Thursday morning I flew from Washington Dulles airport to Los Angeles to meet several friends and clients for three days of site inspections in Southern California related to my business. After landing I had several hours to kill while waiting for their plane, also from the east, to land. Hungry, I drove my rental car to an In 'n Out Burger just north of the Los Angeles airport.
Living near Washington, D. C. In 'n Out is only a part time indulgence for me. Not having had one for at least four months the first bite of a double double with grilled onions only reinforced my belief that this bite was equal to the first bite of any other taste or food that I could have. The French Laundry, Robuchon, Ducasse-none of them at their sublime best can exceed the pure pleasure of the first gloriously greasy bite of long grilled onions, melting cheese, ripe tomatoes and "spread" all coming together with real freshly ground hamburger slowly cooked on a seasoned grill.
After leaving In 'n Out my cell phone rang and it was one of the group that I was meeting. They were "trapped" in their airplane, sitting on the tarmac at Hopkins airport while waiting for an ice storm to end. They were going to be late.
To kill time I drove a few miles north to Marina Del Rey and browsed through a wine shop, then a Ralph's supermarket and eventually parked my car and started walking along the beach towards Venice. My cell phone rang again. They were still stuck on the tarmac, now waiting to be de-iced. And there was a long line for this. There was no indication of how long this was going to take so they'd call as soon as it looked like they were able to leave.
I walked on up the boardwalk, stopping to look at forty year female body builders, henna tattoo artists, rollerbladers in thongs and a few senior citizens longingly watch them speed by. After a while my phone rang again. It was now 4:00PM in Cleveland and they had been literally caged in the airplane since 9:00. One of them was experiencing claustrophobia and they were going to have to find a way off the plane-immediately. I understood, hung up and walked on up the boardwalk.
At some point my phone rang again. They'd made the decision to rent a car and drive 300 miles back to where their original flight started. Meanwhile the plane had moved-back to the gate to let them off. Of course there was no indication of when it might leave for L. A. so their decision really seemed like the only one available.
All of this meant that I no longer had a reason to remain in Los Angeles. I hustled back to my rental car while calling United on the phone to change my return from next Monday to, literally, the next flight back.
At some point I found myself driving on Lincoln Avenue approaching the airport and about to pass the In 'n Out Burger I had been at only a few hours before. I couldn't help myself. I stopped and went in.
Twelve years ago I had my first double double. It was ten years ago that I discovered their grilled onions. Only once in all of my semi annual trips to In 'n Out had I ever seen anyone order a four by four. There was almost a mystical aura about this seven inch tall hamburger that since that time I'd always swore that one day I would eat one.
That one day was today. I ordered a four by four with grilled onions, extra pickle and extra spread. Of course four slices of cheese, four hamburger patties, lettuce and tomato were included as well. When I took it back to the table I knew that people were looking at me. A seventy year old woman appeared to think I was crazy. Two teenage girls were smiling and a 12 year old boy seemed to look at both me and the hamburger with genuine awe.
I squeezed it and opened my mouth as wide as I could. I still couldn't wrap my lips around it. But I did take a huge bite. God, what a mess! There was spread, grilled onions and cheese just sort of "glop" everywhere. Oh, was it good! I swear I moaned. Certainly I must have done something because a California Highway Patrol officer sitting nearby looked at me and said, "Damn!"
Without question the absolute best thing I have ever eaten in my life. Certainly among the most satisfying as well as without question the messiest.
After wiping my whole body off with about a dozen napkins or so I walked out to my rental car and finished the short drive to the airport.
I write this on the plane coming home. According to my atlas I have travelled slightly more than 5,000 miles roundtrip to eat two hamburgers. Business aside this seems to have become the real purpose of the trip. Of course these weren't any hamburgers. One of them was the legendary four by four from In 'n Out. With extra spread.
Of course the trip was worth it. I only wished that I had picked up one to eat on the plane.
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