In defense of lining up for hours for a Chick-fil-A sandwich

It's not about the sandwich

click to enlarge In defense of lining up for hours for a Chick-fil-A sandwich
Young Kwak photo
The line, and a new era, start here.

The mob was coming, but the Spokane Police officers were prepared. They were prepared for the onslaught that would last days. They were prepared for the arrival of the most heralded chicken sandwich in the region in over a year.

They were prepared to provide traffic support for the inevitable crush of cars that greeted the opening of Spokane's very first Chick-fil-A restaurant.

And indeed, as soon as Chick-fil-A threw its doors open today for their grand opening, cars were lined up for blocks.

Two Chick-fil-A fans, Savannah Brown and Zack Fraze, told Inlander photographer Young Kwak they waited an hour before even being able to enter the parking lot.

Naturally, some scoffed at the sight. Some objected because of Chick-fil-A's sometimes controversial corporate values. But more people were disgusted by the very absurdity of lining up blocks for a fast-food chain.

"People sitting in idling cars for hours to buy a shitty sandwich from a fast-food chain is peak 'what I hate about this country,'" one guy wrote on Twitter.
"So silly," another tweeted. "For a mere chicken sandwich. I feel like these people are the same type of people who panic-buy."

I have not tried Chick-fil-A. I do not have an opinion on the worthiness of this sandwich or how it compares, say, to Red Robin's Banzai Burger. I am not planning to wait in line for one anytime soon.

And yet, I want to offer a defense of those who wait for Chick-fil-A.

Maybe the sandwich is truly great. Maybe it's not. But it’s not about the sandwich. It's not about the Grilled Cool Wrap or even the Chick-n-Strips.

It’s about

It's the same way that the thrill of Christmas presents wasn’t just about LEGOs or Barbies or Streets of Sims City. It was the waiting. It was the weeks of hunkering down under the gleaming lights, taking in the scent of the pine needles, wondering exactly what glories await you on Dec. 25.

Christmas was a date on your calendar when you knew that something good was going to happen. No matter how dark and cold the winter, you could pass away the hours daydreaming about what was in the mystery box.

And this winter is especially dark. We've gone so very long without something tangible to look forward to. We've canceled holidays, nixed dinner parties, ditched proms and graduations. And when we don't have something worth striving for, we find something. We take something small, something disposable or ephemeral and we grant it a divine status. We turn 440 calories of breaded poultry into something like a religious relic.
After all, take away the cultural meaning, the hype and the history, and the Holy Grail is nothing more than a super-sized beverage cup.

It's no wonder then that cinema's greatest exploration of this phenomenon of man's search for meaning made manifest in an odyssey for what seems to be a minor experience — is a movie about two blokes trying to get some fast food.

McGuffin, meet McMuffin.

Hype, after all, isn't just something experienced alone. At its best, it's experienced as a part of a community.

It's why we scream at Beatles and camp out for Star Wars and punch each other for Cabbage Patch Kids. It's the thrill of being on the crest of a wave. We were there. We were part of something.

So when I dressed up as the Greek god Hermes to watch 300 with my dormmates in college, I wasn't disappointed that it wasn’t very good. (As a movie anyway. I continue to argue that it works quite well as a Grecian Urn.) I was glad to be a part of something a bit silly, but meaningful with my community.

That community can be millions strong, as when seemingly all of Twitter reacts in unison to a missed field goal.
Or that community need only be as big as two.

In high school, I slept over at my best friend's house, utterly stoked to be watching an episode of a no-budget public access television show called Don't Tantalize the Gorillas.

Of course, it
doesn't matter how good the show was. We were rallying behind something together.

That, after all, was the whole driving force behind our high school pep rallies. What were we rooting for in school spirit, really? A mascot? A handful of high school athletes? The colors red and black? None of those, of course. We were rooting for the act of rooting together.

You could sneer at all that. You could duck under the bleachers to smoke cigs and scoff about how phony and lame the preps and jocks are with their fake-ass smiles all chanting like sheep.

Or you could stand up proud and declare with the whole school watching that, in fact, you have spirit, yes, you do.

Because I, cynical journalist that I am, don't just remember my high school fight song. I remember my elementary school fight song. ("Hey, we're from Linwood, give us a cheer...")

And I remember how, at North Central High School, the biggest event every year wasn't prom or homecoming. It was "Groovy Shoes," a spirit competition in the Spokane Arena where the "trophy" was nothing more than a pair of decorated sneakers.

When you see a red-and-black mass of over a thousand chanting "the shoe the shoe the shoe the shoe" in unison, suddenly waiting hours for a new chicken sandwich doesn't seem so silly.

You see a line, waiting. I see a crowd, united. You see a sandwich. I see solidarity. For a few hours, these folks were a part of something bigger, even if it was something very small.

You can mock. But far better to find your own version of Chick-fil-A, your Groovy Shoe, your Phantom Menace, your Holy Grail. If you can't find something worth lining up to wait for, line up for something until you believe it's worth the wait.

Get hyped for something. Especially if it's nothing.