Requiem For A Hamburger
My love affair with hamburgers began as soon as I had my own money to spend. At the age of ten, I began selling the Grand Forks Herald on the streets of downtown. Only on rare occasions did I indulge myself with the burger-fries-Coke combination which cost, at the time, about forty-five cents. That, of course, was in the pre McDonald's midwest when a handmade hamburger came with lettuce, tomato, onion, pickle, and the other stuff if you wanted. Cheese was an extra nickle.
During my high school years and my stint in the Navy, I gradually became able to rival Popeye's buddy Wimpy as a hamburger connoisseur. I ate White Castles five at a time and Big Macs two at a time.
When I relocated to Orange County in 1968, I discovered Carl's Jr. That was it. One Superstar with cheese, fries and a Coke was about two bucks and it was a full lunch. You could watch the patties roll off the conveyor and be immediately slapped onto a bun already loaded with goodies. I think I must've eaten something like 300 Superstars a year for a few years.
I sort of upgraded by dining tastes a mite after I moved to San Diego. I was making more money and meeting a better class of feminine accompaniment, and I swerved away from hamburgers for a few years, in favor of steak, seafood, Mexican, Chinese, Cajun, Italian food and even the occasional New York Jewish deli sandwich.
After I came back to OC and LA, I spent more time with onsite field work, and lunches became more fast foody, I naturally returned to Carl's Jr for lunch much of the time.They weren't the same.
Carl Karcher started Carl's Jr in 1946, with a hot dog stand. He made money in an America and a California before the War on Productivity, and was able to reinvest part of his profits and build a hot dog and hamburger diners all over Orange County, and beyond. Some might remember the nice, clown-faced gentleman advertising on tv in the 1980's and 1990's. Carl Karcher.
He was a very conservative Catholic man, part of the old guard Orange County conservative majority that.....sort of lingers there to this day. In a GWB-inspired weakened state.
In the mid 1990's, I think it was, that the Karcher Ent board squeezed Carl out of the chairmanship of the enterprise he created. The quality of the Carl's Jr hamburger has been in decline ever since.
You don't get patties fresh off the conveyor any more. They sit in a pile and congeal until they are ordered. The meat doesn't smell good any more. The relatively new Six Dollar burgers are a little better--but only if you happen to get one whose patty was recently grilled.
After Mr Karcher's face disappeared from the tv screen, he was replaced by unkempt twenty-something louts who dribbled catsup down their shirts.
Like in Ayn Rand's America, Carl's Jr's motor has been stopped. Its motive power is grinding to a halt. It's really too bad that Carl didn't have a Dagny Karcher to keep the business going and advancing, but it wasn't to be. The heirs are apparently lawyers or marketing types, who care nothing for the product, just the corporate bottom line. If that sounds anti-capitalist on my part--it isn't. Making a "profit" by lowering the quality of the product is a very short-term, suicidal policy.
Sadly, Carl Karcher lived to see his empire enter its death throes. He passed away in January, almost a year ago, and the Carl's Jr burger chain will follow soon--unless somebody wakes up over there.
I had a hamburger for lunch today. It was not at Carl's Jr.