GIMME 5 WITH SAKE 1

Gimme 5 Sake One
(photo: the good brother Sake 1)

For this first session of ‘Gimme 5!’ we have the Bay Area’s own DJ extraordinaire, community organizer, man of the people, my big brother, and all-around good dude Sake 1 joining us to get down with the get-down.

Okay, ladies and gentlemen, I present to you….our inaugural run of The Fives….

Top 5 SF Nightlife Moments
1. DJ STEF (RIP) told me she was at tha Palladeum one night in 1980 or 1981 and tha DJ played “Give it To Me Baby” by Rick James but it sounded like a remix or edited version so she went over to tha DJ booth to ask tha DJ what it was and Rick James was standing on top of tha DJ booth singing live. I wasn’t there obviously but I still gotta make shit #1
2. 15 years old shooting pool with Cindy from En Vogue and Dwayne Wiggins from Tony! Toni! Tone! at Mr. Fives, tha greatest party in SF history
3. San Quinn album release at Justice League when J Rich got shot in tha head 3 feet away from me and I left tha party with blood and brain matter all over my clothes (RIP J Rich) Not a good memory but a strong one
4. Cream of Beat, best hip-hop party in Bay Area history
5. My first DJ set after this got damn quarantine!!!

Top 5 Things Young Sake Would Get Into As A Yute
1. Tagging
2. Boosting
3. Making mixtapes for girls I was too scared to actually talk to
4. Skating (very badly)
5. Drinking 40s and 64s of malt liquor (sad face)

Top 5 Things About Being A DJ
1. Getting paid to immerse yourself in music (!!)
2. Getting paid to immerse other people in music
3. Traveling the world to play music
4. Getting dope music before tha rest of tha world gets it
5. Working with musicians and helping them become star

Top 5 Nicknames You’ve Earned Over The Years
1. People think I’m an asshole so although no one says it to my face I am sure ASSHOLE is probably #1
2. Hot Steffer by Matthew Africa RIP
3. Tha nickname my mom gave me which I will never ever ever EVERRR tell
4. Weezy Moe (everyone from Fillmoe gets a MOE as part of they name at some point in they life)
5. Unetra (adoption of Sake Uno), given to me by Duer1 TDK

Top 5 Bay Area Slang Words
1. Hella (a word tha whole world uses now)
2. Hyphy (also a world tha whole world knows)
3. Blood (I often have to moderate my very regular usage of this word when I travel to LA and other places)
4. Tuna or Can (real Fillmoe slang)
5. “It’s up” meaning you bout to get yo ass beat

Top 5 Spots To Post Up And Take In The Sights and Sounds Of The City
1. Bernal Hill RIP Alex Nieto
2. Edge of Treasure Island next to/under east span of Bay Bridge
3. Yerba Buena Island (numerous spots)
4. Grizzly Peak (Tilden Park, Berkeley)
5. Twin Peaks

Top 5 Cars You’ve Photographed In The City
1. Any of unc Roberto Hernandez’s cars
2. 1988 Monte Carlo SS
3. 72 Chevelle SS with tha gold candy paint (don’t know owner)
4. Tha pickup full of brake discs at House of Brakes on 24th and South Van Ness
5. My first car, sky blue 1988 Ford Grenada

Top 5 Things About Mission Culture
Not a native of tha Mission so probably not qualified to speak, but as a resident I appreciate:
1. Tha way culture is largely oriented around tha street, rather than businesses or homes
2. Tha resistance which is deep rooted here because so many here come from liberation struggles in Latin and Central America, its very normal to talk to an old lady who has an FMLN bracelet or tshirt on
3. Tha weather, its usually sunny and ALWAYS 3-5 degrees warmer than tha rest of SF
4. There is more mural/graffiti/public art here than in any other neighborhood on tha planet
5. Tha food, naturally

Top 5 Things About Being Everyone’s Dad
1. Tha love I get from all my children all over tha world
2. Coming home from work and having one of my children get my slippers and evening newspaper for me
3. Tha adoption process itself, which I have grown to love after adopting over 5,000 children
4. I get so many presents on Father’s Day!!!!
5. Knowing my legacy is intact (sarcasm font)

Top 5 Electronic Communication Devices Of All-Time
1. Motorola Timeport
2. OG Nextel Sprint chirp flip phones mainly because they was so sturdy you could use them as a weapon
3. T-Mobile Sidekick 1
4. Blackberry
5. Palm Pilot (Dope Wars games use to be LITTT)

Top 5 Reasons To Not Check Your Voicemail
1. BC Who cares
2. Anyone who leaves me a voice mail obvs doesnt know me very well so how important could it be
3. Usually its bad news
4. Major Anxiety, NOS
5. Because its probably another Top 5 prompt from Uncle Abe

Top 5 Bay Area Anthems That You’d Play If Aliens Arrived And Said “BLEEP BLOOP BLEEP BLOOP…PUT ME UP ON GAME, BLOOD…BLEEP BLOOP”
1. San Quinn, “Shock the Party”
2. Cellski “Livin in tha Bay”
3. Young Ed, “Everyday Thang”
4. The Team, “Hyphy Juice” Remix
5. “10K” Bosslife Big Spence

Top 5 Organizations Doing Great Things In SF That People Should Pay Attention To And Support
1. Coalition on Homelessness
2. HOMIE
3. Grocery Outlet
4. ROAR-ARA
5. CFD

Top 5 Niner Gang Alumni Of All-Time
(PERSONAL FAV LIST)
1. Ronnie Lott
2. Keena Turner
3. Jessie Sapolu
4. Steve Young
5. Jerry Rice

Top 5 Giants Of All-Time
1. Willie Mays
2. Barry Bonds
3. Tim Lincecum
4. Willie McCovey
5. Chili Davis

Top 5 Best Things About Mom and Pops
1. They care about other people as much as they care about themselves
2. Open minded
3. They come get me when I get arrested (usually)
4. Good conversationalists
5. Optimistic

Top 5 Late-Night Grub Spots
1. My house
2. Yo bitch house
3. Yo bitch bitch house
4. New Karibbean City
5. Grubsteak

Top 5 Non-Vampire Hours Grub Spots
1. Butcher’s Son
2. Golden Lotus
3. Tadich Grill
4. Shan Dong
5. Parents house

Top 5 Tightest Things About Being Outside
1. Sunshine
2. Moonlight
3. Good Times
4. Boogie
5. x

Top 5 Sneakers
1. Jordan 3 Black Cement
2. Jordan 1 Bred
3. White Chuck Taylor high tops
4. Forgot tha model name but tha tan colored Adidas in tha 90s that had tha interchangeable color sock liners — IF ANYONE REMEMBERS THA MODEL PLEASE HOLLA I DEF WANNA TRY TO TRACK DOWN A PAIR
5. Nike Air Darwin

Top 5 Things You’re Most Appreciative For
1. Ancestors & Angels
2. Tha health and safety of my family
3. San Francisco
4. Resistance
5. Abraham Beltran

THANK YOU, DR. QUIK

How a covert mission back in 2002 may have saved the musical word from sadness.

DJ Quik
(photo: The Greatest)

There’s a moment near the end of the “Visualism” documentary about the life and sounds of DJ Quik where the filmmaker Devin DeHaven catches Dan Aykroyd outside of the House of Blues and Aykroyd has the following gem to share:

“We’re here in the parking lot of the House of Blues listening to the funkdafied sounds of DJ…the MAN…DOCTOR Quik the MASTER. He has brought a great, great evening of rhythm and percussion to the House of Blues tonight. Any man who sees and knows that the roots of all of it is in James Brown–HE understands that–is welcome…in the House of Blues.”

Now granted, it’s safe to say that Mr. House of Blues himself (Aykroyd co-founded the chain of venues back in 1992) had been sipping a little something prior to them pressing the “record” button here, but you’d be foolish to the let his slightly-inebriated state lessen the importance of his message:

THE MAN BORN INTO THIS WORLD AS DAVID MARVIN BLAKE AND BETTER KNOWN TO MOST AS “DJ QUIK” IS A DOCTOR, MASTER, AND AN ABSOLUTE WIZARD WHEN IT COMES TO THIS MUSIC SHIT.

I’m sorry to get so worked up so damn early here but it has to be said.

THERE IS NO ONE TOUCHING THE QUIKSTA. NO ONE.

Now let me build a bit of context here. 100% of the reason why I started this site in the first place was to write about the music and food that matters to me, and Quik is at the top of that list for me (right next to pizza).

Having said that, I’m not here today to give you my magnum opus on the man, and to be fair I think that attempting to do so at any point would be extremely limiting. Quik has so many facets and so many little moments of wizardry throughout the course of his career as a producer, MC, and engineer that it’s way more fun to write 1,000 essays on these 1,000 beautiful pieces of the puzzle as opposed to trying to cover it all from front to back in one shot. So that’s what I’ll be doing here via The Sound Pantry as the weeks and months roll along…but that’s not what we’re here for today.

No, today we are here to talk about my work back in 2002 as a covert operative.

You: A covert operative? Like…like a spy?

That’s right. For a brief period of my life I served as a covert operative for a variety of unnamed organizations with the sole purpose of gathering intel on some of the most important moments in our musical history. What all were the missions that I was sent out on? What all were the tools and technology that they gave me to accomplish said missions? And most importantly, who was the mastermind behind this group of operatives that had been assembled?

That’s classified.

However, I can share with you the details of the lone mission that leaked to the public and was eventually declassified as a result (with the exception of the 3,200 words of the final report that remain redacted to this day):

MISSION #327: THE RETIREMENT OF DJ QUIK

You know how sometimes you’ll watch a military documentary or read the memoirs of special operative and end up learning about certain moments in history that—prior to your picking up that movie or book—you somehow knew nothing about?

This is one of those moments.

On September 21st, 2002 at the House of Blues on the Sunset Strip–that same House of Blues outside of which Dan Aykroyd professed his love for the Quiksta–the multi-faceted musical magician commonly referred to as “The One-Man Band” announced at the end of an otherworldly 2-hour performance that he was hanging it up for good.

That was it. He was done. Or to quote him directly:

“Yo…on the real tip…I got something to say…I’m 32 years old and I can’t be singing ‘Sweet Black *****’ all my life and especially now that I got a daughter…it’s time for me to be David Blake again.”

The crowd was stunned. He stepped further forward on the stage, looked like he was on the verge of tears, saluted his fans, slammed the microphone down on the stage (creating the nastiest feedback squeal as a result), and turned his back on both his crowd and his 11-year career of making musical magic.

The crowd began chanting “Quik! Quik! Quik!” for a solid 5 minutes, but it was no use. The man they had all come to see was gone into the wings of the backstage area–quite possibly for the last time ever–and I myself felt like a robot that just had his battery pack removed.

Remember that scene in Goodfellas where Tommy is going to get made, and Jimmy and Henry are in the diner so excited for him and for his big day, and then Jimmy goes to the payphone to check in on Tommy and in a terrible turn of events he finds out that Tommy didn’t get made but instead he got whacked? And in an instant Jimmy’s mood shifts from one of joy to one of utter hopelessness as he proceeds to beat the shit out of the phone booth like he’s Ryu in a Street Fighter Bonus Round because he’s so distraught?

That was me. I was Jimmy.

I didn’t even know how to process this information. The man whose sound has been so interwoven into the fabric of these first 18 years of my life was saying that he would create no new music.

All I had was memories now.

I mean, shit, Quik’s music was so cotdamn powerful that the ONE year I played basketball (8th grade…with my flattop haircut and my Tio-approved Nike Cross Trainers) we were at a tournament in Downey, warm-ups had just begun, the DJ started playing this song on the gym loudspeakers, my Pops looks at me from the stands and yells “MIJO!! ARE YOU HEARING THIS?!” (Pops ALWAYS stayed up on my music and knew the good stuff), and I went on this miraculous hot streak that had me standing beyond the arc and sinking what must have been like 15 three-point shots including an 8-in-a-row flurry that was unlike anything I had ever seen myself even do on the NERF hoop on the back of my bedroom door, much less on an actual court with a real basketball and a real 10-foot-high, regulation-sized hoop. In the interest of giving you the full picture let me also tell you that I was entirely drained by the end of this pre-game session, but it was all good as I would have plenty of time to rest during the game on the bench due to 1) my being built like Bobby Hill and 2) my having handles like Stanley in The Office most of the time with the exception of this lone flash of pre-game brilliance which I was convinced had left the entire gymnasium in awe.

This is the powerful effect that Quik’s music has had on me my whole life.

In an instant I went from Ray Romano to Ray Allen for the greatest 4 minutes and 57 seconds of my basketball career, and it wasn’t even during an actual game when it counted.

Now back to the moments immediately following this retirement bombshell being dropped.

I’m in the car on that long drive back from Hollywood (on a Friday night no less when the Sunset Strip cruisers were still out in full effect) all the way back to my family’s apartment in Montebello. The drive took like an hour in real time, but in my memory that hour-long drive felt like it took six hours. Yes, I’m in shock, but I’m also aware that I have a mission to uphold, and so there I was trying to gather my thoughts before the debriefing that was set to take place the next morning with the home office. Maybe Quik was just going through something that night. Maybe he was just faded and said it in a motion of emotional confusion. Maybe he’s dropping a new album soon and he’s just trying to get the streets talking. I completed my report as soon as I got home, sent it in to the home office, got like 4 hours of sleep, woke up still in a haze, and jumped on a quick debrief call with my direct up-line before having the rest of my Sunday to myself.

I gave him every detail that I had, and before we closed the call I asked him if he could give me a heads-up just in case he happened to hear that what I saw wasn’t real and that this retirement was a false alarm.

He very sheepishly and very briefly tried to sell me on the idea that he’d keep me in the loop.

I knew he wouldn’t.

And nothing came.

No details.

No clarification from the home office.

Nothing.

I had taken this role as an operative knowing full well that I was entering into an often one-sided relationship where I was expected to gather information so that someone far away–in a room I never saw–could make sense of said information in the context of a bunch of other information and then proceed to do who-knows-what with these new insights. Such is the life of an operative. You know only the things that you need to know, and any other details that you were in the dark on were kept that way for a reason.

No problem. I know how this dance goes.

So I just chilled for two weeks and waited.

And then out of the blue I get a transmission from one of my buddies who rubs elbows with the higher-ups that apparently there was a leak from someone rather high up the food chain. Apparently someone knew someone who knew someone, and the details of my report somehow found their way to the front page of what was–at the time–a beacon of information within the hip-hop community.

That’s right. HipHopDX.

There it was, sitting as the feature story smack dab at the top of their homepage. In some weird twist of fate I guess whoever leaked it had an agreement that the narrative would shift and the story would read that I had been working as an operative on behalf of HipHopDX rather than leaking who my real employer was at the time.

Smart move on their part.

And upon reading the feature, I gotta tell you that I felt a slight bit of relief. Only a fraction of the contents of my full report made their way into the article, and all the folks with whom I had worked in the lead-up to the mission somehow didn’t have their names see the light of day within the article. But dammit, this was still bad. This leak was enough to let the general public now know that there were secret missions going on behind the scenes in the music world of which they blissfully knew nothing about.

How the hell had I been burned? Did one of the higher-ups sell me out in exchange for some other deal that had been made without my knowing? Was there another operative there at the venue that I hadn’t noticed in my recon work upon arriving?

Who knows. And more importantly, who cares.

Oh you don’t believe that my cover was blown? See the leak for yourself (and yes, my operative codename was “Big Poppa”).

HipHopDX DJ Quik
(photo: the headline that changed the course of my life)

Now this didn’t necessarily mean that I had to stop my operative work. I could have easily adopted another identity if I wanted to. It’s even easier than how you see them do it in the movies. But to keep it all the way real, I had already been growing tired of this life anyway.

In the context of what went down, I wasn’t bummed that my identity had been revealed to the world.

My favorite musician on the planet was never going to make music again.

That was the real heartbreak here.

And with this feeling like my joy had been stolen, I decided to take a cue from Quik and hang it up myself.

No more covert ops work.

It just wasn’t worth it. It was time for me to get out of the game. My higher-ups didn’t care about the ensuing heartbreak that they knew would come from sending ME of all people to gather THIS intel. Nor did whoever pushed the button on that leak care about the career fallout that I would experience as a result of this story getting out.

Stop wasting your time on people who don’t love you.

Maybe this was the realization that Quik had come to before he decided to call it quits. And in some weird twist of fate here I was being forced to come to terms with the same conclusion that he had arrived at.

It’s been 18 years since I quietly slipped back into civilian life, and as you probably are aware DJ Quik did not actually retire on that Saturday evening 18 years ago. No, in fact, he has remained very much a presence in our lives and has continued to create gem after gem after gem in the almost two decades that have passed since he very nearly exited the game for good.

As I reflect and play back the events of that mission now with the added benefit of time and hindsight, I now truly believe that all the events surrounding that night went down exactly as they were supposed to go down.

Maybe I was truly sent there to document the emotional exhaustion of a man who had given so much to the world and yet was heartbroken by the amount of reciprocal praise and adulation that he felt he merited yet had never received in return.

Maybe the ensuing leak of my final report was meant to happen so that this terrible news of his retirement could be broadcast to the world.

And when music lovers all over—through whatever means they got their news back in 2002—caught wind of Quik’s retirement and of what they were about to lose, they experienced en masse what Joni Mitchell so wisely surmised in 1970:

Don’t it always seem to go
That you don’t know what you’ve got
Till it’s gone

And maybe the phone calls and emails and newspaper articles and letters started pouring in from all corners of the globe begging Quik to stay and create more magic. And all the love and appreciation that he had been missing for so long had finally arrived, and it hit him like a ton of bricks which then in turn provided him with a new sense of purpose.

He STILL had something to say.

And I like to think that this statement had something to do with his letting the world know that even after all this time people STILL couldn’t fuck with The One-Man Band.

Or maybe that’s not how it went down at all.

But for the sake of my story let’s just say that everything actually went down the way I like to imagine that it did.

In that case, there’s only one way to assess the success of my final mission:

MISSION ACCOMPLISHED

Mr. David Marvin Blake decided to stick around a bit longer and bless us with more music, and the world has been a happier place as a result of a chain of events put in motion on a warm night in September of 2002.

I saved the musical world from sadness.

(and speaking of sadness…no, I can’t bring back the old Kayne, so don’t ask…we’re operatives, not miracle workers)

If my final mission was also the mission that meant the most to me in terms of how its outcome affected my own life, then I think that’s a pretty good way to put a bow on a several-year career spent working in the shadows.

Yes, the life of a covert operative is now a life that I have left completely in the rearview mirror. Do I miss it? Sure, sometimes. Traveling all over the world, playing a part in some of the most important moments of our collective musical history. I can’t front…it’s a whole lot of fun.

But it’s a young man’s game.

And I’m older now.

I love my mellow civilian life. I love writing. I love my wonderful, genius wife. And I love my music.

Oh, and I love pizza. Man, how I love pizza.

In fact, if you happen to be a certain kind of person who travels in certain circles and you hear about “opportunities” that require an encyclopedic knowledge of pizzas, tell your people to put the word out through the proper channels, and I’ll find a way to get in contact with them.

I’m fully out the game, but I may still have a mission or two left in the tank.

Because as much as I love this civilian life, I still love it when they call me Big Poppa.

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)