50am: I arrive on the scene and the line is already about 50 deep. There’s not even a damn place to park. I ask a dude near the front of the line “My G, how long you been waiting?” He says he’s been there since 7:30am. Nah, fam, I’m not doing that. Well at least not today.
9:51am: I take my goofy ass back home.

I was too slow on the draw. It wasn’t meant to be. You gotta be sharp in this chicken sandwich game, and my lack of focus made it apparent that I was a sheep among wolves. No problem though. I’m not a Drake fan, but I recognize God’s Plan when I see it. I was cool to wait for however long it took Popeyes to get their shit together with their supply chain over the next couple of months. In the meantime I had plenty to keep me busy as I just kept playing over and over in my mind how this sandwich was finally going to be a return to the same level of greatness that had been eluding my tastebuds for all these years.

Sure enough Popeyes got their thing together and the long-awaited re-up came in November. Alas, I got caught slipping again. Attempt #3 at that same Hawaiian Gardens location was a fail. Then attempt #4 (same location) was a fail. Finally I had enough of the Hawaiian Gardens location and decided to try my luck at the Artesia Boulevard location. SUCCESS. Well, kind of. After all that hype, all my dreaming, and all those months of reading internet ramblings about how mind-blowing this sandwich was, here I was simply not arriving at those same emotional heights within my first couple of bites. It’s all good though. Everyone has an off day. I figured that maybe they switched suppliers since the initial August run, or maybe the crew that I encountered was just overwhelmed and not hitting the mark like they could were it less busy. I’m a patient dude when it comes to matters of the heart. So I hit the pause button and decided to wait it out a few more months.

Fast forward to today. My wife and I stopped by her brother’s crib to drop off some Wienerschnitzel for my nephews and niece (their favorite), they each had to tell us one joke before we handed over their corn dogs and Freezee, and then we dipped out in search of our own lunch.

It just so happens that my brother-in-law lives right around the corner from the Artesia Boulevard Popeyes, and I felt like enough time had passed to where I was ready to give this sandwich a second chance.

Me: Babes, Popeyes is around the corner. Can we pop in?
Cil: (eye roll and a hearty sigh) Yeah, fine, babes. I mean I think it’s dumb to wait in line for a damn sandwich. But yeah, we can go.

The line wasn’t too bad, my wife heckled me the entire time like she was Don Rickles and I was a schmuck willing to wait 30 minutes for a sandwich, we finally got to the front of the car line, “secured the football” (word to my brother Big B), and 31 minutes after our journey began we were on our way home with a bag of three chicken sandwiches, a side of red beans and rice (the only thing my wife will actually eat from their menu), and the promise of this new chapter in my life that was about to begin in the next handful of minutes. This was it. Redemption time. Hall & Oates’ “YOU MAAAAAKE MY DREEEEEAMS COME TRUUUUE” played in my head. This was going to be the sandwich of my dreams, my longing was about to be finally over, my life was about to be changed a second time (well a third time if you include the original McChicken, meeting my wife, and then this Popeyes sandwich), and I was about to have a new gold standard for chicken sandwich excellence.

We went upstairs, washed our hands (as we do 27 times a day in these Days of The Rona), Cil ate her red beans and rice, and I laid out my sandwiches like a kid on Christmas deciding which beautifully-wrapped gift was going to be the lucky one to get unwrapped first.

Me: (takes several bites)

Me: (stares off into the universe)

Me: (waits a few seconds)

Me: (takes another bite)

Me: (waits a few more seconds)

DAMMIT.

Nothing.

No magic.

No feeling.

No burst of flavor.

No tears of joy.

No tastebuds pop-locking in approval.

I had wandered through the desert headed towards what I thought was an oasis of flavor only to unwrap that half-paper, half-foil packaging and realize I had been running toward a mirage. This was not the pollo party I had prepared for.

And now I got to thinking.

What the hell could it be? Was everyone on the internet wrong? There’s no way! People who I had never seen give a fast food item this much love were giving this sandwich wave after wave of props. My peoples who I consider family wouldn’t stop raving in the group chat about this damn sandwich. My buddy FWMJ even made two shirts (one for the winners, one for the losers) when the sandwich dropped last August poking fun at how the streets were hunting down this sandwich the same way that sneakerheads chase down rare Jordan sneaker releases via Nike’s SNRKS app.

There’s no way that this many people I respect could be this wrong.

Has Popeyes in general stopped caring about quality control on this sandwich now that the hype has died down? Were my tastebuds broken? It couldn’t be any of these things. On paper, the three sandwiches laid out before me (yes, three…I told you I have a problem) were a proper intersection of ingredients. The bread had a perfect consistency—slightly buttered, a little crispy, and not soggy at all like a Chick-Fil-A bun. The chicken was ample, crunchy, and super juicy. The pickles had a perfect vinegary sourness. And the mayo had an eggy middle note with the slightest top note of tanginess.

But it still paled in comparison to the love that I had lost and longed for all these years.

At this point my Filipina genius/life coach/wife is laughing at me and my look of utter confusion. Seeing an opportunity to help me find the light in the darkness, she offers up the perfect bouquet of questions to help me find my way out of this cave of confusion:

Cil: (laughing) You okay there, buddy? You look lost!
Me: What do you mean?
Cil: This sandwich. This is the second time you’ve had it and you didn’t like it just like the first time. And then you keep talking about that old McDonald’s sandwich that no one remembers.
Me: People remember that sandwich.
Cil: (laughing) Who? People on Reddit?
Me: Yes, exactly. I’m not the only one who remembers. But that’s not the point.
Cil: Do you have some kind of special memory of that sandwich? Because you love it and always talk about it like some kind of weirdo…but it’s also a McDonald’s sandwich, so I don’t know how good it could have possibly been.
Me: (long pause)
Me: Yeah. You’re right. Now that I think about it there is one memory. I’m like 9 or 10 years old. It’s me and my Mom sitting in the second row in the second booth of the Montebello McDonald’s right around the corner from our apartment. I can see the exact booth in my head. My Mom gets a McChicken. I get a McChicken. We share an order of fries. I think she let me get an apple pie too. And I don’t even remember why it was just the two of us having an early dinner without my little sister nor my Pops on that day. But for whatever reason there we were just enjoying our meal with nowhere in particular that we had to be. I don’t even remember what we talked about that day. But I know it was a happy day.
Cil: Ahh, okay.
Me: I mean, you know, babes…like I’ve told you, most of my happy memories with my family revolve around us eating. But this is one of the rare memories I have of just me and my Mom eating by ourselves. And it’s a happy memory on top of that. So it’s clear as day in my head. But that’s nuts. I hadn’t thought about it all these years until you randomly asked and it all snapped into focus.
Cil: There, see? Maybe you’re just chasing that memory, babes.
Me: Yeah. What a trip.
Cil: So no more waiting in line for lame chicken sandwiches, babes…okay?
Me: Yeah I think I’m over it now. Especially since you cracked the code here.
Cil: (glaring suspiciously at me)
Me: I’m still gonna go there for Egg McMuffins and hashbrowns though.
Cil: (eye roll) I knew it.
Me: No no it’s all good! I don’t even go there that often if it’s not for breakfast. And they just stopped serving breakfast all day, so you don’t have to worry.
Cil: Jeezus, babes, why do you even know that information?!

Hello, my name is Abraheezee, and I am a former Chicken Sandwich Addict.

Me and Cil 1
(photo: me and my life coach/genius wife headed to Henderson, NV and stopping for zero chicken sandwiches along the way)

4 Comments

    1. Man, that’s an interesting point, and now that you mention it I wouldn’t be surprised if it was pink slime since I’ve never had real chicken that tasted that good! And it was the early 90s so you know they’d allow that pink slime to go down with no problem!

      Liked by 1 person

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