Two cars up, there is movement.
The Honda Civic creeps forward, just one car length but that is enough.
The Town Car in front of me does not budge though.
The driver is head down and surely scrolling though Murder Hornet TikToks or witnessing his E*Trade portfolio sink to new depths. I consider a tap of the horn, but really, we got nowhere to go.
The poor guy is probably missing a ton of Prom work this year, so I wait until he finally raises his head and pulls up.
I’d seen this since Fall, the impressive lineup of people getting on the latest food craze: Popeyes Chicken Sandwich. Oh sure, it was easy to feel superior, coming out of Stater Bros with my reusable shopping bag filled with Sockeye Salmon Filet and Organic Kale.
Look at those slobs, disgusting!
To fall into the fad, line up at a temple of corporate fast food like cultists clutching empty Dixie cups.
To give in, eat half your weekly Sodium allowance and all your daily calories in one shameful meal.
Yet here I am, surrendered to the line up like a starless Sneetch.
I’ve ventured out of the shelter, masked and sanitized, just wanting some sense of community and comfort in a world lacking either.
Comfort Food has become more than just a guilty pleasure after a tough work week.
We’re not talking about the occasional Papa Johns Meatball Pepperoni after a spartan week of clean proteins and dark leafy greens. We’re talking mental survival.
These past weeks we’ve had to work at it, not get too fucking crazy with the Frigidaire always humming its siren tune just meters from our at-home workplace.
To not uncork the Malbec at 11:30 am, to not have dessert after both breakfast and lunch.
Food becomes the weapon, not just the fuel. To not, our new mantra.
Surviving punkers for the most part know about sacrificing their vices with time.
The bad habits fall by the wayside as we reach an astonishing new number each year.
We start to think about boring shit like hydration, blood sugar levels…sleep.
The days of Oki Dogs at 3 am are over now, luxurious drunken brunches have been replaced by dry Belvita crackers and Soy Milk-lightened Decaf.
And proper fried chicken? No more Roscoe’s mate, it is enjoyed only as a memory now as we chew thru our air-fryer boneless and flavorless white meat.
But this is a war, right? Aren’t we allowed just this, at least, a bit of delicious gluttony before heading back into the bunker?
Besides, Popeyes has always seemed pretty cool as far as the franchise places go.
Like JolliBee and their wacky Spam Sliders, Popeyes has crawfish poppers and red beans, foods that at least reflect some sort of regional palate.
We’ve been here 23 minutes now, our little tribe.
It actually feels good to be out, in a crowd of sorts. Though we are socially distanced and separated by our cars, we are at least experiencing this same place and time.
We share this evening, the moon rising already, the blue paint of shadow spilled along the parking lot asphalt.
The Honda is up next, and when she pulls up to the window I feel included in her victory.
A latex gloved hand hands over a bag, and then she is gone.
I imagine her walking in the door, the victorious hunter returned to family.
Provided for, they will drink toast upon toast to her bravery as she tells the story of this adventure yet again.
The Lincoln pulls up to the window now. I’m next.
I roll down my window and take off my mask, breathe in that drive thru perfume of french fried oil and car exhaust.
One August day, seems like a lifetime ago, we were on an easy drive from Basel to Köln.
Nothing special about the day, one of those hot Summer weekdays on tour, just driving among the Sunflower fields, coordinating urination and petrol stops.
A day when food becomes the subject in the van, each of us chiming in with memorable meals and the places we will hit as soon as we got back home.
At the Cafe Westminster just off the 405, they serve the Midnight Special:
3 runny eggs over a brick of chicken fried steak, everything smothered by a peppery country milk gravy. An insane and fantastic thing to eat at 2:30 after a long night at the Doll Hut.
To sit in the booth after the plates have been cleared, check divided, drinking coffee though we should not.
Prepared for the night of heartburn fueled nightmares ahead, regretting nothing.
The van is quiet now. We are all hungry.
We stop in Baden-Baden and sit at an outdoor cafe, eat airy schnitzels garnished with nothing more than a squeeze of lemon.
A long communal table, eating and laughing while literally rubbing elbows.
Even then I knew that meal would become another marker in time.
You are reminded again of what a meal with friends can be, a meal that can be remembered in future van rides, if we are ever fortunate enough to get back in the van again.
I drop the bag on counter and call out to the house that food is here!
I barely have the patience to wash my hands for a single verse of Happy Birthday, let alone two.
The sandwich is unwrapped, dissected, inspected, reassembled.
I pause before taking the first bite.
I know a queasy county fair feeling will surely accompany this meal, an ocean of salmon and a field of kale will be consumed in penance next week.
But for now,. back inside the house, this jewel-like souvenir of the outside world glows in the kitchen.
I take the bite, consider it.
Salt and heat, the smear of spicy sauce giving it a slightly curry-like kick.
I am reminded of something, my mind searching for yet another tangent to a better time.
Then I am just thinking about the next bite, nothing more.