All hail the mighty Olive Garden!

The town I tore up before moving here is abuzz: a Jack in the Box restaurant has been opened there at last, and holy shit – the locals are excited.

For those of us who grew up eating from a fast food chain where one could get french fries AND tacos (!!!!) for lunch if one had such a death wish, this ain’t no thang. Churros for breakfast? No big. A hamburger on a sourdough bun? Eh. Been there. Done that.

But to those in my former home, this is BIG. Before this franchise opened, I think the nearest location was about four hours away. And while I’m not sure anyone jonesed for teriyaki bowls bad enough to make that trek (a la Harold and Kumar’s* White Castle expedition), I would bet every last cent I made on my last paycheck that the drive-thru line the day it opened stretched a long, long way down the street.

Is it because the food is just that damn good? Um, no. Not at all (unless one is very drunk, in which case the aforementioned tacos are like manna from Heaven). It’s simply the novelty of the place; it’s what I like to call The Olive Garden Phenomenon.**

Before I even lived in my previous home (where they just put the Jack in the Box – pay attention, people!), I lived in a small, rural college town. The university was (I think) the area’s largest employer, and I’m also pretty sure that the town’s population was cut by half during summer breaks. Altogether, I enjoyed living there. I felt no gaping void in the local nightlife, dining, or shopping. Sure, there were things that it would’ve been nice to have, but the lack of – for example, a high-end night club – did not make me irate.

To others, though, the town had significant, almost deal-breaking, deficits, and the largest of these was the fact that the nearest Olive Garden was at least an hours’ drive.

Yep, you read that right. The entire fucking town was obsessed with the fucking Olive Garden.

I recognize the exaggeration in saying “the entire fucking town,” but honestly? If I had a dollar for every time I heard someone bitch about it, I could have built my own damn Olive Garden for them (and you bet your ass I would! I’d be turning a profit in no time!). I mean, I had friends-of-friends organize entire day trips planned around eating at the Olive Garden.

My favorite manifestation of the insanity was the Olive Garden Rumor Mill. Each time a business closed down, the rumors spread like gonorrhea:
Did you hear? They’re putting an Olive Garden in!
Sweet Jesus and fucking Virgin Mary! They’re putting an Olive Garden in!!!

You think I’m kidding, but when the K-Mart closed down, that was the first rumor I heard. Yes. A K-Mart. A regular-sized K-Mart. Not a mini-K, an normal-sized discount store. These people’s delusions had become pathological: to their breadstick-starved minds, it was completely rational to assume that the thousands and thousands of square feet would all become one gargantuan restaurant. This rumor stuck around for a disturbingly-long period of time; even after the space remained vacant for almost a year, I still heard whispers of never-ending soup-and-salad.

Before you become indignant and accuse me of excessive High Horse Riding, here’s some full disclosure: a Dunkin’ Donuts franchise opened a few miles from my house a few months ago, and there will be a vague ache somewhere deep in my soul until I can finally get my ass down there for some Munchkins and coffee.

In the meantime, though, I’ll probably just get some tacos.

*Speaking of Kal Penn, congrats are in order for our President! Sir, you can now go down in history as being the only presidential administration that had a member quit to go make a movie about chasing pussy and smoking a fuckton of weed (no, I didn’t get an advance copy of the script. I’m just spitballing here).

**And when I say “I like to call,” I mean “I just made that phrase up that very second.”

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