DALLAS • The sparkling red and white room is jammed with young and old gleefully gobbling away. The feel is, at once, fresh and tired.
Standing in the middle of this In-N-Out burger in central Dallas delivers a strange feeling. Unless you dwell in a tent in some isolated forest, you know the chain founded in California in 1948 will arrive in Colorado Springs in 2020. You know this because In-N-Out is blessed with the world’s largest and most aggressive propaganda force.
Yes, we’re speaking of displaced Californians.
A part of me is tempted to shout “What is, after all, the big deal about this place?” In-N-Out serves burgers and fries, same as McDonald’s, Wendy’s, Burger King, Carl’s Jr., A&W, Sonic, Jack in the Box …
I decline to shout those words. I do not want to be attacked by displaced Californians.
In-N-Out delivers The American meal with a twist. The fries are fresh, prepared by hand at each restaurant. Any true In-N-Out devotee, and they are legion, orders special preparation. Soon, Springs residents will learn the secret language of “animal style” and “protein style” and “double-double” and “3x3.”
You might call In-N-Out fans a cult, but I don’t think cult members are this devout.
In July, a displaced Californian discovered and photographed an intact In-N-Out double burger in the middle of a New York street. This, of course, set off a tidal wave of speculation.
Was In-N-Out on its way to America’s greatest city?
Lincoln Boehm, the displaced Californian, took the photo that started a viral online reaction.
“There was something magical about it,” Boehm told The New York Times. “It was like stumbling upon a work of art. It was like seeing the ‘Mona Lisa’ for the first time at the Louvre.”
Um, OK, Mr. Boehm.
Turns out, 16-year-old high school student Helen Vivas had dropped the burger while chasing a city bus. She purchased the burger in San Diego, flew home and planned to show it off to friends.
So, what is the big deal? This is both tough and easy to explain.
Years ago, while on a business trip for The Gazette, I was driving in Oakland and saw my first In-N-Out. After listening to displaced Californians rave for decades, I expected to hear angels singing when I entered the restaurant. My expectations soared far, far too high.
I tasted a solid, if not spectacular, burger. The fresh fries offered a chewy feel in contrast to the usual crispy taste of frozen fries.
On this Dallas visit, I dine with more realistic expectations. This is American fast food done right. The place is packed for good reasons. In-N-Out will deliver a welcome addition to the Springs food scene, but, please, do not expect a life-changing experience, despite what displaced Californians tell you.
Still, in a way, I get it.
From 1971 until his death in 2006, my father and I ate burgers at Griff’s, a proudly dumpy Denver burger joint on South Broadway in the shadow — at times literally — of Interstate 25. Dad was not much of a talker, but with those familiar burger and fries before him, he relaxed and told stories of his youth in East Texas and early days of romance with mom. We laughed so much in that big room.
In August 2015, I took my final journey to the Griff’s I always will consider my father’s very own. The chain was departing Colorado, and the big room we so loved was soon to be demolished.
As I ate my final meal at the window table where we sat so many times, Dad was both there and not there. If you had watched from across the room, you would have wondered why a grown man barely budged as he stared forlorn at passing cars for 45 minutes. The taste of that last burger will linger with me always.
For displaced Californians, a trip to In-N-Out is a journey home, a return to laughter with mom and dad and grandma and grandpa, a celebration of nervous first dates that blossomed into marriage, a delicious blend of yesterday and today. In 2020, expect to hear much raving in the Springs proclaiming the arrival of yet another American burger chain.
In-N-Out, no doubt, will rank as precious destination for displaced Californians. For the rest of us, it’s a superb spin on the same ol’, same ol’.