I count calories.
I have counted them obsessively for over twenty five years. At least ever since losing one hundred and forty pounds on a diet and keeping it off since then.
Literally, for every calorie that I eat I must budget.
I also walk-a lot. Twenty five to thirty miles a week without fail, sometimes more. At one hundred calories per mile, if I walk thirty five miles I can actually lose one pound.
Or compensate for several double doubles and fries animal style at In 'n Out.
A week ago I had a day trip from the East Coast to Hollywood. A brief visit to Universal for my business and then a later appointment and dinner in Orange County. For over a decade I've been in the habit of driving directly from LAX to one of several nearby In 'n Outs for a quick double double. Only being able to experience one every five or six months places a premium on every bite.
For whatever reason on the morning of this trip I woke up starved. Really, really hungry. I drove past a local bagel shop, passed on McDonald's and survived the drive to Dulles Airport without a stop. At the airport I managed to avoid Starbucks as well as Burger King, even skipping Danish and snack mix at United's Red Carpet Club. In short I made it onto the plane without having "spent" a calorie.
I had planned on skipping breakfast as well as the light snack which United offers just before landing on coast to coast flights. Combined this represented about 800 calories. Almost what I needed for a double double with grilled onions.
We took off and I found myself at a seat with nothing to read. Over the next half hour I couldn' fall back asleep. At some point I noticed that across the aisle a woman had opened a Burger King bag and was having a bacon and egg croissant along with hash browns. She also had a cinnamon roll from Cinnabon on the seat beside her. I should note here that she was, perhaps understandably, a rather Rubenesque woman obviously in part because of indulgent on board breakfasts like this.
Still, the bacon croissant smelled good and the cinnamon roll was to die for.
About an hour into the flight breakfast was served. Not much worth spending much time describing, just an omelette, some kind of nearly burnt potato, fruit and a roll with butter.
Yet she said yes when asked if she would like her's. Astonished that she would say yes and still quite jealous over her "first" breakfast I weakened and said yes also.
God, it was an awful waste of calories. Mushy eggs loosely resembling an omelette, a curious kind of meat labelled sausage and absolutely mealy potatoes. At least 800 calories invested for no apparent reason.
Five hours later, at 11:00AM California time I found myself in my rental car driving north out of LAX approaching an In 'n Out Burger on the left side of Sepulveda. It had been at least four months since I'd had a double double and this was my only opportunity since I had a business dinner and was returning on the red eye, long before they would open the next day.
I couldn't resist, just couldn't. I rationalized that I have maintained for several years on here that the first bite of a double double Animal Style (grilled onions, extra spread, bit of mustard along with fresh tomato, leaf lettuce and two slices of American cheese melted into two grilled fresh beef patties) is equal to the first bite of any dish anywhere. Not the French Laundry nor El Bulli could exceed the sublime bliss and moaning satisfaction of this first taste.
I parked, walked inside and ordered one to carry out. I knew that I couldn't eat it in there. No one would understand when I took the first bite then crumpled the rest up into the wrapper and-for those who might see me, unbelievably, throw the rest away!
I carried the double double to my car.
I know that a double double is 895 calories on average. I know this because I called their Irvine office and asked. One bite, one all encompassing wide mouth lock of my lips on the juiciest end of the hamburger was all that I needed. After all, I had one hundred calories to spend! I held the hamburger up and rotated it in my hands looking for the side that had the most melted cheese, grilled onions and spread dripping from it. When I found it I closed my eyes and took two hundred calories off of the burger! (It was a BIG bite. I shouldn't have. Well, before the bite it seemed that I shouldn't have.)
I have found that in the few blissful moments that I have experienced like this in my life that I like to prolong them. Where others might chew for a few seconds and then swallow I wanted this to last. As long as reasonably possible.
About a minute later I finally swallowed.
God, was it good! My West Coast Mecca and never disappointed me and this was not an exception. Without thinking, without hesitation, without thought of the rubenesque woman of two breakfasts on the airplane I unhesitatingly chomped down again.
Incredible. How can something so good lead to such a serious depression? A minute later there was still half of the sandwich. I knew that I would be tempted to have a third bite, I knew that history had shown that I couldn't resist temptation like this. I also knew that because I had started driving out of the parking lot it would be a few minutes before I could throw out the half eaten burger.
I had to do something.
When I first got into the rental car I had opened it's ashtray to plug in my cell phone. Then, I had noticed that there was a faint smoky smell. In fact someone had left some ashes in it and Hertz had neglected to clean them out.
I opened the ashtray again and pulled it out. In the ashtray was perhaps a tablespoon and a half of cigarette ashes. I took the half eaten hamburger, turned it on its side and dunked it (if you will) in the gray ashes. Then I rewrapped it and put it back in its bag. This I then threw in the back seat, out of my reach.
It takes 30 minutes to drive from near LAX to Universal. When there is traffic it can take longer. On this day there was heavy traffic, what appeared to be as much as an hour drive or more.
Five minutes up the "Five" I heard the Beach Boys and 409 on an Oldies station. Great song, great timing, perfect for my California trip and quick stop at In 'n Out.
In 'n Out.
Hmmmm. I had half of a double double in the back seat. Uneaten. I also knew that I had only dunked half of the remaining burger into the spent cigarette ashes meaning that a good part of the burger was still fairly fresh and...seemingly edible.
My arm wasn't long enough to reach the bag that I had thrown on the far side of the back seat. I had to pull over on the side of the Five and literally get out of the car, walk around and open the rear passenger's door to reach it. Standing there, on the side of the Interstate highway, with five lanes of traffic crawling past me I opened the bag and took out the hamburger, half of which was heavily fleck with gray. Again, as earlier, I rotated the double double and found a spot (not as big as I might have preferred) but big enough to allow one fairly good bite. Maybe not moan inducing as the first but, still, this was my last chance for a taste of a double double for what could be another four orfive months, or even longer.
I held up to my mouth and didn't hesitate: I chomped down.
I probably shouldn't have chomped quite so much since for the first time I noticed a kind of charred flavor to the burger. Almost as if it had been charcoal broiled for part of the cooking process. Interesting. I'd never had a double double with this kind of flavor. In fact the flavor seemed to be the strongest where the grilled onions had melted into the cheese. It was really kind of different.
It was actually pretty damned good!
When I looked down after swallowing the partially charred burger I noticed here wasn't much left. Once again I had probably taken a bite far too big for what I had wanted to accomplish. Still, it was really good.
And, I was convinced that I was the only person to ever have a double double with a charred flavor like this. It made it seem even more special.
Guilt? Yes, for the calories-of course-but I decided that they were worth it. Shame? No, of course not. After all it was a double double.