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Carl’s Jr.

Did I love it? In theory. The experience was more exciting than the food.

Eating at Carl’s Jr. on a Portland vacation doesn’t make much sense but I like trying West Coast chains that are absent in NYC. Don’t worry, I also ate at Burgerville, the acceptably seasonal and local Northwest fast food chain, too. If I had more time I would’ve also popped into Jack in the Box and the strange new-to-me sit down restaurant, Claim Jumper.

The first thing I was reminded of while walking along the bus mall from our hotel to Carl’s Jr. a few blocks up the street was that Oregon may as well lose its Beaver State nickname and borrow from Oklahoma. I don’t know that there’s a more panhandley state in the nation. Oregonians who haven’t been to NYC don’t seem to realize that here it’s not normal to see someone sleeping on porches, in every doorway and to be asked for change every few feet. Last year I noticed a man asking for change on William St. near my office. He’s been there ever since and the only reason I notice him is because he’s the only pandhandler I’ve encountered in the Financial District. Ok, there’s also that tranny who begs at the Carroll St. F in the evenings but that works out to like one panhandler per neighborhood.

I was reading blog reviews about Clyde Common (which I just wrote about) and was struck by this comment, which you would never see on an NYC website:

"I will indeed try to visit. Unfortunately my last effort left me confronted with about 30 street people lying or sitting on the sidewalk around the entrance at noon. Not wanting to go through the beggars brigade with associated insults if I did not drop money, I left for more options in less confrontational climes."

Nice. But even more striking was that the entire Carl’s Jr. and neighboring streets had been taken over by cosplay kids. Apparently, an anime convention for youngsters (I saw maybe two chubby guys over 30 and there were a few over-21s because I heard an exchange, “I’m not drinking any $5 beers.” “No, this place isn’t expensive.” If I had any doubt I was back in Portland where a $5 beer might be considered luxurious) was in town and everyone had on their best rainbow tights, hooded cloaks, cat ears, turquoise wigs, plastic swords in tow. The thing is, no one appeared to be dressed as a particular character. I withhold judgment since I was once a bored, white, middle class, geeky teen living in the suburbs of this very second (third?) tier city. There are worse outlets for too much free time.

Most jarring of all (after noticing that the staff was entirely white, super polite, some middle aged, and that they bring the food to your table–I suppose that in minority-less cities, someone must staff service industry jobs) was that the eatery had completely run out of ketchup. What kind of fast food joint runs out of ketchup?! We were offered bbq sauce instead.

Knowing I would be eating a proper meal in a few hours, I shied away from the Six Dollar Burgers and chose the basic Famous Star with cheese. It was fine, nothing more. You can order your meals small, medium or large, meaning the size of your fries and drink. My respectable skin-on fries and Minute Maid lemonade were mediums.

Concentrating on the burger proved difficult because we had walked into the middle of what felt like a high school drama club field trip with a dash of non-dining tweekers going from table to table saying who knows what because I wouldn’t make eye contact since I know better than to engage spazzy strangers. As we were getting ready to leave, a young-ish tattooed bike messenger-y kid came over and asked if he could have the rest of our fries, the six or so stragglers that were covered with a used napkin. Uh, I guess.

On one hand, I hate waste, maybe it’s because I’m an Oregonian, I never throw out substantial food and always take home leftovers. Why shouldn’t someone eat remaining supersized portions getting tossed out? On the other hand, have some dignity, man. James enjoyed the novelty and went and found this guy and his comrades hanging out down the street and gave him the last quarter cup of his Coke Zero. “Thanks!” was the genuine reply.

I’m still torn on this practice because in Portland so many are destitute by choice. In fact, there’s an entire culture of scrounging at the Reed College cafeteria, a university that costs $39,440 per year.

Carl’s Jr. * 508 SW Taylor St., Portland, OR

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