The nostalgia of chain restaurants

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I’m not afraid to say it: I enjoy the occasional trip to a chain restaurant. The guarantee that the food will be mediocre and really salty is sort of enchanting. Like a fairy calling your name from the suburban woods, telling you to come home because Grandpa’s sick and your colon hasn’t been blasted by shoddy food in a while.

Growing up in the Midwest, I took a lot of road trips. A move from Kansas to Minnesota when I was 10 meant that we were haulin’ it every summer and holiday to go home to Kansas to see friends and family.

When you’re in the car for 8-10 hours in one day with your nuclear family, staring at majestic corn fields, smelling luscious dad farts and spitefully snacking on the healthy nut mix your loving mom packed while suppressing a Preteen cry for Cheetos, there’s no room for debate about which quaint Midwest country restaurant you and yours will dine at during your trip. You need dependable food and a familiar menu before anyone has a hunger meltdown in your prestigious Dodge Caravan.

As was normal on many road trips down I-35, my parents awoke me from the third nap of the day at 12:30pm, which meant it was time to start hunting for the highway “FOOD” signs.

The way it worked was if you’ve never heard of the restaurant before, we’re not going there. Oh, no commercial on national television? In your dreams, Shane’s Rib Shack. Take a hike, Grandma’s Kitchen. Nice try, Lou’s Food Emporium. 

Back in 1998 when I was 10, there was no internet in your hand and on-the-go. Taking a risk on a lesser known restaurant was not something any travel fatigued family wanted to do. Stopping to eat takes up valuable road time and you mustn’t take chances on unknown places. What if their decaf coffee is terrible, sending mother into a tailspin worse than you letting your Gigapet starve to death? What if they don’t have chicken strips? You simply can’t take risks like that when you’re travelling with anyone. The fallout would be unbearable in such close farting quarters.

Luckily, all the Chili’s, Applebees and Pizza Huts were conveniently located next to the highway so we only had to argue over which chain to eat at, significantly lowering the number of “I’M NOT EATING THERE!!!” screams from my preteen big mouth.

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The dependable chain restaurant food was just that: dependable. The chicken strips were gorgeous, the Heinz ketchup was perfectly room temperature, and the Pepsi on tap was always a disappointment. It was heaven. Plus, where else are you gonna get a plate with cheeseburgers, criminally delicious SOUTHWEST ROLLS, and the mythically “loaded” potato skin boats all in one place? It’s the definition of heaven on a plate. The menu at any one of these fine chain restaurants is the definition of mediocre innovation–but that doesn’t mean it’s not beautiful.

Now that I’m older and live in a big city, of course I have better taste, I’m not a total jerk. But once in a while, something greater than me pulls my body out to the suburbs like an alien magnate, where I find myself alone and uncontrollably smiling inside of a Chili’s. Yes Amanda, I AM just a party of one. Perhaps it’s because it reminds me of being young, or maybe it’s because you can’t get good chicken strips at nice restaurants. Whatever the case, chain restaurants will without a doubt always hold a beautiful mini-chimichanga space in my heart.

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Your holiday guide to meeting the family and not being an idiot

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Tis the season to be jolly az fuck, homies.

It’s also the season for traveling with your new boyfriend/girlfriend/best friend to their hometown for the holidays. It’s stressful meeting other people’s parents and family because all families are pretty weird and have their own fucked up origin stories. It’s like stepping into a new little country where you have to learn the rules quick and not piss off the dictator–or else you’re eating at the kids table with little Damien who pees on shoes and cuts hair when you’re not looking. Here are some tips to avoid being peed on completely ostracized that will hopefully ease your holiday travel nerves.

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1. Take a gift. It is always good manners to present your host, especially around the holidays, with a small gift. Wine is a really safe and classy bet because what kind of total grinch doesn’t love wine? (Alcoholics, that’s who. Find out if the family drinks, and if they don’t, a nice apple cider is perfect.) This Chilean wine from Concha y Toro called Casillero del Diablo is relatively inexpensive for how good it is. I believe it is around 8-10 dollars a bottle. If you have even less money to spend, baking brownies or cookies is a really great, super cheap and very sweet alternative.

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2. STAY OFF YOUR PHONE. There is absolutely no excuse for being a rude piece of shit and sitting on  your phone during a holiday trip, ESPECIALLY if you are meeting your friend’s or new lover’s parents and family for the first time. Nothing says “you’re boring and I think you suck” more than a set of eyes glued to a smartphone screen during any kind of party, dinner or hang out. There’s no way around it. Rude. As. Hell. In the eternal words of Uncle Joey, “Cut. It. Out.”

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3. Keep the conversation light. Unless your gf/bf/bff’s parents are Serious Intellectuals who openly welcome thoughtful debate on controversial topics, keep your opinions about abortion and gun control to your Twitter feed. Nothing sours a first impression quite like a heated political debate, amirite? To detract from a conversation in dangerous territories, say a series of vague statements like “Life is so complex! Can you pass me the rolls? I LOVE your shirt!”

Don't be this awkward. Image via the age.com.au
This is what you look like during awkward conversations and probably also during sex. Image via the age.com.au

4. Don’t shy away from conversation. I am extremely social and conversational so I have no idea what it’s like to be “awkward” or “shy”. But I do know this: most people really don’t care if you’re shy or a little strange as long as you’re also nice/not a huge asshole. You can ask people questions about themselves. You can tell people things about yourself, even if you think it’s sorta weird. Just don’t casually bring up how you like to eat paper or the fact that you save your toenails cuz that shit is definitely weird as fuck.

5. Offer to help with anything. Normally there are too many cooks in the kitchen, but offer to help chop, set the table or pour the drinks anyways because it shows that you’re not a completely useless human guest. If you don’t help in the preparation or setup of dinner, the least you can do is offer to help clean up afterwards. Large holiday dinners are stressful to prepare, and the last thing your gf/bf/bff’s family probably want is to clean up after your freeloading meal. In other words, get a job, hippie!

This is a rendering of what René Magritte's childhood hand turkey might have looked like. Image via blouinartonfi.com
René Magritte’s imagined childhood hand turkey. Image via blouinartonfi.com

6. Err on the side of being really gracious. It is better to come off as overly enthusiastic about the generosity bestowed upon you by your bf/gf/bff’s family than to come off as ungrateful. Really. At least they’ll be left with a positive impression of you rather than “that guy sucks.” Don’t be that guy, man. You’re better than that. So even if it sucked, be gracious, be kind and you’ll be fine.

7. Don’t get too drunk. Don’t be an idiot.

HAPPY HOLIDAYS FROM 20POORANDFABULOUS

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Gross: Time Magazines WTF cover of the year

Image via buzzfeed.com

WTF!!!! I don’t care about attachment parenting. There’s something in that kid’s eyes that says “When I’m 38, I won’t be able to fuck you without thinking about my mom.” WEIRD SHIT DUDE. Weird start to a Thursday.

Time Magazines Provocative New Cover