Unlike many of its competitors in the heaving monolith that is the global fast food industry, for a longer than I would care to admit I wasn’t entirely sure that Sonic restaurants even existed. Of course, I had seen advertisements for them since I was a child. Many of which featured a staggeringly asexual male proselytizing about the quality of their burgers, hotdogs, and fries to a person in the car with them that entered the equally non-threatening sedan a skeptic but would emerge a true believer. However, not unlike a tech or media company that you only just heard about that you’re surprised to learn is actually a financial juggernaut and is somehow the parent company of the bank that holds the deed to your home, Sonic had hitherto only existed as a concept. One as easily scattered to the wind like vapor and forgotten just as quickly. Yes, I knew of Sonic, however, until several weeks ago on the outskirts of Memphis, Tennessee, I hadn’t ever actually seen one for myself. Perhaps this was a metaphor for the tenants of faith in the Lord. Though you may not be able to see it (or Him) with your eyes, if you trust that it’s (or They’re) there long enough, you will eventually be rewarded with their presence in an eternal paradise. In this case, that idyllic plane of existence was made manifest in the form of Sonic’s Crispy Chicken Tenders.
The atmosphere of the restaurant’s environment is designed to be a loving nod to the halcyon days of yesteryear. A time when clashing pastels, point of order service, and huffing exhaust while idling in a parking lot as you hork down questionable meat brought to you by a stranger right to your car was seen as the wave of the future.
In that, this was not merely a meal. This was a lesson, and I, it’s willing student emerged with a lasting reaffirmation: everything we learn, perhaps, we’re only remembering. A long time ago, when we were happier, whom among us cannot recall being securely fastened like a Formula 1 racer into our child’s seat at the back of our mother’s Plymouth Grand Caravan while she begged us to eat chicken fingers so we would finally stop crying, and she could finally have a moment to think, and wonder why. Why.
Thus, as I parked in the drive through/parking lot/tables of this particular Sonic a tsunami of nostalgia crashed down upon me, and I was overcome with dormant emotions. All of which were carefully and purposefully shoved down into the abyss of social conditioning after I was fairly positive that the man about to take my order over the intercom heard me tearfully bemoan how much I miss my mother.
There was no hesitation. Like a man stranded in sub-Saharan Africa that finally sees an oasis, so was I at the comparably Brigadoon like elusiveness of Sonic. The scent of long since used vegetable oil dominated my olfactory senses as my heart rushed desperately towards the special kind of nourishment that can only be satiated with chicken.
“I’ll have the chicken tenders.” I said impishly into the intercom.
“Will that be all?” Said the plucky teenager.
“Oh,” I began, “That will be all.”
“Oh….kaaay……That’ll be 6.97.”
It was as simple as that. Within mere moments I was greeted by a young woman at my driver’s side window, who seemed amused at how much I was enjoying listening to Scandinavian death metal while awaiting my order. I informed her that this band in particular only sings songs about Norse mythology and other pillagesome Viking related exploits. She nodded with an accommodating but visibly put off smile and returned inside; our paths never to cross again unless I needed some extra ranch.
The first scintillating bite of the perfectly seasoned, explosively crispy, and somehow miraculously juicy chicken tender sent me into such ecstatic throes that I stabbed my right leg with my car keys to see if I could even still feel pain against the onslaught of such Dionysian pleasure, and I couldn’t. The chicken, if one can even still call it that. No, no, they can’t; the Goddess Poultry, especially when paired with a little bit of Sonic’s buttermilk ranch, has such a transcendence of flavor that is so powerful it renders all religions even more useless than they are.
You have never seen God, and the promise that you will when you die is about as reliable as a political candidate that doesn’t tell you any of their plans, but assures you they will and that you’ll love them, so long as you make them the most powerful person on earth first.
But you have seen Goddess Poultry, and there is no greater example of the universe realizing it’s own benevolence than Sonic’s Crispy Chicken Tenders.
That night, driving towards North Carolina while periodically trying to wipe ranch off my denim shorts by dabbing them with soda dampened napkins, I was imbued with peace, clarity, and sustenance as I watched the sun set lingeringly behind the Blue Ridge Mountains. Yet as the sun set and a soupsánt of melancholy came with the darkness to follow, the stars in the sky reminded me that a new dawn was just around corner. A new day followed by all of the brand new days after that; a new day where I could take myself to Sonic and get Crispy Chicken Tenders.