I’ve ordered a Wendy’s baked potato.
This is a reality I’ve had to come to terms with over the course of my lifetime. It hasn’t been easy, but I’ve chosen to forgive myself for past missteps and move on with my life. It is my hope that in confessing this past mistake, I will achieve absolution and – in a perfect world – the understanding and acceptance of my peers.
Quite possibly the franchise’s least notable menu item, and indisputably their blandest, Wendy’s baked potatoes are often forgotten about, living in the shadow of their more alluring old-fashioned hamburgers, chocolate Frostys, and spicy chicken sandwiches. And it is only on the very rare occasion that a baked potato is actually ordered.
For me, this travesty occurred the summer before I entered first grade, on a multi-day, cross-country roadtrip with my entire family.
I was a precocious child with an extraordinarily refined pallet, molded by such high-brow cuisines as: Cocoa Puff Cereal Bars, salami-wrapped cream cheese (fondly referred to by locals as “Pigs are the Blanket” or, more colloquially, “Abandon all Hope Ye Who Enter Here”) and Cheez-Its Party Mix (I’d include the recipe, but I’ve been sworn to secrecy).
Thus, as a child with a tongue dotted with buds of this caliber, it was quite understandably repugnant to me when, on hour four of our road trip, my dad pulled into the Wendy’s drive-thru. It’s a miracle that just the sight of little pigtails la roux didn’t immediately summon bile to my throat, as I sat in the third row of our decrepit hunk of metal, thumbing the last pink tendril of Big League Chew off of the bottom of my newly excavated Tamagotchi, found gummed down inside the third-row cup holder. It was insulting, to say the least.
But my stomach was growling.
Stress shot up the sides of my neck as I attempted to figure out what I could possibly eat. Quick decisions had never been my strong suit.
Time whirred into hyper speed as our car lurched toward that dreaded tear in the space time continuum – the black box that housed the disembodied voice which, once awoken, waited for no one.
The green Subaru Forester ahead of us pulled forward and then it was our turn.
The air in the car thickened, swollen with a grotesque sort of quiet, corrupting my senses and clouding my judgement. Even as a land-locked Midwesterner, I was keenly aware that I was in the eye of the hurricane.
My eyes raced across the menu: two optic Pac Men scouring the fluorescent plane for a single menu item that would free me from this grease-splattered hellscape. The only ghosts looking to thwart them – my own personal Blinky and Pinky – were Father Time and my first-grade reading level.
“Hi. Welcome to Wendy’s, may I take your order?”
The floodgates opened and all hell broke loose.
I swear Satan himself was in the Explorer with us that day. If I were asked to identify the screams of the eternally damned, I’d wager this wouldn’t be too far off:
“Two Bacon Cheeseburgers and a large fry!”
“I want an M&M McFlurry!”
“We’re at Wendy’s, not McDonald’s!”
“Oh, a Frosty, then!”
“Mom, can I have a Sprite please?”
“Do we have to get ketchup from inside?”
“I want a cheeseburger!”
“No, get her the Jr. Cheeseburger, she’ll be sick if she eats the regular one!”
“McKays, what do you want?”
My entire life laid itself out before me; little squares of memory flashed by like I was clicking through my View Master 3D. I saw generation after generation of those who had come before me. I saw my own face, aging in an instant until I was but dust, swept up in an apathetic gale. I saw the trail I was blazing for all those who would come after me.
Clarity was there, taunting me from just out of sight, the shameless tease, smiling, beckoning.
“Just get her a burger.”
“No!” It was I who had spoken, but the voice of a Celtic god that reverberated through the car.
The words – words that would come to haunt me for the rest of my life – were ripped from my mouth.
McKayley is a Chicago-based writer and producer. Her writing has been featured in McSweeney’s, Points In Case, and Little Old Lady Comedy, among others.