Sitting shotgun, glumly staring out toward the nothingness of Central Texas, I was spent of emotion. Nothing would ever be right again.
My beloved Horned Frogs had suffered a devastating loss; all their best efforts were for naught as Baylor destroyed our new quarterback’s last fateful pass.
My heart in splinters, we stumbled into the night, angry and empty. As I-35 droned on, it soon became clear that the holes in our souls could only be filled with food.
A specific kind of food; one that soaks up the last remnants of alcohol, and with it, a little bit of one’s sorrows. One that greets you with a knowing smile and coddles you in its greasy embrace.
What better a place for a wayward traveler to seek comfort than Whataburger?The sign of our sanctuary shot up out of the darkness, the fantastic orange glow shone through the familiar arches of the fast food amphitheater.
Apparently many fellow Horned Frogs had the same idea as we did, boots resting on plastic swivel chairs as they drowned their pain in honey-drenched chicken biscuits. I slouched my way to the counter and ordered the classic Whataburger with fries and a Dr. Pepper.
My group took their numbers to the table and sat in dull anticipation. Maybe this food could take our minds off of the terrors we witnessed in Waco, for a moment, at least.
When the meals finally arrived, we ravenously attacked. Unfortunately, the mustard-drenched bites went down with little fanfare.
Perhaps I had invested too much in this Whataburger sojourn because I soon found myself bored. And boredom lead to idle thoughts.
Thoughts such as, how could our vaunted defense fall to that incessant dreadlocked braggart, Robert Griffin III? I had hoped these thoughts would be quelled by a delicious burger.
The limp pickles lacked bite, the wilted lettuce passed my mouth without a whisper. The meat was far too mustard-drenched to taste any hint of beefiness. The sandwich was utterly so-so.
Perhaps it was this particular small town location, maybe it was the decidedly dreary atmosphere, but I left with the distinct feeling that Whataburger had failed me. The remaining drive toward Fort Worth was one of utter defeat.
Fast-forward 12 hours: I awake in a blurry haze with a splitting headache. My phone was buzzing near my ear, it was my friend James and he wanted to try the new In-N-Out. Having never been, I accepted.
I was admittedly skeptical; I’m always wary of something as over-hyped as this Californian burger empire, but I needed something in my stomach. The torturous drive-thru line that met us on 7th Street did nothing to help my humanity-hating headache, so we decided to dine in (which in retrospect, probably took even longer).
We were immediately greeted by a smiling young woman who was taking everyone’s orders and expediting them to the counter. Everyone seemed so happy. Perhaps they had not caught the game.
I decided to try my burger and fries animal style, which is to say smothered in cheese, Thousand Island dressing, the patty fried in mustard and topped with a ridiculous amount of caramelized onions. The wait for our food was amazingly short, considering the line winding out the door.
I took my first bite and I understood. There were still good things in this world, specifically that burger. People actually had a reason to be smiling, and I quickly joined their ranks.
The caramelized onions were indulgent and perfectly done. The patty was nice and fresh, the mustard coating punctuating unctuous bites of well-salted cow flesh. The lettuce was crisp; it was not anything near the wilted mess at Whataburger. The fries were satisfyingly un-soggy, despite the pile of toppings laying on them. Why couldn’t this oasis have been sitting on the side of I-35 in a no-name town between here and Waco?
This meal was the light at the end of the tunnel. It brought me out of sheer misery, back into the realm of the living. That’s not to say that this is the best burger in the world; that is by no means the case. If you want perfection, walk down the street to the Love Shack.
In-N-Out is certainly not the best burger in the world, or even DFW, but it just might be the best fast food burger. And on mornings like that, it is a welcome sign.